Even by its own supreme standards, 2008 is turning out to be the year of all years for Etihad Airways. This month alone the Abu Dhabi carrier has reported a 41% rise in passenger figures for the first half of 2008 compared to 2007. And last week it stole the show at the Farnborough Airshow by placing a blockbuster order for 100 aircraft worth a cool US$20.4bn.
Etihad rounds off a bumper July with yet more good news, by being voted the airline with the “best marketing strategy” at the Airline Business awards. The airline received critical acclaim for its strong brand identity and the innovative sponsorship programmes with its sporting and cultural partners across the world.The panel of judges was made up of some of the industry’s most renowned names, including Sir Rod Eddington, former chief executive of British Airways, and Jeffrey Katz, founding chairman of Orbitz and former president and CEO of Swissair.
Peter Baumgartner, Etihad Airways’ Executive Vice President Marketing and Product, said: “Every company around the world knows how crucial it is to achieve the right marketing strategy and develop a strong brand, and that is even more significant in the highly competitive airline industry. Therefore to win this award, for an airline as young as Etihad Airways, is a tremendous honour for us.”
It seems hard to believe Etihad is note even five years old, yet it already serves 45 destinations across all five continents. Much of its early success can be credited to its savvy marketing, built on four core principals.
Firstly it takes inspiration from outside the airline industry, or as Baumgartner aptly describes it, “avoid undifferentiated superiority”. The second is to “be inspirational to the individual” by which Etihad aims to behave like a small airline and raise the customer service bar. This means a private jet experience in first class and a personalised service even in economy.
The third is to “behave like a luxury brand but don’t lose sight of the entire spectrum”. Baumgartner says: “We are a luxury brand and position ourselves as a luxury brand, but everybody has a right to fly Etihad and experience a touch of Etihad luxury.”
Etihad has successfully implemented its marketing strategy across the airline and has set new standards with the introduction of several new in-flight service concepts. These includes new amenity kits and an on-demand menu that allows premium passengers to decide exactly what they would like to eat and when during the flight.
The fourth principal focuses extensively on the drive towards making the UAE’s capital a premier upscale tourist destination. As Abu Dhabi’s leading consumer brand it want to play a leading role in Abu Dhabi’s vision to become a premier upscale tourist destination.
This drive has seen Etihad become the title sponsor for the new Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which will launch in 2009 as the last race in the Formula One season, and sponsor of Chelsea Football Club and Harlequins RFC as well as the Ferrari Formula 1 team.
Etihad was credited by the awards judges for going much further than just “paying its money and putting its logo on the stadium and shirt” and actively brought the partners to Abu Dhabi such as the Chelsea Soccer Schools for children which took place in February 2008.
James Hogan, Etihad Airways’ Chief Executive, said: “Etihad has only been in operation for four years but this recognition demonstrates that we are succeeding in communicating the quality and growth of the airline with our customers across the world and we look forward to increasing our brand further as the airline continues to expand.”
To support its marketing strategy Etihad has also invested in its loyalty programme and website, both of which feature several industry innovations such as special online auctions and raffles, giving members the opportunity use their miles to bid for rewards, including tickets for top sporting events and sell-out pop concerts.
With Etihad’s investment in next-generation, fuel-efficient aircraft firmly in place, coupled with its groundbreaking strategies, few would bet against more records being set.