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The Futurist: AirAsia’s Rudy Khaw on letting content take flight

This era of change has kept marketers on their toes and pushed them to constantly evolve in order to engage consumers. Rudy Khaw, AirAsia’s group head of branding, is no stranger to the fast-paced world of marketing. Khaw started out at AirAsia as a brand executive in 2007 and rose through the ranks to oversee branding, sports marketing, and creative.

Among the list of campaigns and initiatives he is responsible for include the airline’s partnership with Pestle & Mortar Clothing, the “Hot Heads” travel series, AirAsia’s Chinese New Year film titled “The Boy and the Lion”, and the in-flight meal created with (RED) to support the fight against AIDS. In A+M‘s latest edition of The Futurist, Khaw shares how he is looking to supercharge AirAsia’s marketing strategies and how the airline has evolved its branding and content marketing to remain relevant.

A+M: What are some of the biggest changes you expect when it comes to consumers in 2020?
Khaw: Two things, in my view. First, attention spans. Consumers will be a lot more focused on what they want despite the endless barrage of communications in our daily lives. Second, the awareness of cause and effect – especially with the way 2020 has started. This will shape the next stage of consumption. Eco-consciousness will no longer be a plastic straw or a “no plastic bag” thing, but a mindset that consumers will be more naturally accustomed to in ways we may not even know yet.

A+M: What are you most looking forward to when it comes to branding?
Khaw: I think it’s an interesting time for brands. Definitely more collaborations, especially cross-industry. I believe consumers (even brands themselves) stand to gain more and when there’s a shift whereby a brand steps into another industry, that’s where things get interesting. The “Supreme effect”.

A+M: How has AirAsia evolved its branding and content marketing to remain relevant?
Khaw: AirAsia’s growth as a brand has been driven by the spirit of always believing and daring to dream. These values have spread across the many things AirAsia does, from the introduction of new products, campaigns, messaging, and positioning etc. This follows through regardless of how AirAsia as a brand and business diversifies as we are ultimately a people-centric brand. Our brand spirit never wavers.

With regards to content marketing, it’s really about understanding consumption habits across platforms. Consumers are becoming more open towards branded content. I’d like to think that we’ve all come to accept it’s all a norm now but at the same time, not without substance. Nobody sits in front of their TV surfing YouTube to watch ads (unless you’re from the industry or looking out for Super Bowl ads).

Brand channels on YouTube, for example, have to develop beyond being a dumping or hosting ground.

Content marketing really needs to be built through human interests and if you want to get more insightful, data plays a guiding role in relevancy here.

A+M: What does disruption mean in your industry?
Khaw: In essence – introduction of new methods, probably and most notably with the help of technology regardless of how it is applied. Being current, or better yet ahead of the game has always been the disruptive need of a brand but even more so now due to the speed of change in consumer patterns.

There’s a need to always be ready to ensure relevancy through adopting new methods but on the other hand offer value as a brand through vision to provide new ways to consumers to stay relevant or ahead of trends. The constant change in consumerism as well as media landscapes means that disruption is a constant need and this goes as far as tapping into learnings and methods in other markets to import.

A+M: Tips for marketers to achieve high ROI for their marketing efforts?
Khaw: Target right. Find the niche. Don’t forget the mass. We all want quality and quantity but these don’t necessarily have to be achieved from a single effort.

A+M: What is an area of marketing you feel is overhyped?
Khaw: Influencers, without a doubt. Yes, there are pros but I feel it’s overhyped due to a lack of genuineness. It’s time for brands to play a more influential role again and not rely on influencers to market to consumers. There’s a fine line between being influential and being an influencer.

The article first appeared in A+M’s January-March edition of The Futurist.