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From takeoff to touchdown: Next steps for mobile marketers under new FAA rules

Mobile marketers are feeling the FAA love. New agency rules that let airplane passengers use their devices during takeoff and landing are opening up new opportunities for them to pitch a highly receptive audience: travelers fastened to their seats with nothing better to do than twiddle with their phones.

How grateful are companies? Amazon welcomed the new rules by offering a 15 percent discount on its Kindle tablets with the promotion code “ThanksFAA,” according to The Hill. What's got everyone so excited? Imagine: a car rental agency could one day send a passenger a last-minute deal on rates as the plane approaches its destination. Ditto for hotels, restaurants and other local services.

Don't expect the in-air marketing blitz to happen overnight, for various reasons. But rest assured: flying the mobile-friendly skies is one big step closer to reality.

'No' to texts, but 'yes' to Twitter

First, a quick recap: late last month the FAA gave passengers and marketers some — but not all — of what they've long wanted. Now travelers can use their mobile devices below 10,000 feet. The new regulations aren't likely to take effect until year end, but they essentially mean that flyers can listen to music, read and play games throughout the entire flight. The looser rules came with some key exceptions: Passengers still can't make calls or send or receive texts during the flight; all aircraft types must be certified to be able to withstand any potential signal interference; and the new rules apply only to domestic flights.

Some marketers already are taking advantage of the changes.

Delta and JetBlue were two of the first airlines to submit plans to the FAA in allowing consumers to leave their mobile devices on through all parts of traveling. Both airlines received permission to implement the new rules, and also lead the pack in marketing around the regulations, according to Digiday. Delta and JetBlue encourage passengers to take aerial photos and share them on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #below10kfeet. Delta even is holding a photo contest, in which passengers who share photos can win two free first-class tickets.

4 opportunities to get in-flight marketing off the ground

These and other promotions are in the early stages yet, of course. But here are four ways experts say that mobile marketers can seize the opportunity.

  1. Create travel-specific sites: Marketers could create mobile display ads that run specifically on airline Wi-Fi. In the car rental example, these ads could direct flyers to a special registration landing page that lets them book a vehicle before touching down. Booksellers like Amazon could build mobile sites specifically with travel-friendly book recommendations for download or even special delivery to the hotel.
  2. Get in the travel mindset: How does your product relate to travel? Marketers can offer in-flight promotions for passengers via mobile display ads to use on their trips, such as coupons for excursions or discounts on location-specific services.
  3. Be entertaining: Passengers confined to airplane seats desperately want to be amused (or calmed). Share news, fun videos or games that help passengers to pass the time and brands to build awareness. Marketers could link to airplane-friendly pages in their websites or send emails to customers who they know will be travelling soon.
  4. Be waiting at the gate: As soon as passengers touch down, they're sure to turn off "airplane mode." Marketers could send a text while customers are in the air, so the brand message is the first thing travelers see upon arrival.

Success hinges on Wi-Fi access

Still, challenges remain before mobile marketers can truly offer a great customer experience 30,000 feet in the air. The biggest hurdle in the short term? Wi-Fi. Many airplanes still aren’t equipped to offer Wi-Fi. By year’s end, only about 21 percent of commercial airplanes globally will have Wi-Fi or cellular connections, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

Gogo, the largest supplier of airplane Wi-Fi, says that only about 6 percent of passengers pay for its services on an average flight. Further, many of those passengers are business travelers whose companies will foot the bill.

“In order for in-flight mobile marketing potential to fully materialize, airlines will have to enhance their Wi-Fi offerings and cater to the leisurely users simply looking for better in-flight entertainment,” Tony Danova writes on Business Insider.

Airlines have taken notice. JetBlue soon will offer limited free Internet access or pay-per-flight version that allows video streaming. In 2014, Gogo plans to provide Internet service that’s six times the speed of its current performance on Virgin America flights.

What do you think? Tell us below how mobile marketers can reap the benefits of an increasingly wired cabin full of antsy passengers.

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