SimpliLeader: Dennis Owen on Cathay Pacific’s Brand and Social Media Strategy

Editor’s Note: As part of our SimpliLeader series, in which we regularly interact with the best minds in aviation, we recently spoke with Dennis Owen. Dennis has been with Cathay Pacific for almost three decades and presently leads the Brand and Social Media efforts at the highly lauded airline. Dennis spoke to us candidly about their new marketing campaign “Life Well Travelled“; what Cathay is doing differently in marketing now; their future marketing strategy; as well as some of the key metrics and platforms they are keeping an eye on.

Watch the video interview below to learn more. Edited excerpts of the interview follow.


SimpliFlying: Please tell us about your new role at Cathay Pacific.

Dennis: I have been in Hong Kong for about 10 months and in charge of Brand and Social Media. It’s been quite a busy period, as we have refreshed the brand and now I’m focusing more on social insights.


SimpliFlying: Can you tell us more about the brand refresh?

Dennis: Sure. It’s probably been 20 years since we really looked at the brand. We felt that it was time to look at it from all the customer touch points: from the website, to the airport, to lounges and in-flight experience. We started last fall with the launch of the new website and that’s where you saw the refreshed logo. Over the next year and a half, you will start to see more customer touch points with the brand refresh — including new signage at the airport later this year; new design schemes at lounges, with the first one being opened at Tokyo Haneda end of last year, and it is stunning. You will see more in the future.


SimpliFlying: Is “Life Well Travelled” part of the new brand campaign as well?

Dennis: Yes. It’s been 4-5 years since we last had a brand campaign and it was time for a change. We wanted to look at customer experience holistically, and we asked ourselves “Why do we do what we do?”. It is really about helping people travel well and having great experiences when they travel, with the airline being a part of the overall journey, regardless of whether the trips are for business or pleasure.


SimpliFlying: What would be the essence of “Life Well Travelled” then?

Dennis: It is about travelling well, living well, having good experiences and having that extend to the journey. We are an airline but we don’t want to be the airline that gets you from Point A to B. We want to be part of that overall journey, so when you think about your trip you think about Cathay Pacific as well.


SimpliFlying: Tell us more about your social media efforts during this campaign.

Dennis: We have used social media heavily, more so than ever in the past. We have a content hub that has “Life well travelled” information, from videos to user-generated content. We have got stories from our own staff about how they want our customers to travel well, and then we have talked to our key customers, people we have known for years, flying with us for 25-30 years. We asked them “What does traveling well mean to you”? Of course they have stories to share. Our content is around that, and videos play an important part in it. The first video is called “Road Warriors”, and focuses on our core audience of frequent business travelers; we did not want to move too far away from them. I like that video as it portrays travelling in a very realistic way. It is not romantic and fun always, it can be challenging and hard. Our other video is about family travel but it ties in well with the business travellers as well, as they travel with family, friends and partners. And the last video is something we haven’t done before, with “Miss-Adventures”. We are targeting millennials who want to go out, see the world, disrupt things and travel in style.


SimpliFlying: We noticed that you did three personal posts also on your LinkedIn profile. Was that part of the overall strategy or more spontaneous?

Dennis: That was spontaneous. I have never really written before, but I think I used my own social media channels for experimenting, to know what’s interesting to people. I was there at the beginning of the “Life Well Travelled” concept and I thought I had a deep knowledge of it. So I wrote about it as a way to help people and to make them understand that we want to be part of their travels. I was surprised by the number of people who actually read that — even LinkedIn reached out to say that it was trending.


SimpliFlying: Emotional connections and storytelling seem to be the core of this campaign. What business goals are you looking to drive?

Dennis: We want to expand who we are talking to, and use social media to reach out to new audiences. We want to reach out to the young traveller who’s starting to go around the world — those are our future travelers and future Marco Polo members, so it’s time to reach out to them.


SimpliFlying: Is this something that is kick starting your new social media strategy at Cathay Pacific as well?

Dennis: We are looking at social media holistically and this particular campaign is the first time we have really cross-pollinated across all channels, using Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. We also targeted our key Marco Polo members, used information from there on our LinkedIn campaign. We did “Miss-Adventures” on Facebook and Twitter, and there’s a section on Pinterest as well.


SimpliFlying: What are the core metrics that you are targeting with this campaign? Are you looking at website hits, video views or maybe even bookings?

Dennis: It is all that. It is early days and we are waiting for some stats to come in but I can tell you that, for example on Instagram in the last two months, we have grown by 150%. Our video views on YouTube are up to 7 million. LinkedIn content has also performed quite well.


SimpliFlying: Given that this has been a great start, where do you see Cathay Pacific’s brand and social media business going in the next two to five years?

Dennis: The greatest thing about “Life Well Travelled” is that its very deep and rich, and it can have many angles to it. I think this will be around for another 3-4 years and you will see us using our social channels a lot more to reach out to customers. We are looking at social media not just for marketing, but also asking things like: how can we use it to recruit people, how we use it for our website and how can there be increased co-ordination between our web and social media teams?


SimpliFlying: How big is the social media team right now at Cathay Pacific?

Dennis: Right now, it’s four other people apart from me. They do both digital and social for us right now, and we hope to grow the team. The future will evolve along with our social business strategy.

Vishal Mehra

Vishal Mehra

Vishal Mehra was leading Social and Digital marketing efforts at SimpliFlying from January 2015 to January 2016. A self-confessed commercial aviation geek, Vishal had led digital marketing campaigns at leading global agencies for 9 years, before finding his dream job at the intersection of aviation and digital marketing. His interests include Travelling, Technology, Podcasts (long before Serial arrived) and Beer.
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