Purpose Matters: Q&A with Molly Battin, Vice President of Marketing for Delta Air Lines
Amanda Turnbull, Contributing Editor, BrandStorytelling.tv
Brand Storytelling spent time with Molly Battin, Delta Air Lines Vice President of Marketing, who leads global corporate brand strategy and brand management across the company. We spoke about Delta’s journey over the last year, its purpose and what’s to come in the future:
Molly, what is your background as a marketer and your history with Delta?
I have been at Delta for almost a year and a half now. I started right before the pandemic hit back in November of 2019. Getting into 2020, the brand was really at its peak. Our CEO, Ed Bastian, opened CES with a keynote, and we were really investing in the brand, investing in innovation and had a vision of becoming an elevated, beloved consumer brand, where innovation was going to lead us into the future. We were really putting the consumer at the center of all of our decisions and creating a stress free experience for the consumers. We were thinking about all the different touch points to make travel less stressful.
We had our best profit-sharing day ever on February 14, 2020. We paid out over $1.8 billion to our employees in profit sharing. So, huge highs. To the end of March, where we had the worst day in the company's history, and we ended up really putting the airline to sleep for the next several months.
I would say that we took that innovative spirit that we had at CES, and really revamped and reimagined everything that we did around the consumer experience; now, with the lens of keeping our customers clean and safe. Everything from extra layers of protection, cleaning and sanitizing to partnering with Lysol to telling the story around our air filtration systems. It was a real pivot and moving innovation from a different mindset.
What is Delta's North Star, its purpose? And how has that purpose cascaded into all of the decisions that have been made over the last year?
Our ambition as a brand and this company is that we believe that no one better connects the world. Our values are at the heart of everything that we do. That's why we are so heavily invested in DEI and why last year we announced a billion-dollar commitment to sustainability and to get ourselves to net zero by the year 2030, so huge opportunities for us in that values led space.
Your purpose: connecting people and connecting the world, how omnipresent is it? How much of a role does it play in the way people approach their jobs and interact with customers?
We talk a lot about the Delta difference, which is more of an internal kind of rallying cry. Our people are our biggest assets. Ed (Bastian) often says that if we treat our people well, they will treat our customers well and, in turn, the customers will come back often which will help our shareholders. That's really the equation as we think about it.
In terms of what our people bring, those moments of surprise and delight - going above and beyond for the customer. A lot of that is in-service excellence and how we empower our people to create that feeling of connection and inclusivity. We talk about how no one better connects the world, a lot. No one better connects the world and we're a team. We're better together. Connection is all about that. We're here for everyone, inclusivity and helping to define what that means for our people, so they know how to show up, day in and day out.
And we are including our people in telling the story of what Delta stands for. The recent piece we shared on International Women’s Day featuring a female pilot’s story is a great example. (Delta: Monique)
As a marketer and a representative of Delta, how does this affect your approach to Delta’s marketing?
It's a great question. We know from research that more and more people are looking to brands for social direction and really are expecting brands and leaders to step up and do the right thing and lead in this space. So, it has always been part of Delta's brand to be a values-led brand. Hopefully you see it in all of our communications and how we think about connecting the world; how we think about representing the world. What we've seen is that it's become more and more important. It's a huge piece of our brand messaging and marketing is that purpose. Really thinking about: what are we not only saying, but what are we doing to implement change?
I would say we've always talked about equity and inclusion being key parts of our brand. But, through the events of the summer, it really opened the eyes of our leadership at Delta to how much more we need to do as a company to really move down that path. Ed has started a series of listening town halls and we brought in leaders in the community to help educate and have open, honest conversations and are putting an action plan in place for how Delta is going to get better and continue to kind of attract top talent, diverse talent in all tiers of our company and how we think about being more inclusive and supportive. It's become a huge priority and a huge part of what Ed's focused on and the company's focused on.
Sustainability is another area where Delta is taking a leadership status stance. Last February, we announced a billion-dollar commitment over the next 10 years to get to carbon zero. We’re laying out those steps. COVID put a little bit of a damper on some of the movement, but we've made a lot of strides over the past year and we're excited to roll up our sleeves and come out even more forcefully for it this year. It has been really clear that it's the existential crisis of our day and we have to take a leadership role as an airline and really lead the category. It’s a big commitment for us.
So those are two big areas that we're leaning into in terms of really thinking about you know where Delta is committed to making change.
In terms of your DEI and Sustainability efforts, how does that translate into marketing?
We know that in order to drive difference and brand trust, especially among this younger generation, we want them to know what our story is. We want them to partner with us and choose Delta because their values align with our values. So, it is very much part of our higher order brand messaging.
We're going to continue moving forward, and the sustainability piece will be a consumer message, but we're starting with our corporate clients because we want to partner with them, because we know we can't do it alone. Really, the first step is getting our top corporate clients to partner with us and help us think about how we solve this challenge together. And then, how do we tell that story and invite our customers to help solve the story with us as well.
What will be a measure of success? Is it ticket sales or what does success look like?
Ultimately, we want to continue to drive demand, obviously, bring travel back. There's so much pent up excitement to travel, I think, that's out there. I don't think it's a matter of trying to get people excited to travel again once the vaccine is broader; it's how do we make sure that they choose Delta when they choose to travel? And we look at that in terms of not only ticket sales and demand generation, but it's really those brand health measures. Is Delta a brand that shares my values, is it a brand for me?
Would it be fair to say that that purpose and being able to convey it clearly to the marketplace is the differentiator in your view?
Yes, I believe so. It helps us rise above the noise. If we can continue to elevate delta to transcend the airline category. That's where we have a big opportunity.
What role does narrative storytelling have in your marketing and in your dialogue with consumers?
It's a big part of how we connect with our consumers and how we connect with our employees. We start the narrative with our employees because they are the brand, in many cases. We want them to understand what our values are, how we show up, and how they show up for our customers.
I think what you're going to see now is that we're going to start shifting to that external story. We're now seeing demand come back and making sure that we're positioning Delta as the airline of choice as you decide to travel. And that’s really based on the trust and the actions that we did in 2020. So we’ve thought a lot about how we use that as a differentiator for 2021.
Is there a particular film that you can share that is representative of Delta’s direction?
We recently held an Employee Appreciation Day, and we had a beautiful brand spot that talks about how through adversity comes beauty and strength. We showed it through the analogy of forging metal. Showing hardship, but at the end, because of our people, we come out better and stronger. It’s this beautiful brand moment.
About Amanda Turnbull
Amanda Turnbull most recently served as senior vice president and executive producer of WarnerMedia’s Marketplace Image + Experience where she oversaw the strategy, planning and activation of WarnerMedia’s portfolio messaging to the ad sales community.
Under Turnbull’s oversight, the WarnerMedia Marketplace Image + Experience team brought key narrative capabilities together to enable a more holistic development and amplification of the company’s portfolio message in the advertising marketplace. In this role, she led the collaboration and execution of the WarnerMedia Ad Sales narrative via out of home, experiential and strategic outreach. In addition, she served as Executive Producer to WarnerMedia’s annual Upfront from 2016-2020 and Produced AT&T’s 2019 Investor Day to launch HBO Max.
Turnbull was previously vice president of integrated marketing for CNN Ad Sales, managing content strategy, client integration and activation. Within this role, she liaised between CNN sales and editorial teams to develop cross-platform partnership opportunities for clients and oversaw all client activations across the CNN and HLN portfolios.
Turnbull joined CNN Ad Sales in June 2008 as senior director of programming integration, after ten years as a producer/journalist for CNN’s primetime programs. She served as a producer on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, NewsNight with Aaron Brown, and The Moneyline News Hour with Lou Dobbs. She received an Emmy for her team’s coverage of the events of September 11, 2001, and was again Emmy-nominated for a feature on “The Smiths.” Additional accolades for her work on documentaries and long-form features include a National Headliner Award, Dupont Award, Gracie Award and Peabody Award.
Amanda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.