Adrian Peter Tse
Jan 7, 2015

The agency refining Cathay Pacific's branding, from physical to digital

HONG KONG – From lounge to in-flight service, Eight Partnership recently worked to breathe fresh life into Cathay Pacific’s customer-facing elements. Chris Fjelddahl, co-founder of Eight, talks to Campaign Asia-Pacific about the firm’s calling in property asset branding and why brands should pay more attention to this important aspect of customer experience.

Chris Fjelddahl, co-founder, Eight Partnership
Chris Fjelddahl, co-founder, Eight Partnership

In a world where everyone is talking about digital and developing for online, it’s easy to forget the impact of physical, real-world spaces on human experience. It’s a discipline associated with interior design and architecture. But where brands are concerned, there’s a definite overlap that crosses over into customer experience.

“On one level it’s about giving a property or space a specific personality,” said Fjelddahl. “On another level, it’s about how that physical space ties together seamlessly with all the other assets and communications to impact customer experience and the brand’s business and bottom-line.”

Eight employs a multidiscipline team that includes a core strategy unit, multimedia, product, and spatial design team. The firm also collaborates with world-class creative types in fields ranging from fashion to architecture. Famous architects that Eight has worked with include Antonio Citterio and Bjarke Ingels.  

“The people we collaborate with have a sense of all-round creativity and see how it can be applied to the world beyond just the field they specialise in,” said Fjelddahl. “When they come into our office, they just get it.”

Eight’s clients in the residential, commercial, retail, and hospitality real estate sectors include The Puli Hotel Shanghai, Swire Properties, Blackstone, Kerry Parkside, The Mira, Intercontinental, IFC, Sands, Tishman Speyer, Goodman group, Sun Hung Kai properties, Hang Lung properties, and Kerry properties limited.

The Puli Hotel, Shanghai

However, as a branding firm, Eight started out in traditional advertising and marketing communications. Early on, it worked with clients including Nokia, Apple, Arnotts, and Hennessy. But it wasn’t until mid-2000 that Eight realised its future direction.  

“An epiphany came with our work for Odin Property,” said Fjelddahl. Odin is an ultra-luxurious ski resort in Niseko, Hokkaido, Japan. The job involved branding, advertising, digital communications, concept development, interior and architecture coordination. The work extended to subtle details, which included building furniture that personified the brand.                                                                              

Odin Properties, Niseko, Japan

“The experience changed our direction, and we realised it was the kind of work we wanted to do,” said Fjelddahl. The shift highlighted the difference between marketing communications and design – something that Eight would ultimately combine for a creative edge.

In marketing communication, “you beat a message into someone’s head” Fjelddahl notes, while in design, “it’s about emotion and how you make people feel”. The nuances of brand experience lie in the finer, granular details. 

“You can test this by showing people any kind of design associated with a brand, whether it’s furniture or an identity,” said Fjelddahl. “People have gut feelings when something is wrong or inconsistent and they can tell you if something feels off brand more easily than if something is on brand.”         

Recent work with Cathay Pacific involved reshaping the logo, setting spatial and design guidelines for Cathay's airport lounges designed by Foster + Partners, as well as cabins, in-flight service and entertainment products. The overarching goal was to harmonise, simplify and better-connect the whole customer experience across touchpoints, reduce costs for the airline and have a positive impact on business.

Cathay Pacific, new logo

The process started with intensive qualitative research through interviews, surveys and discussions with crew, catering, passengers and loyal customers in the Marco Polo program.

“We prototyped to death, A/B tested our visuals, 3D printed objects in our studio and iterated our designs,” said Fjelddahl. “We bring the Ruby on Rails philosophy of prototyping to the way we do brand and design work.”

Fjelddahl said airlines have tended to segment people into economy, business and first class. This segmenting starts from the purchasing of tickets through to the way aircrafts are designed and laid out. It’s an approach that isn’t working as well as it used to.

“Nowadays a person might fly first class for a business trip and then go on economy for a family holiday,” said Fjelddahl. “It’s the same customer and yet they’re treated differently in each experience.”

The emotions of the brand experience are felt strongly in airlines and in real estate properties because customers “literally live through and inside the product”, making the work all the more important and sensitive.   

According to Fjelddahl, Eight’s work for Cathay Pacific has resulted in a “comprehensive journey map” that’s given the airline’s staff a “common language of the customer experience” from online to offline. The next step is to test and refine processes.

Cathay Pacific, airport lounge

“We never called it a rebrand” said Fjelddahl. “Cathay Pacific is a good brand already but we just worked to harmonise all its touch points.” Although the agency doesn’t focus on digital work exclusively, it developed the design guidelines for the airline’s front-end website, interface and user experience for overall consistency. DigitasLBI London then built the website.

“We work on digital as part of our focus on the bigger picture of customer experience,” said Fjelddahl. “Also, the margin for full-stack and comprehensive digital work has shrunk and it’s the space agencies like Razorfish and Digitas work and specialise in.”

Eight’s contract with Cathay Pacific will see the gradual rollout of new brand materials over 18 months. The first revamped Cathay Pacific lounge designed by Studioilse (Ilse Crawford) launched in Haneda, Japan in December. Others will follow.  

As the airline industry faces heavy competition, mid-range players are getting squeezed from low-cost and luxury airlines. The need to have a strong product, customer experience and brand is paramount.

“There’s no more room for advertising as cosmetics,” said Fjelddahl, who believes that product comes first and story second. “When you have a good product it’s then about engineering emotions into it.”

Fjelddahl said that Eight has turned down clients in the past that have lacked an appetite for product development or a vision to invest in it.

“To quote Warren Buffet,” said Fjelddahl. “Only when the tide is down do you discover who’s been swimming naked.”

See also: Bank of East Asia revamps 'SupremeGold' for the young and wealthy


Campaign Asia

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