Tim Mapes

Managing Director-Marketing, Delta

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7 of 10> Go to Next Innovator

Brand equals company plus positioning and advertising, right? Not if you're Tim Mapes. Many credit Delta's managing director-marketing with the branding of Song, the company's now-defunct targeted entry into low-cost flight. But while he has a heavy advertising background, it was a stint in operations that really taught him how to brand.
Tim Mapes, managing director-marketing, Delta
Tim Mapes, managing director-marketing, Delta Credit: Darryl Estrine

As a child Mr. Mapes knew his career direction. "I wanted to be in advertising from the moment I watched 'Bewitched' -- come home to a beautiful wife called Samantha, drink martinis with Mr. Tate and fool around with art boards," he said.

He majored in advertising and worked at agencies before going to Delta in 1992 and becoming director of advertising in 1993. The results were ... industry standard. "I presided over some of the most hyperbolic ad campaigns in Delta's history," he admitted.

Then he spent some time running Delta Express and had an epiphany. Marketing had to be more than image and empty promises. "You go out to the field and see how hard ramp agents and pilots [and flight attendants] are working, and you say, 'We're setting our people up for failure."'

So when Delta started Song, and Mr. Mapes became its second employee, he wanted a brand based on understanding a customer segment -- women travelers -- and organized to delight the customers with style, entertainment and respect, as well as low cost. He wanted a revolution.

"I've been 28 years in the airline business, and it wasn't anything any marketer thought we could do," said Joanne Smith, Song's former CEO, now VP-marketing for Delta. Early on, she said, she shared a cab trip to a meeting with Mr. Mapes. She thought it was time to introduce the brand campaign to the line employees. "He said, 'Let's not show them any ads. Let's bring our employees in and work on building brand culture.' He was marketing from the inside out, building the culture that was going to build the product innovation." Employees bought into the concept, became enthusiastic, and Mr. Mapes got these evangelists out in front of prospects in the context of their lives -- serving food and drink at store openings, for example.

It was the right approach, according to Paul Parkin, principal of San Francisco branding firm Salt and a veteran of brand consulting with Virgin. "Simply relying on mass communications to build a brand is no longer enough," he said. "You need to engage with people in many different ways and let them experience the difference."

"[Mr. Mapes is] viewed as a breath of fresh air as far as the industry is concerned," said Paul Chiu, Accenture managing partner in transportation and travel. "When he speaks to brand, the things he speaks to and wants to execute are truly brand."

Although Song folded during Delta's bankruptcy reorganization, the ideas are still taking hold. The company is adopting a number of the features of the brand, and Mr. Mapes has added to his responsibilities reinventing Delta's corporate culture. The industry can expect to see him continue a holistic approach to brand. "There are certain things I hold sacrosanct I could never have drummed out of me again," he said.
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