Brand impact of KLM's 'Meet and Seat'

As airlines continue to struggle for differentiation, KLM hopes its new ‘Meet and Seat’ programme might be another incentive for you to choose them.

It’s a bold initiative that rides the social media wave and may well provide a valuable brand gesture that enhances the flying experience. However, for those who enjoy the solitude of air travel, will this actually be a turn-off?

After months of talk, KLM’s upgraded seat selection that integrates with social networking is now live. It is currently being tested on selected flights between Europe and the Americas with a view to expanding the service, if successful.

The innovative concept is aimed at single travellers who like the idea of maximising their flight by meeting someone ‘interesting’. Rather than chancing whom you might be sitting next to, you can find the ideal seating companion. It is an extension of seat selection that links social media profiles so you can make an informed decision on where you sit and whom you’d like to sit next to.

Erik Varwijk, Managing Director, Passenger Business, KLM explains to The New York Times: “For at least 10 years, there has been this question about serendipity and whether you could improve your chances of meeting someone interesting on-board, but the technology just wasn’t available”.

Assuming that you enjoy meeting people, and like the thought of using a long haul flight as an opportunity to network or even meet your next partner, this appears a nice brand gesture. It ticks a lot of boxes on how a brand has understood an audience insight and turned into a value add. For KLM customers, it is a way of demonstrating that the brand is committed to making the experience more enjoyable.

However, it could potentially backfire with those who are don’t see themselves as social butterflies or like to just relax during flights.

All the privacy disclaimers are there and it is a completely voluntary to opt in but it also has the potential to shift the overall brand reputation.

Will this impact the sort of people who choose KLM? Will the overall perception of the brand be of a mile high networking club or matching service?

As the programme gains momentum, it is possible that it may shift the brand experience significantly and actually scare away loyal or potential flyers that suddenly feel the brand doesn’t understand them.

Maybe KLM is actually making a statement about the type of person who they want to attract.

For those who can’t have a thought without tweeting or posting a Facebook update and check-in everything they do and consume on foursquare, KLM’s Meet and Seat will be a definite ‘like’ and double ‘like’.

With this audience in mind, it should be easy to leverage ‘tweeted’ success stories of live changing experiences. But as many brands are discovering with social media, you have to take the good with the bad and controlling the brand conversation is becoming harder. Tweets of ‘Meet and Seat’ experiences may not always be positive.

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Is KLM cleverly distinguishing their brand or is this just another potential brand-damaging gimmick? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Michael Hughes
Director of Brand Strategy

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