How MAB continues to build brand as fate of airline remains up in the air

The fate of Malaysia Airlines (MAB) is once again up in the air, as its holding company Malaysia Aviation Group (MAG) warned leasing companies that Khazanah Nasional will cease funding and "force it into a winding down process" should restructuring talks with lessors fall through, Reuters reported. This came shortly after MAB confirmed recently that it has reached out to its lessors, creditors and key suppliers as it embarks on "an urgent restructuring exercise"

At the same time, Malaysia's finance minister Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz said in a recent radio interview that the government would not offer financial aid or debt guarantees to the airline. On whether the government would shut MAB, Reuters quoted him saying "that is up to Khazanah as the shareholder of MAB", adding that he has never said to shut it down. Moreover, just yesterday, MAG rolled out MH EDGILE, its upskilling and reskilling programme for employees to create an individual competitive edge and be agile to drive operational sustainability. MH EDGILE provides opportunities for the employees to be upskilled and reskilled for other job competencies either in specialised competency such as facilities management and audit or general and trainable areas such as sales and IT helpdesk. 

Meanwhile, MAB has also taken matters into its own hands to cope during the pandemic. The airline has taken measures to contain the impact of the crisis, including a salary cut of between 10% to 35% among employees to sustain the company's cash flow.

This is in a bid to protect those in the lower income bracket, and to avoid possible job cuts in its effort to trim costs further. It has also offered unpaid leave and undertaken negotiations with aircraft lessors and vendors to manage payments and financial obligations.

MAB has also been advocating its brand promise of Malaysian Hospitality throughout its marketing since 2018. While this brand promise is still at the heart of MAB's marketing, the pandemic has certainly led the airline to pivot its focus during this challenging period. Lau Yin May, chief marketing and customer experience officer, told A+M in a separate interview that this is the perfect time to build the MAB brand and educate consumers about the products, both old and new, that it has to offer.

This is clearly a time when people are tentative about travelling, but that does not mean that they do not wish that they could travel. This is the perfect time to build the Malaysia Airlines brand.

Social media is a key platform for the brand when it comes to creating engaging, educational and valuable content for all its customers. It believes that the more value it can provide with content, the easier it will be to build trust with the target audience and customers. For example, Lau said its Facebook and Instagram accounts feature various content such as its Travel Confidently series on Mondays and Travel Takeover Tuesdays, both of which are developed in partnership with its in-flight magazine Going Places.

User generated content is a particular favourite. Hence, we have three days dedicated to posting and sharing content generated by our fans and followers whenever they travel.

Such content is usually centred around themes including Wing Wednesday, Travel Thursdays and Fleet Friday. "Content has now become a necessity for any modern brand and is at the heart of all our digital marketing campaigns. Our marketing and creative team work hard to build a wealth of valuable and relevant content that really connects with our audience. This is the key to improve and establish a positive brand reputation by building the trust and connection," Lau explained.

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In addition to these, MAB also launched targeted campaigns such as Dream Today, Travel Tomorrow to engage consumers who were feeling frustrated during the Movement Control Order (MCO). The Dream Today, Travel Tomorrow brand campaign was launched in May on Facebook and YouTube, and most consumers on YouTube praised the commercial and wished MAB well. The two videos had about 18k YouTube views combined.

Soon after, it rolled out the "This is Malaysia campaign" to showcase the hidden gems in its own backyard. Following that, it also unveiled the Enhanced Economy Flex campaign and the idea behind it was to ensure that MAB always had information that is relevant to consumers and present it in a manner that is easy to consume.  Launched in June, this campaign had over two million YouTube views. Netizens' reactions  were mixed, with some commenting on the affordability of the enhanced Economy Flex and praising the ad for its creativity. On the other hand, there were also some who criticised MAB for its poor service.

According to Lau, the "Dream Today, Travel Tomorrow" and "This is Malaysia" brand campaigns, as well as its enhanced "Economy Flex" product campaign, have done all been a consistent effort in building content. "Consistency is key when building content. When you are consistently publishing content across platforms, your brand will be perceived as a leader in the industry," she said.

Aside from those brand campaigns, MAB has also launched the MHholidays x Penang campaign done in collaboration with Penang Global Tourism and aligned with the domestic travel campaign known as Cuti-Cuti Malaysia. It also announced fixed fare deals for economy class passengers last month, and rolled out a 24-hour domestic flight redemption sale in August. When asked how MAB is futureproofing its marketing strategies, Lau said:

Future proof, at best, is wishful thinking. After a pandemic, the only thing one can do is pick up the pieces and take stock of what is left in the wake.

Moving forward, the new normal of travel marketing will revolve around assurance. Lau explained that every marketing effort that any transportation or hospitality company is going to make, is going to be about assuring the consumer that the confined space that they are in, has been kept safe and hygienic for them. Making clear note of this, the airline pushed out a Fly Confidently campaign in July which offered passengers complimentary hygiene kits to provide them with greater peace of mind when they travel with MAB. 

"When we knew that the domestic travel restrictions were being lifted, we immediately created content communication about the safety procedures on board," Lau said. The airline also produced a series of communication resources for customers with infographics, travel checklist and advisories featured across its social media platforms, website, direct mail, and displayed at the lounge under the Fly Confidently campaign.

"Even before the MCO began, we [have been] continuously listening to the voice of our passengers and doing everything we can to address their expectations and demands, without compromising on the safety, security and hygiene aspects," Lau said. She explained that the Fly Confident initiative shows the airline's commitment in ensuring that it provides passengers with a comfortable end-to-end travel experience and is an example of how it showcases Malaysian Hospitality in all its marketing.

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