[Interview] Nok Air CEO Patee Sarasin: How to build a likable airline brand

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with many talented airline executives at a personal level. Few in Asia have exuded the charisma of Nok Air CEO Patee Sarasin. Perhaps that comes from him being a rockstar in Thailand – he is a prolific musician who often hosts concerts of his own. Perhaps that comes from the fact that he is an ex-advertising executive, who adds a flair to airline marketing. Though, it’s the same flair that some might find offending, Patee takes the criticism in his stride.

Building a likable airline brand

He is just as comfortable being known as the CEO of the “angry bird airline” as he is discussing how he led the airline to make record profits over the last year. Nok Air is on a winning streak of late, having announced international expansion plans, and ordered Boeing 737s and Bombardier Q400s. While it wouldn’t be wrong to label him the Richard Branson of Thailand, he claims he’s not as rich!

In this exclusive interview, Patee discusses how building a likable brand has been a critical factor in making Nok Air profitable. He also shares how he intends to go international, and fly long haul in partnership with Singapore-based Scoot. The video interview is embedded below for your viewing pleasure, including a summary of the key points he mentions:

  • Focus on “likability” as the key to success of the Nok Air brand [0:31]
  • The second phase of growth – new aircraft, new regional routes and long-haul [1:05]
  • Making and LCC profitable despite multiple fleet-type [1:25]
  • How having a marketing background helped create a differentiated brand [2:14]
  • How the low-cost long-haul Nok-Scoot brand will work [2:50]
  • Exporting the culture through regional expansion [3:20]
  • Creating a successful airline brand in non-home markets [3:50]
  • How being the “Richard Branson of Thailand” helps add a personality to the brand [4:30]

“If you build the likability [of the brand] and they like you, you’ll have the costs under control, you’ll get the budgets and you’ll drive the revenues”

Patee certainly would get a number of airline executives thinking about putting brand ahead of operations and profits. Though, it will be interesting to observe how he deals with the pressures of building an international brand, not just one liked domestically in Thailand.

If you’re keen to have your team think differently about airline marketing, like Nok Air is doing, please feel free to drop us a line at letstalk@simpliflying.com to find out about our consulting expertise and in-house MasterClasses.


Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam is the CEO of SimpliFlying and a globally sought-after consultant, speaker and thought-leader on airline branding and customer engagement strategy. He is also the youngest winner of the Global Brand Leadership Award and has addressed senior aviation executives globally, from Chile to Canada and from Sydney to San Francisco. Shashank's perspectives have found their way into major media outlets, including CNN Travel, CNBC, MSNBC, Bloomberg UTV, Mashable and in leading publications like Airline Business, ATW, Aviation Week, and others. Shashank studied Information Systems Management and Business Management at Singapore Management University and Carnegie Mellon University. Hailing from India, he splits his time between Singapore and Vancouver, among other cities.
Shashank Nigam
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