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A Very British Airline and the Chinese Consumer: British Airways is Made For China

With a Made For China mantra, British Airways is targeting the Chinese consumer with a localised, digital strategy. 

China can be an elusive country, with social and business cultures that are vastly different to those of the West. And for this reason, many Western companies find it hard to conduct business successfully on Chinese soil. But for those companies who set their sights on China, and manage to communicate effectively with Chinese customers and within the Chinese customs, rewards can be great.

British Airways Bringing New Services to China

British Airways is one such company with its eyes fixed firmly on the Chinese market. Andrew Crawley, BA’s Chief Commercial Officer, comments: “China is one of our fastest-growing markets, and we see great opportunities here”. Indeed, in 2013, the airline expanded its Chinese route offering, adding a direct service between London Heathrow and Chengdu (home of the giant panda) to existing services. And the airline has also partnered with a number of local Chinese airlines (including Air China, China Eastern Airlines, and Hainan Airlines) to provide connecting flight services and ease of travel.

But the company’s effort to position itself as the attractive airline for the Chinese traveller has not stopped there as the company has launched a “Made For China” strategy.

Localised Products and Selling Techniques

Firstly, the airline is working to localise its products and selling techniques. BA London-China routes will benefit from a Chinese-speaking crew, Chinese language menus, Chinese language entertainment, and local language newspapers and magazines. The airline has also launched a quarterly Chinese edition of its in-flight magazine, High Life, which will be available on flights from China to London starting in June this year. Rather than directly translating the international edition, this localised Chinese edition will be genuinely tailored to the Chinese reader, providing relevant, cultural and useful information for the Chinese traveller.

Looking through the Chinese Lens

The company’s strategy also involves understanding how the company itself is viewed in China ─ looking through the Chinese lens ─, and then exploiting those strengths. Paul Rogers, BA’s Marketing Manager for the Middle East, Asia, and the Pacific, explains: “The Chinese admire our global diplomacy, our confidence both socially and in business. [So] right now we are attempting to lead the debate on British etiquette”.

Britishness ─ whether cricket or Wimbledon or how-tos ─ is now essential to the BA branding in China. To reinforce this branding, in 2014 BA participated in a BBC Two documentary called A Very British Airline, which followed the airline’s staff in the UK and abroad as they launched the new route to China.

A Red Envelope

But perhaps most importantly, BA has also developed a strong digital strategy in order to effectively communicate its brand story, and to attract and engage customers. On social media, the airline has built a strong presence on Sina Weibo, China’s answer to Facebook and Twitter, with 597 million users to Twitter’s 236 million. And, recognising the Chinese tendency to use local ─ and familiar ─ mobile tools, not only to communicate but to, for example, buy tickets, the airline has taken advantage of the phenomenon of WeChat, which now counts 549 million Chinese users.

Just one example, in January 2014, ahead of the Chinese New Year, British Airways launched its first WeChat campaign where the company delivered 2014 custom-made Red Envelopes ─ a Chinese custom of giving monetary gifts during holidays and special occasions ─ to the doorsteps’ of the first 2014 followers of its WeChat account. Inside each Red Envelope was a New Year greeting and flight coupon worth 300 RMB ($50), and three lucky followers also won roundtrip tickets for travel between China and London.

So what’s up next in the China strategy? BA has announced that this year it will conduct a series of events to mark the 10th anniversary of the opening of its direct route between Shanghai and London. Celebrating its hard-wooed customers, one can imagine that BA will support the event with a localised and creative digital strategy ─ and a twist of what it means to be British.



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