CMO.com Interview: Laurent Fradin Jérémiah Bousquet Airbus
by Michael Nutley
Posted on 12-02-2017
Airbus is one of two companies that dominate passenger aircraft manufacturing.
But while the duopoly it forms with its rival, Boeing, gives it a strong business position, the group also recognises the need for innovation in its thinking. The most high-profile result of this so far was its opening of a VC fund and an innovation centre (A33) in Silicon Valley in 2015.
At the same time, individual departments have pushed their own innovations, some aided by Airbus’s internal incubator. One example is the project carried out in communications to enable the creation of more engaging content, as well as to improve the efficiency of content production and release, all based on the introduction of a new platform using Adobe technology.
This project also saw Airbus take its first step into B2C marketing with its IflyA380 site. Initially intended as a proof-of-concept for the new content platform, the site enables passengers to book flights that use the Airbus flagship, and, for the first time, provides Airbus with information about passenger behaviour.
Laurent Fradin and Jérémiah Bousquet, both digital transformation leaders at Airbus Group, spoke recently to CMO.com about moving to the new platform. They started by setting the context for the project.
Fradin: At comms we have several departments facing different audiences. The press department faces the media, internal comms faces employees, etc. Over the years, everybody has specialised and acquired different tools to serve their needs. It was not always very harmonized, and everybody was struggling with the acceleration of digital. We improved some tools and processes incrementally, but we knew this wasn’t sustainable.
Over time we tried to merge some processes or tools, but there was not the radical shift we hoped for. So we started to interview people in all those departments, trying to understand how they were working. We found the different departments were not so different, contrary to what they were claiming. They were all aligned on the same master process, and everything was about content. And they were all working along the content life cycle.
CMO.com: What did you do with that learning?
Fradin: This finding meant there was a chance to offer a common platform across all departments—to break the silos but also to offer a great collaboration platform.
There was very much a publisher-centric view of pushing a story on all the existing channels, but not customising the content to ensure it would have a real impact and be shared and drive engagement with our audiences. Taking digital as the main enabler, we thought we should be able to automate a lot of manual processes where people were spending a lot of time and resources and give them back time to do their job.
Along the content life cycle we defined five main services to offer our various internal users. We also needed a common interface to make people feel they all work on the same platform and can collaborate efficiently, beyond the usual silos. That was the initial context. From that we went to the market and looked for a solution.
CMO.com: What were your ambitions when you started the project?
Fradin: Firstly, we wanted to be really audience-centric, to engage with the audience by offering world-class experiences. Secondly, [we wanted] to be efficient. We wanted a tool for all the comms people based on the content life cycle approach, so that people could collaborate properly and break down the silos and processes where duplication starts.
And the third ambition was to have an impact on the bottom line—to make sure what we invest is balanced by the decrease in recurring costs compared to the previous platforms. We calculated two to three years for the internal return on investment.
CMO.com: What was the time frame for this transformation? And where are you now?
Fradin: There were two different stages, and something occurred in between that was not related to our digital transformation journey but more to Airbus’ reorganisation.
We started within the commercial aircraft division, and it took us a year to interview all the people, to get to this concept of a smart content approach. At this stage we went for broke. We took the opportunity to decommission one outdated tool—the tool dealing with the internal newspaper and the internal news multichannel publishing globally. That was our first proof-of-concept, and we continue to produce the newspaper this way. The second proof-of-concept was on the very same platform, to demonstrate that you could run something very different with the IflyA380.com project. So that was the start, and it lasted a year-and-a-half.
Then came the decision to merge all the communication departments from the different divisions into one department at the time of Airbus group activities moving to a single brand. So we had to demonstrate what we were doing for the commercial aircraft division would lead to the same benefits for helicopters, defence and space, and the group globally. It was also important that it became their project as well. Not only did we prove it to them, but we got their buy-in. Then we restarted the project properly.
CMO.com: And what have been the key lessons for you?
Fradin: Clearly buy-in is very important. Then to start everything from the user’s point of view was really a must, and to force people to see things from this “single” perspective.
Second, all those users need to be convinced by the benefits of collaboration and the avoidance of duplication. Proof of concept was highly valuable to demonstrate this and to make sure that people have more than just belief—that they can see it’s much more efficient, it decreased pain-points so they have more time to do what their job is really about.
The third part is the analytics. You need to analyse what’s going on from the very beginning. We should be really data-driven and transparent, so everybody can see what’s effective and what isn’t. That was key, and it’s still key for every sub-project being deployed.
Change management is also key because it’s people doing the job, not only the tools. And change management means that people need to evolve their skills, from publisher to more community managers, listening to what audiences are saying and engaging with them. It may sound basic, but for a B2B company like us it’s not.
We are also in a duopoly, so it’s not a burning platform. The media will talk about Airbus and Boeing whatever we do, so it wasn’t easy to convince people that what they were doing was no more the right thing.
CMO.com: How did you drive the change?
Fradin: We did some very simple things. When we started at the Airbus level, we looked at the journey of one piece of communication content: one press release. This showed us for the first time that it [took] two-and-a-half months full-time equivalent work to publish all press releases [and the subsequent language versions] on the internet, and two months to publish on the intranet. That was instrumental in showing that we needed to break the silos. To the management, of course, the recurring cost was more significant. And for everybody there was the promise to serve their audiences better and quicker.
Then the burning platform came with the integration. The danger was that this was sold as just about integration of resources, but we realised in this project that the key, the real value, was not the boundary between the divisions but the boundary between the different jobs. We had to make sure they didn’t just aggregate the press people from the three divisions and continue to work the way they used to. That could have hidden the essence of the project, which was to break down the silos and ensure real transversal collaboration.
CMO.com: How does IflyA380 fit in?
Bousquet: IflyA380 was the second proof-of-concept. We wanted to put some B2C behaviours in our activities, and we also wanted to get into analytics because we wanted to gather some knowledge on passenger behaviours. At Airbus our customers are the airlines, and we don’t know our customer’s customer–the passengers–very well. We are working with analysts to study this passenger data and dig into this topic to better understand the passengers when they look at travel, at flights.
We are also implementing Adobe Campaign for Airbus around this use case. We will provide inspirational content to create real brand awareness around the A380 among passengers.
CMO.com: When did this project start? And where are you now?
Bousquet: It took 12 months to launch. We were incubated in an internal Airbus accelerator, the Biz Lab, to define the ambition, the vision, and the strategy. And then we spent 12 months touring our airlines, creating the website and launching the project.
CMO.com: You describe this as being initially a proof-of-concept. What’s its status now?
Bousquet: The project is already a success, well-appreciated by the airlines and the travel ecosystem. Internally, we wanted to put in place a digital innovation framework, which is the platform but also ways of working on it. So we created a team of different experts from communications, media buying, tool strategy to biz dev, to work together to launch this project. The legacy of the project internally is the way we can now launch a digital project efficiently.
CMO.com: How do you see things developing in the next 18 months to two years?
Bousquet: We want to dig more into this passenger knowledge, and we have plans to offer to passengers new kinds of services. For IflyA380, the next step is marketing automation through Adobe Campaign, but also a mobile app. We will launch the app before the end of the year, which will not only be a booking assistant, but will also offer more services for the passenger along his journey, including in-flight. We want to improve and to offer the best enhanced experience for the A380 passenger, so we are thinking about multiple touch points to do that. The next one will be the mobile app.
Topics: Experience Cloud, Insights Inspiration, Digital Transformation, CMO by Adobe
Products: Experience Cloud, Campaign