Being a big brand brings with it a potential to inspire and make a difference. This post is my way of giving some kudos to Kenya Airways. For anyone interested in communication the three examples below of communication efforts from KQ, provide some good information and inspiration. And for those of you who like airplanes and airports there is good eye candy.
I remember growing up flying somewhere was really special. An airplane ticket was like a little booklet of incomprehensible slippery sheets, it was all code and all obviously very significant. Today flying is not as complicated; in practice, it’s not more difficult to get an airplane ticket than to get a cinema ticket if you have access to a computer. What I find distinguishes one airline from the other is how they adapt to new times. Flying is not insignificant. You get into a vehicle up in the air to travel miles and miles; this is a great act of trust. Even though the market experiences a pricing war, a plane ticket is still often fairly, and in some cases extremely expensive, for many people in the world. And an airline is, if it wants to be, a gate to the world. Just like maps do, airlines shape our worldview. An airline creates our experience of how it feels to travel, it shapes our idea of what is close and what is far, where can we go… When a direct connection is introduced from our home that destination becomes part of our world in a new way.
I don’t think many airlines live up to this; they don’t see or fully embrace the privileges and responsibilities that their role in travellers’ lives gives them. They don’t even themselves seem to think that flying is very special sometimes. Some airlines stand out, for me, one is Dutch KLM – a customer relations and external communications masterpiece. The other is Kenyan Airways. There is a lot that Kenyan Airways does that I find really likeable and inspiring. My personal experiences include amazing cabin staff that helped me with departure depression when taking off from the continent and crying mascara to my knees, and freako seat neighbors, but also really nice help when I once was desperate to find a song that was played on the inflight radio station. But I know not everyone cries on a plane leaving Kenya or have creepy seat neighbours or music obsessions. So in the last months I have been observing how KQ works with external communication, also because in my daily life I am a communications professional. I will use this post to comment on some observations. Three contexts have caught my eye in particular: the introduction of Dreamliner, destination marketing and the current Ebola situation. Let me clarify that this post is based on my observations from outside, I have not talked to anyone at KQ when I write this. Let’s go.
Kenya Airways seem to have created a network of very strategically selected brand ambassadors and collaboration partners. So not only could you read KQ’s own obvious enthusiasm over the Dreamliner, there were also some special flights with celebs and prominent people who shared this adventure in social media. Generally, KQ are very social media savvy and work their hashtags properly. So around the launch there was a lot of #kqdreamliner and #flythedreamliner etc on Instagram and Twitter! It was really nice to see the excitement. KQ also have the excellent judgment to use some of Kenya’s extra-ordinary photographers regularly to share news and content. So when Dreamliners started to fly there were so many cool shots of these new planes both from inside and outside. And in fact they keep coming. Some examples below.
If you enjoy beautiful photos of air planes you definitely need to check out this recent blog post, “On board the KQ Dreamliner”, from Mutua Matheka’s blog. Nice reading too with reflections on details and design and generally Mutua-ish cool observations like: “I love the large windows. So much space for taking photos in the air. I can never sleep on a plane especially on a day flight. Too much to see and shoot. I only sleep on night flights because, blackness. On this plane you don’t have the shutter, you dim your own window to total blackness or total brightness for a clear view (try stop me from playing with that button).”
A few weeks ago KQ did a very clever destination marketing campaign. They sent above mentioned renowned Kenyan photographer Mutua Matheka also known as @truthslinger to Paris to capture this KQ destination with his eyes, lens and perspective giving him custody of the KQ Instagram account (currently a lot of posts of various KQ destinations that are part of the #KQMoments competition) during the trip.
Brilliant idea of course. It is interesting to follow a first-time visitor to Paris, it is interesting to see Paris through a Kenyans eyes, through the eyes of an artist, and it is amazing aesthetic pleasure to see all the extraordinarily beautiful and cool photos that this collaboration generated. A very elegant and inspiring campaign. I hope to see KQ continue with this concept and develop it further. An example from Mutua’s Paris series below (yes, we know….the photo is surreally beautiful right?), the rest can be found on @truthslinger’s Instagram (look for hashtag #flythedream) or the blog.
On a much more serious note, Kenya Airways is of course a company that is affected by the current Ebola epidemic in West Africa. This is a very complex tragical challenge from many perspectives, and as we are in the middle of the process not knowing yet exactly how it will develop limited conclusions can be made. I do not have enough insight into KQ’s work to go into depth with analysis or opinions about it. But we can all acknowledge that finding the right balance between giving customers as much information as possible while making sure all facts are correct and speculation avoided is essential. Keeping customers informed about a situation that is indeed very serious while also helping them not to worry more than necessary is… necessary. And then there is a lot of practical information about new routines and practical matters that needs to be conveyed in a correct, pedagogic and easily understood way. Parallel to this, so many decisions regarding operations need to be made.
I have been checking the news section on Kenya Airway’s website for updates and these have been very informative with updates about cancelled flights but also how decisions are made, for example referring to KQ’s collaboration with WHO and the Ministry of Health. A quick media search shows that media in Kenya and other countries have used information from KQ. It has been and is interesting to observe KQ in this situation. It is good to see that different companies, organizations and other actors seem to be collaborating. Let’s hope and pray for the best. There are many new networks being created around the world related to Ebola, this will be discussed for a long time, and many many evaluations will follow. I believe this company (and the other African airlines) can contribute with much insight to such contexts.
I leave you with another photo and a song. The photo from KQ’s Instagram of KQ destination Hong Kong (the photo is part of the #KQMoments competition). The photo is taken by another extra-ordinary Kenyan photographer, the genius known on Instagram as @lafrohemien.
The song (video below) is the one I heard onboard a KQ flight between Nairobi and Amsterdam for the first time and couldn’t remember the name of.
Thank you for reading. Safari njema.