Innovator Interviews: American Airlines’ Amy Craven
Amy Craven, director of brand & global advertising at American Airlines, knows the ins and outs of the brand, having worked across the company in various marketing and brand roles over more than a decade.
Amy Craven, director of brand & global advertising at American Airlines, knows the ins and outs of the brand, having worked across the company in various marketing and brand roles over more than a decade. In her current role, she is focused on the brand’s purpose & strategy and it translates into everything they do at American.
“Our brand purpose is to care for people in life’s journey,” says Craven, who was recently named to Brand Innovators Women to Watch in Brand Marketing Class of 2021 list. “In the business we are in, we get the privilege to be part of some pretty significant moments in our customers lives from trips where they are going to close every business deal to family reunions, to spring break trips to weddings to funerals – big moments in people’s lives that we get to play a role in. Our tagline “You are Why We Fly” is really at the center of all of that. Our job is to care for people wherever they are on that journey while they are traveling with us.”
The brand launched a new tagline in March 2020 – “You Are Why We Fly” a collaboration with Crispin Porter + Bogusky. Debuting the first new brand work in four years at the beginning of pandemic-era lockdowns, American was ready to adapt to what this means. “Our tagline really reinforced everything we are doing to become a more customer-centric airline,” explains Craven. “In the pandemic, that reflected the work that our front line team members were doing to help keep the world moving. It was essential travel and it was getting doctors to the places that they needed to be, a loved one who needed to be with somebody across the United States. That is what it meant and truly why our teams got out there and kept doing what they did.”
“Over the course of 2020 and 2021, the message has then shifted to mean how we are connecting people to the other people that matter to them, and that the best places are people and being with others, which I think is something everybody learned in the pandemic, just how important the human connection is,” she continues. “Virtual meetings cannot replace that human contact.”
Travel has seen a rebound in 2021 and flights have almost returned to 2019 levels. After dropping to only 3 million passengers in March 2020, 65.2 million passengers flew in the US in July 2021, inching closer to the 77.3 million people that flew in July 2019, per the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Even amid the rise of a new variant, airlines are optimistic that next year, flights will begin to return to pre-pandemic levels.
“In 2022, we are really excited about how our brand messaging will continue to evolve,” says Craven. “With the world opening back up and more travel restrictions continuing to be relaxed as well as those passionate travelers getting back out there and exploring the world, new cultures and the globe again,” says Craven. “Returning to travel can mean different things to different people. For one person it may mean exploring one state away and to another it could be exploring more exotic locations. We are excited about how our brand strategy and communications will continue to evolve to reflect this.”
Brand Innovators caught up with Craven from American’s headquarters in Dallas/ Ft. Worth to discuss how travel is evolving, what that means for loyalty programs, and how working in the brand’s London office helped expand Craven’s perspective. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Travel has seen a major impact from the pandemic, first as flights were grounded, and now as demand is spiking as consumers return to those trips they had long put off. How has air travel changed and what long-term consumer trends or behaviors do you think will stick around?
A lot has changed. Two of the big consumer trends are the desire for increased flexibility and simplification in their lives with more travel restrictions and complexities these days. American, specifically, has adapted to that by offering travel tools to help our customers navigate these complexities, especially when it comes to international travel, which can vary market by market and country by country. Our travel tools help customers understand these requirements. We offer travel resources and check-lists that give the step-by-step guidelines and what customers need to do to be ready for their trip.
On the flexibility side, consumers now expect it as an option - it started as people were concerned about COVID, but now there is the expectation that “you know what, I want to be able to change my plans, I might want to change those dates.” So we have started to offer various booking options that enable consumers to buy those fares if they want that additional flexibility in their lives to be able to change their plans with no additional fees. People have gotten used to that flexibility in the world and they want that freedom to change their plans if that’s what they choose to do.
How is American changing its approach to loyalty and earning status with your recent loyalty program changes?
The pandemic provided us with an opportunity to reimagine our AAdvantage loyalty program and what that meant for our customers. With travel behaviors changing, we wanted to be able to recognize and allow consumers to build loyalty and to build status with us no matter where they were at in their journey with us or with travel in general.
Back to the simplicity trend, we simplified it. We had a variety of different metrics that needed to be met in order to earn status with American, now it is really simple. You fly, you can spend on one of our co-branded credit cards or you can spend on one of our partners, whether it be our AAdvantage Dining, our AAdvantage eShopping program or another partner. Essentially you can earn miles through many ways and that all builds towards earning Loyalty Points with us and towards your status. So if you are someone that flies all the time, that is great, you will earn miles and your status. Or if you are someone who really only travels when you are going on leisure trips with your family a couple of times a year, you can spend on your AAdvantage co-brand credit card to earn miles and status.We are excited about what that means for travelers. It gives them more ways to earn miles and build status with us in the ways that they want.
You have spent 11 years at American working on different roles across the brand including time in the London office, and time as an integrated marketing planner. Can you talk about what you learned in these roles and how they help in. your current role directing brand and global advertising?
My time in international was probably one of the best personal and professional experiences that I have ever had. It gave me a different perspective of the brand and understanding of our customers from outside of the US. Also, working alongside our airline partners, I was able to also learn best practices from them and how they approached marketing.
Then back at our headquarters in the US, I’ve held several different marketing planning and strategy roles. In these roles I learned how to work cross functionally with different departments across American to bring together route support plans, product launch plans and how to shepherd some of those big initiatives throughout a large matrixed company. With my international experience, it then gave me a great understanding of how our brand and marketing messages could be perceived by consumers in markets across the world and how our consumer needs change depending on where you are at.
As a leading woman on our Women to Watch list, what advice would you give to other women trying to succeed in marketing?
Always have a growth mindset. Really ask yourself, what am I learning in my current role? Am I taking on a project that is helping me learn something new? Continuing to push and challenge yourself, to really ask, ‘how am I being stretched to learn?
Also, never underestimate the importance of relationships and that aspect of your role. Relationships can help you bring projects to fruition by helping you to understand a different perspective. You can ask those tough questions that maybe you couldn’t really ask in a formal meeting setting, but if you have great relationships, you can use that relationship to learn more and understand different perspectives better in a less-formal setting.
I got some great advice early in my career, never sit and eat lunch at your desk every day. Always make sure that you are using that time to connect with others, whether it be your own team - getting to know them better and their challenges or a colleague or someone else in another department that you want to get to know better. We have been back at the office at American for some time now, but for those who are still in that virtual setting, you still have to be more intentional about it and almost plan it out like you would plan out your meetings and your day.
What does 2022 look like for travel?
We know there is a desire for human connection and while virtual meetings are great, we really look forward to seeing more people travel in 2022 for business. We’ve been excited to see our agencies in-person and other vendors and partners face to face. And American will continue to be there to help our customers navigate travel requirements with our Prepared for the Air resources and Ready to Fly checklist. We really look forward to a great 2022.