Etihad Airways ‘We want to be loved in a competitive market’

Brands are expected to have a purpose beyond functionality but very few carry the responsibility of being an ambassador to the world for their city of origin. That is the job Etihad Airways, however, performs on behalf of the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi.

The aim, according to the carrier’s vice president for marketing Andrew Ward, is to “represent that pioneering spirit that Abu Dhabi has, that inventive spirit” with the ultimate goal of attracting visitors and investment.

With this in mind the brand has just unveiled a new livery for its aircraft and visual identity, created by the airline with WPP agency Landor.

The livery forms a pattern that is designed to reflect the landscape of the UAE, from the desert – represented by gold and brown – to the darker geometric shapes that are, according to a statement, designed to represent the “shapes found in the modern architecture of Abu Dhabi”.

Ward told Marketing Week at an event to launch the new look that the identity provides it with a “look and feel that it didn’t have before”. The previous livery was based on the red, gold and black of the UAE flag and was very similar to that used by the region’s biggest airline Emirates.

He adds: [The new livery] was something we needed. We were a name and a word that people understood but we didn’t have a visual identity.”

The visual identity will be rolled out across the premium airline’s 100-strong fleet over the next three years. It will be used on the recently unveiled Etihad Airways’ Airbus A380 as well as Boeing 787 aircraft.

New services

The interior for the former double-deck craft was unveiled last month and features the airline’s latest luxury services. “The Residence by Etihad” offers flyers a living room, double bedroom and ensuite shower room. “Guests” enjoy a butler trained by the “Butler Academy” at the Savoy hotel in London. The A380 also features fully private suites and improved business and economy class services.

Ward says it is these services the are helping get the still young, it only launched in 2003, brand on people’s “consideration lists”. Growth has been achieved organically and through taking equity stakes and forging partnerships with the likes of Alitalia, Air Berlin, Air Lingus and Virgin Australia both as a means of revenue generation and getting people transferring to and from Etihad flights. The equity approach is different from the partnerships forged by other airlines, which tend to form alliances.

The strategy is so far paying off with revenue hitting $3.2bn in the first half of 2014, up 28 per cent year on year. Partnership revenue accounted for $471m of that total, up 31 per cent on the same period a year earlier.

Sponsorship

Sponsorship has also played a key role in driving awareness and in turn sales. The brand sponsors Premier League champions Manchester City’s shirts and stadium as well as other assets in cricket, F1 and football.

Sponsorship of cultural assets will become even more important, Ward adds, in its quest to act as an ambassador for the best its home city has to offer the world. The airline sponsors the Sydney Opera House and will have a presence at the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and the Louvre Abu Dhabi when they open in the city.  

The brand is also committed to investing in above the line and social media – its social team will have grown to 22 by the year’s end from just a handful a little more than a year ago.

Ward says although funds are available they are not unlimited and all marketing spend needs to be accounted for. Even for sponsorship, considered by some as being an awareness but not revenue driver, the investment has to produce results – the brand works with Manchester City on a loyalty scheme that has proven a successful acquisition tool, for example.

“We need to raise the bar further. Emirates has a huge amount to spend [on advertising and sponsorship of the FIFA World Cup and several high profile teams]  but we’re more astute. We are about performance marketing. We have to deliver a ROI and prove to the business that we are delivering a commercial return. Every single marketing dollar we spend we judge.”

Becoming loved

Whether it is sponsorship, service or social media, the aim is getting noticed in a competitive market.

“I want to be a brand that people talk about. It’s about getting a response, becoming a brand that people know and love by delivering special experiences,” Ward says.

“A lot of brands don’t say anything to anyone, they don’t provoke a reaction. This industry is tough to be in, it’s low margins and you have to fight for customers. In a promiscuous market place, I want people to choose us because they love and know us.”

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