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How Designworks, Thoughtfull and True helped Air New Zealand soar by embracing design thinking

Air New Zealand is a pretty iconic brand. Three big reasons for that: embracing technology, a design-thinking approach, and a customer experience-focused vision for the future.

Air New Zealand. It’s one of Aotearoa’s best-known companies, whether it’s the old tagline of being the “Official Airline of Middle-earth” or its renowned (and much-discussed) inflight safety videos.

But it’s also one of New Zealand’s most innovative, technology-driven companies. And it’s partially thanks to embracing design and design thinking that the company has been able to continue to use tech to improve customer experience during those ultra-long-haul flights from Auckland to London.

Over the past decade, Air New Zealand set in motion a comprehensive overhaul to its brand design and strategy.

Air New Zealand’s global head of Brand and Content Marketing, Jodi Williams, says it was an important undertaking. “The project was supported right throughout our organisation,” she says. “While largely driven by the Air New Zealand internal team, including our pool of talented in-house designers, we brought in our core partners at points along the journey playing to each of their strengths – including Thoughtfull, Designworks and True. These are established longstanding partners which have been on our journey with us and continue to be instrumental to our future success.”

It all goes back, she says, to a need to be design-focused to attract new business and keep the brand fresh. “There’s no question that throughout its history, Air New Zealand’s success has often come from world class design, but up until a few years ago individual business units and their agencies were able to design in isolation, using multiple identity systems, bespoke approaches and with little alignment to how their particular project fit into the wider customer experience,” explains Williams.

“In 2014 a ‘one brand’ strategy was developed to bring design cohesion and strategic capability to Air New Zealand and its agency partners, aligning a hugely complex global organisation while improving the experience for customers and employees across almost every touch point.”

That alignment has allowed for the company to more easily innovate – and help establish a global reputation as an innovative brand. Products and services created as a result of the new ethos include a $100 million lounge refurbishment programme, the “Airband” (which uses a wireless chip to provide updates to guardians of children travelling alone), a “chatbot” named Oscar, and a unique coffee ordering function on the airline’s mobile app, among many, many other things. The airline’s 75th anniversary also became an opportunity for an award-winning exhibition at Te Papa.

The design philosophy has touched all areas of the business, using tools and framework to create customer profiling, employee experience programmes and significant investment in design processes.

It’s paying off financially, too. Last year, Air New Zealand announced its second-highest earning result ever, pulling in $527 million. The airline also now holds the number one spot in Colmar Brunton’s Corporate Reputation Index as well as the top spot in AMR’s 2017 Corporate Reputation Index in both New Zealand and Australia.

Then there’s the matter of the Best Awards Purple Pin. Williams says it’s something the company is particularly proud of. “Receiving the Purple Pin and sharing the success with our partners and teams was an absolute honour. It is humbling to be classed in the same category as other notable winners – pulled from a truly talented New Zealand design field.”

Williams sums things up nicely. “Design is integral to our future success. It’s part of our DNA.”

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