Kim Thipe, Head of Marketing, South African Airways

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Kim Thipe
Kim Thipe

The New York –born and Boston-educated Thipe left the U.S. for South Africa with her husband some 20 years ago. Now she's probably one of the most prodigious movers of people in and out of that country. South African Airways, the state-owned airline, is a key driver in South Africa's economy. And Thipe's 30-person, global staff is executing a multichannel, personalized strategy to keep it flying high. Last year the airline realized a 46% increase in Facebook fans, 69% growth in Twitter followers, and a bold new presence on Instagram. It retained its Skytrax ranking as Africa's best airline and was named the top domestic airline worldwide by the TNS Sunday Times Top Brands survey. “Our client base is varied. There are new businesses opening, a lot of intercontinental trade, a lot of students traveling,” Thipe says. “We connect to them with the right targeted marketing.”

Marketing strategy: Passenger insights contribute to determining messaging and tactics to drive both revenue and brand performance. Performance is measured in many ways, so there's an opportunity to drive customer engagement and perceptions.

Winning ways: My team recently executed a brand refresh that included and aircraft interior redesign and new lounge concept design. These opportunities were rooted in passenger preferences brought to life while providing afro-centric design concepts unique to South African Airways.

Defining moment: The most singular impact was going back to university to complete an MBA. It helped me to perfect the execution of big ideas and practical projects that have added flair to my marketing ever since. I met really amazing people, as well.

Trend watching: Mobile payments and their influence on immediate buying behavior is one to watch. The ability to influence the frequency and immediacy of travel using predictive profiling to provide offers in real time to passengers could increase travel's share of wallet for new and loyal customers.

Marketing staff must-have: I give high value to the ability to articulate ideas in writing, spreadsheets, and risk profiles; they provide advantages to the marketer to bring great concepts to fruition.

Advice to young marketers: Excel at pure marketing tactics, of course, but have solid business knowledge of the industry you serve to exert the most influence and innovation through marketing.

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