Bringing Direct Marketing to Digital Screens

How to Improve the Airport Check-in Kiosk

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Mat Zucker
Mat Zucker
Checking in at an airline self-service kiosk has always been a bit of a game for me.

I count the number of times I pause to figure out what or where to click next -- and how often I find the "Next" button on the right side.

Things got more interesting since the FAA stopped requiring the "Did you pack your bag yourself?" questions. Now there are direct-marketing offers, which are still finding a natural integration into the kiosk experience.

My impatience at sloppiness, however, is two-fold: Direct marketing has become part of user experience just as much as interface design. By now, both should be pretty good.

Usability still not right
Just as phone makers refuse to develop universal chargers, airlines refuse to apply the same best practices to self-service for busy, harried travelers. Each airline seems to go its own route, ignoring what other airlines do, as well as dozens of other businesses in other categories. There are exceptions, such as JetBlue, but why can't the big airlines do better on such an important touchpoint? Self-service CVS is frankly better than most airlines. And Citibank has been doing it for years ever since Direct Access (remember the disks?).

For example, I now travel frequently to Chicago and I'm trying to love United Airlines, which has the most flights. During one recent early morning check-in, however, United tried four times to up-sell me, all with "Accept this offer" in the right-hand corner on the kiosk. Right-hand corner! Anyone who has created work for a digital screen in the past 10 years (or even done one online banner ad) knows this it the best place for a click. So putting the up-sell offer here may be rationally better for response, but is simply cruel for someone who is in a rush for a flight. After each click, I panicked wondering if I just upgraded to Business Class, purchased more legroom, or accelerated my frequent flier reward -- all of which I know my client or agency won't pay for. I just wanted to confirm my seat, get my boarding pass and get on to the humiliation of security.

What I didn't think about until later was that United had my frequent flier number. The offers were standard fare, more scatter-shot than targeted. I wish the database knew I was short (don't need legroom), love white wine (there's an offer) and have vacation goals (Europe, Asia -- anywhere but Chicago).

Needed: interaction designer and creative analyst
We need the re-emergence of the interaction designer to help us better bridge the brand goal and customer engagement. Unlike in decades past, though, they can't only be on the side of the customer, telling brands what they can't do. They need to respect direct marketing and find the right place and space and moment for a special offer or a thank you or both. These are a recognized part of customer experience, no matter how purists feel. These up-sell offers from United, for example, can exist as part of my check-in, but please place them on the bottom-left or top-right of my screen. The bottom-right is so I can get my boarding pass. And consider mobile check-in, which is where it's all going; perhaps target one of these instead of all four.

The interaction designer's partner could be an analytic strategist who mines data to figure out creative communications and relevant offers that benefit both brand and customer -- someone who can connect what we know will work and what might work. And this team needs to work across screens -- retail kiosk, mobile screens, PC and bigger displays of which we're seeing more.

Multitude of screens
I suspect usability lost prominence as website design best practices became widely recognized and adopted. But things are changing again. Digital screens and their uses are multiplying across brand experiences, making interface design and usability is more important than ever. In-store kiosks, mobile interfaces and bigger digital displays are the keyboards for more of our personalization and purchase experiences. Interaction design experts, sidelined too much as websites needed less usability testing last decade, need a renaissance and to be better backed by brand managers.

We need elegant magicians who can bridge brand goals to customer engagement: art directors of interaction. To succeed, they need the ability to assert themselves -- and sometimes over marketing people who want too much and who can be their own worst enemy.

Now let those great offers fly.

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Mat Zucker is executive creative director at OgilvyOne, where he's working on scaling the direct model in a digital world. He previously held senior creative positions at and R/GA.

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