KLM has earned a name for itself in digital media, particularly YouTube and other social media. Now it is expanding its territory to iTunes and Spotify with podcasts that describe journeys that changed lives.
The podcasts are unusual for an airline marketing department. They mention flying only in passing. They don’t focus on fun holidays or luxurious resorts or any of the enticements that are part of the normal travel industry repertoire.
Rather, they explore how a trip can lead to self-discovery, occasionally in a gut-wrenching way, or how it realizes the traveler’s life goals.
KLM is briefly mentioned only in the introduction and ending of the podcasts. Yet Natascha van Roode, head of global marketing communication, believes that the series, titled “The Journey,” will strengthen the KLM brand.
The marketing strategy is “subtle,” van Roode said.
“We try to touch the audience. We always try to look for the emotional level.”
Van Roode notes that apart from the less enjoyable practice of repeating “KLM, KLM, KLM,” the carrier simply doesn’t have the big marketing budget of an Etihad or Emirates, so it has to be more creative.
Through the use of sound effects, for example, it has invested in making the podcasts similar to “listening to a play” to hold the listener’s attention.
In the first installment, Linda Nijlunsing chronicles her experiences as a young Dutch traveler who found her way to Alaska, found the improbable love of her life and bore a child in the most inhospitable of circumstances.
The sounds of rushing water and crunching snow give the podcast a “you are there” feel.
The second in the series follows a young man of mixed race, mixed religion and mixed nationality who spends his formative years in Africa and never hears the term “stand-up comedian.”
Yet that is what he becomes, almost by accident.
The third installment is in production, and van Roode is looking to involve customers in future episodes by inviting them to submit stories of their own life-changing journeys.
Elsewhere, the carrier has found a relatively easy path to the emotional level in Christmas, which has resulted in a large number of flashmob and other videos.
“Our most successful video was ‘The Bonding Buffet,’”van Roode said, in which 20 solo travelers – total strangers of assorted nationalities -- gathered around a table at Schiphol airport just before Christmas.
The table, however, was about 15 feet above their heads, and not until the travelers discarded their shyness and began taking seats did the table begin its downward descent.
Only when all 20 seats were occupied was the beautifully set spread lowered all the way – and the ice was broken.
If The Bonding Buffet was KLM’s most successful effort, “KLM Lost & Found Service,” released three years ago, was among the most memorable.
The star of the video, Sherlock the Beagle, demonstrates his ability to hunt down owners of lost items, such as cell phones, at Schiphol by tearing through the huge airport at impressive speed.
ABC News in the US picked up the story, and the video went viral.
There was only one problem: the whole thing was staged. The world of aviation fans divided into two camps: those who believed that a beagle could pick out a previously unknown cell phone owner at Schiphol, and those who said, “Nope. Not real.” Some people defended their opinion passionately.
Van Roode said she learned her lesson. “Everything has to be real now,” she said.
Even if it is the cutest dog ever.