Responding to a changing external business environment
An United Airlines case study

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Page 4: The importance of marketing

Market orientation lies at the heart of United's recovery operation. Its Chief Executive believes that although hard times may make reductions in the labour force inevitable, and may also lead to adjustments to its aircraft fleet and to the balance between aircraft purchase and aircraft leasing, marketing activities should not be reduced.

According to the UK's Chartered Institute of Marketing, marketing is 'the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably'. United Airlines takes the view that marketing helps to sustain, maintain and (in the medium to longer-term) develop customers' perceptions and thoughts about the business by developing a series of brand values that keep the United Airlines brand moving forward.

United also appreciates the need to match the marketing mix to the particular business environment. For example, UK customers do not usually respond well to global messages. Where changes within a business environment affect different parts of the air travel market in different ways, it is important to develop a polycentric approach to marketing. This involves applying different marketing mixes in different countries to meet the needs of each consumer group. United Airlines communicates with UK consumers in ways that satisfy their particular concerns, and also provides specific messages for each sector of its UK audience.

For example more people are taking control of their own travel arrangements. These "independent leisure travellers" can be reached through a certain style of advert which links in with their independent attitude e.g. "I prefer holidays off the beaten track" or "I have a keen sense of adventure". This group is reached through media such as consumer press and music radio. The business traveller is reached through statements like "We know business travel isn't glamorous but we're doing our best to make it as good as it can be." This statement is backed up by offers of free upgrades to Business or First Class to frequent business flyers.

United Airlines also created a campaign specifically for the UK audience in order to promote its products through sales promotions. For example:

  • Frequent flyer newsletters address customer retention and have led to providing customers with details about a range of offers linked to additional 'Business Miles'.
  • Discounts are provided for travel agents based upon the sale of leisure and business tickets.

United Airlines | Responding to a changing external business environment