How SkyMall Could Have Been Saved

Five Strategies SkyMall Could Have Used to Prosper in the Digital Age

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How could a brand that, until recently, snagged 650 million eyeballs a week, and only a couple of years ago raked in $130 million in revenue, suddenly be run into the ground deeper than the Zombie of Montclaire Moors garden statue? That is the lesser-known cousin of the infamous Garden Yeti, and my personal favorite SkyMall product (still available for $99.95).

By its own measure, the company's downfall came down to Amazon, Candy Crush, Snapchat and Tinder.

In court documents, Skymall top exec Scott Wiley blamed the increased use of electronic devices on planes resulting in fewer people perusing the SkyMall in-flight catalog. He also said that a "crowded, rapidly evolving and intensely competitive" retail environment was to blame.

The thing is, isn't it a crowded, evolving and competitive market for every single brand in the world today? And shouldn't smartphones and tablets be considered a mode to reach consumers, not an obstacle? In a multi-screen, always-running-low battery environment, the onus is on brands to expand ways of engaging with and delighting customers.

My theory? SkyMall found itself in this current predicament because it was passive. It didn't actively interact with consumers and serve them in new ways outside of the seats they were wedged in for the duration of their flights.

While entertaining to flip through, the brand has essentially been known to consumers in one medium only, and that's print. There aren't too many brands that after 25 years in existence could say the same thing.

A large amount of goodwill has been heaped upon the brand, despite the fact that it didn't try very hard. Just have a look at Tumblr posts dedicated to it, the repeated Buzzfeed listicles detailing the magazine's best products, and even an ode to SkyMall by singer Jonathan Coulton.

Still, the brand lovin' is largely of the ironic kind.

Had SkyMall devoted a little time to storytelling, it could have been an inspirational brand and the recipient of far more love. Because there's a good story there, too -- one that's perfectly apt for the times about inventors and entrepreneurialism and above all, fun. How many people out there even knew that SkyMall was an innovation factory of sorts?

Fewer still probably know that SkyMall's cofounder, Alan Lobock, is an angel investor and software maker who even launched a clever little tool called Worthworm to help early-stage companies seeking investment. With so much consumer support and smart minds in the room, it's hard to see where it went wrong, other than surmise that it just didn't bother to try.

Maybe someone else will come along to revive the brand. In the meantime, here are five things I wish SkyMall had attempted that could have made the brand come alive:

1. Mobile. Technology is our friend. How there wasn't more mobile interaction is beyond me. A simple application where you could purchase products in-flight and have them confirmed when reconnected to cell service, or the ability to send a friend a product recommendation with a note or share, would have been a great way to expand the brand's reach with customers.

2. Crowdsourcing. Truth be told, SkyMall could have been the first Kickstarter, designed especially for the inventors of products. Under this model, the magazine and website could have promoted new inventions and served essentially as a testing ground to gauge consumer appetite.

3. Content. Could there have been a better and more engaging content experience? Certainly. One that wasn't just about selling, but about getting people to think about the possibilities of product creation. SkyMall could have done interviews with the inventors. Run photos from real product owners with Onion-like commentary and stories. Maybe a funny book timed for the holidays that was sold at your local Urban Outfitters. A partnership with someEcards. The possibilities feel endless.

4. Retail. SkyMall could certainly have tried out another way of getting its goods in front of consumers -- one that could have allowed them to actually reach out and touch the products. Why were there never any samples on flights? It could have been a better, funnier version of Brookstone perhaps. A SkyMall pop-up store would get plenty of foot traffic in urban centers. What about a literal play on words -- like SkyMall stores at the top of skyscrapers? And then there's Amazon drone delivery: quite literally, have the products fall out of the sky.

5. Entertainment. Speaking of stuntvertising, SkyMall could easily have beat Red Bull and Felix Baumgartner to the punch. Skymall should have done something like WestJet.

It doesn't take much to start brainstorming the myriad ways that SkyMall could have gone to market that were as fun as the products it carries in its magazine.

The biggest risk today is not taking one at all. Sitting by idly, refusing to modernize or not bothering to engage consumers in new ways is a pretty sure bet that you'll go out of business. Trying a value-centric approach, one in which you create content to entertain audiences -- that's when you really can spread your wings and fly.

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