Q&A: Abigail Comber, British Airways head of brands and marketing

BA’s head of brands and marketing Abigail Comber reflects on the airline’s key marketing moves this year.

Marketing Week (MW): How do you reflect on the BA brand in 2012?

Abigail Comber (AC): Overall it’s been a massive year for the department. We came straight off the back of relaunching the Executive Club and the rebirth of our To Fly. To Serve brand promise and into the Olympics, so I don’t think it could have got much bigger.

We’ve also had the ability to be brave and do campaigns such as ‘Don’t Fly’. It’s probably been the bravest thing in marketing communications that I’ve ever done (see Olympics box, below).

MW: How will BA pursue its To Fly. To Serve motto following last year’s brand relaunch?

AC: The launch advert last year was designed to remind everybody that we have 92 years of flying history behind us and that To Fly. To Serve has always been at the heart of what we do. So for us it wasn’t a campaign - it was a promise to our customers. Now, at the start of our £5bn investment programme, we need to show that everything we do underpins that promise.

MW: What is the legacy of the Olympics for BA?

AC: One of the biggest legacies for us as a business is the immense pride our colleagues have to work for the flag carrier of the nation. That carried through into the Olympics and things like our Park Live event in the Olympic Park, where we had more than 800 colleagues and their families who were able to be part of the games.

We launched our bursary scheme three years before the games and through that we’ve supported British talent and encouraged people to be the best they can be. That’s a legacy we brought into the games and we’ve maintained that.

MW: What new marketing challenges have you encountered in the 16 years you’ve been with BA?

AC: One of the biggest changes has been the growth of social and digital platforms. From a BA perspective, that has meant ensuring the technology enables us to do all the best things that we do. We’ve done a fair bit of co-creation work in big social forums and used our communities online to get regular feedback. That has required us to think quicker, smarter and react. You need to have two-way conversations with customers, which means listening and responding.

MW: What is the thinking behind BA’s new short-haul advertising campaign?

AC: We’re pulling out some of the real differentiation points about flying BA versus low-cost carriers. Some of the things that you might expect to be included but are not with low-cost carriers can add up to a lot of money. On the BA website there is a value calculator that shows how costs can add up to more than £70 in extra charges for things you would reasonably expect to be included, such as paying with a debit card, taking a small bag with you and having a snack and drink on board.

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