The airline industry has been forced to innovate at lightning speed amidst the pandemic. With newly enforced COVID-19 regulations, Delta Air Lines’ Digital team has had to reply quickly, educating not only worldwide employees but new and returning flyers. Read on to see how Akhil Anumolu, General Manager of Digital at Delta Air Lines, and team leveraged the crucial role digital has played and how they’re delivering personal travel journey experiences by empowering Delta employees with digital tools.
How did you get to where you are today? Any noteworthy learning moments along the way?
I started brand-side straight out of college in the then newly formed eCommerce division of a major anti-virus software company. I planned to go to law school but graduated undergrad early, then took an opportunity with a contract role in Silicon Valley–I thought I would do it for a few months then go back to school. I fell in love with digital and my role allowed me to do business strategy along with web development.
Almost 10 years later, I am still in the industry and loving it. After my first role I got the chance to be the first employee at an educational toy startup, took another role back at the anti-virus software company, and now at Delta Air Lines where I get the honor of helping lead strategy for Delta.com and the Fly Delta app.
What are you working on now that you think is innovative?
I have a specific team that focuses on building minimum viable products (MVPs) of new functionality and testing them live with customers—so we are constantly working with innovative new tech and features. If I had to pick one thing that I am most excited about, it would have to be the continued development of new personalization capabilities to provide our customers with an experience that is tailored to their needs and travel plans.
What’s currently happening in marketing that most excites you and how is it changing the future of the industry?
I am most excited by the amazing new talent joining the field. From experienced professionals transitioning from other fields to new grads, I’ve seen a revival of energy to push the boundaries on what is possible and accepted in marketing. Most are also digitally native, so they understand the importance of a multi-channel experience and meeting customers at their channel of choice.
How does an almost century-old brand stay relevant in today’s digital age?
We are always working towards continuous improvement–innovation is in our DNA. That’s why our goal is not just to stay relevant as an airline, but to be known for our world-class experience regardless of industry. Additionally, digital is not just the consumer website, app, or media; it’s also our ability to empower Delta employees with the digital tools they need to deliver amazing customer experiences with a personal touch throughout the travel journey.
How has air-travel marketing evolved in the past years thanks to digital? What’s possible now that wasn’t five years ago?
I just celebrated my 5-year Delta anniversary, so it is fun to reminisce on how far we’ve come since then. We’ve gotten faster, more efficient and much nimbler when it comes to customer communications around new products, deals or travel requirements. Now with investments in technology, process, and our people, we can get information to our customers and employees quickly via multiple channels. These investments played a critical role in our response to Covid-19 to inform our global employee base and customers of the impacts the pandemic would have on travel. The shift in our marketing strategy in recent years to focus on travel inspiration has also been fun to watch as consumers are preferring experience-based marketing. Our loyal customers are even joining in by sharing their journeys on Delta via social media.
What do you see as the most valuable marketing skill(s) needed today and moving forward?
Being able to understand analytics to make informed business decisions is ubiquitous in any field and of major importance in marketing. Taking quantitative data and being able to blend it with qualitative can go a long way in building great experiences–just because a campaign or new feature shows a rise in a positive KPI doesn’t mean your consumers are enjoying it. Additionally, as consumer behavior has turned heavily into digital, having a baseline understanding of the many areas of digital is a quick way to add value in any role and build trust with your counterparts.
"...just because a campaign or new feature shows a rise in a positive KPI doesn’t mean your consumers are enjoying it."
What advice can you offer for effectively leading and inspiring a team remotely?
Listen, trust and promote balance. Listen to your team, as they are the true experts in the area they work in, and trust what they are noticing happen. As we are all working from home now, promoting work/life balance is essential as the lines have become blurred and burnout can become real.
What’s your best piece of advice?
Treat your people well and they will move mountains.
What one question would you ask the marketing community and why?
How are you inspiring and mentoring the next generation of marketers?
A majority of us in this industry would not be here without the guidance of those that came before us. Just like we were helped, it is on us to nurture and grow the next wave of brilliance that will take our industry to new heights.