Cathay Pacific’s “Blending Borders” Campaign: Engaging Customers from Hong Kong to Chicago…

Cathay Pacific has proven to be one of the better airlines over the past few years at engaging customers through online contests. While most airlines scoff at the notion of giving anything away for—gasp!!—free (!!!), Cathay hasn’t been afraid to do this. And of course given the collective time and effort made by contest participants, when just a few are going to receive anything, I’d hardly say that “free” is the proper classification. As an engagement strategy, I believe that contests are far underused, given that they require targeted customers to opt in, take action, and when employed strategically, turn those customers into brand advocates. Given that airline analysts can easily predict what capacity goes unfilled, and the contest can be restricted to giving away those seats that would likely leave empty anyway, airlines can get a great return without giving away much. After all, what is the incremental cost of a butt in a seat that would otherwise go empty—ten, twenty dollars, tops?

I was a huge fan of Cathay’s “Why I Love Hong Kong” essay promotion. They also had an innovative contest where participants submitted dessert recipes, with the winning concoction actually being served on board. Now, they have launched another innovative contest to celebrate/amplify the launch of their newest destination—Chicago.

As Hong Kong boasts among the most unique and iconic skylines in the world, Chicago also prides itself on its amazing modern architecture. Playing off this synergy, Cathay has launched a “Blending Borders” contest through Facebook, which gives participants the very broad, open-to-interpretation task of “blending these two iconic cities into one.”

While the instructions drop photography, sculpture or illustration as hints, the contest welcomes any medium, and suggests that “the options are as wide as your imagination.”

The winning prize? Two tickets to Hong Kong, a cultural Feng Shui architectural tour (courtesy of Hong Kong’s tourism board), a feature on Cathay’s Facebook fan page, and finally a display at some airports.

By incorporating Facebook, Cathay is building its influence online and reaching a potentially wider audience than through its e-mail list. By partnering with the Hong Kong Tourism Board, it is adding relevant incentive and value to the promotion without having to spend anything, simply by leveraging its brand. And by using what will undoubtedly prove to be a pretty impressive display of art online and at its airports, Cathay is getting creative work that would otherwise be done by an agency for the cost of a few tickets! You think global ad agencies take on projects for just a few thousand dollars? Not hardly.

So, overly “cautious” airlines out there…pay attention to what Cathay Pacific has been doing, and take notes! This far underused engagement tactic could very well help you build invaluable, potentially viral, brand advocacy and ultimately lead to—yes—more butts in seats.

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Customer Engagement Strategy for the Airline Industry