The CMO's Influence on New Product Design

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South African Airways VP of marketing Kim Thipe explains why new product development should live within marketing

Customer data-centric marketing is all the rage, which is a good thing because it allows marketers to identify who the customer is, predict what he wants next, and proactively deliver delight as a result. This cycle requires support from management, the availability of customer data, and technology in order for it to be complete.

As a marketer, I'm constantly caught up in this cycle, as well as the costs of upgrading or overriding legacy systems, speed, and scale that often come with it. This heavy lifting can be a vicious, wicked cycle itself—one that can end up being amazing and/or bad depending on how good the data is and our human ability to utilize and effect change given our operational constraints.

Analyzing behaviors at various touch points gives marketers insight into customers' needs; however, there is a glorious opportunity for marketers to take these insights one step further and apply them to the idea generation and business development of new products.

Applying this data to new product development (NPD) allows marketers to give customers what they want and expect next from brands. CMOs have great potential to influence this dynamic. I recently met a colleague who wanted to chat about the relationship between the CMO and CFO (been there) and the relationship of CMO and CIO (still getting there). But in new product development, there is a chance to work and collaborate with design and engineering teams to make specific product innovations that align with data and customer centricity.

NPD doesn't always sit in the marketing department, but I believe that it should. I have been fortune enough to have had this discipline follow me across a select group of industries as part of the marketing/innovation portfolio. NPD coupled with the right development, budget, and executive attentiveness can lead to products that can drive a brand ahead of its competitors. 

Since joining South African Airways (SAA) as VP of marketing, I've launched many new products and concepts with my team. As a flag-carrying airline, we understand that we represent people's first and lasting impressions of South Africa. So, investing in our passenger experience represents a commitment to our travelers.

We recently designed a new product to address, to a certain extent, passenger feedback regarding heritage, comfort, and the needs of ultra long-haul travelers. We learned that our interior design space needed to address privacy and comfort to ensure that we exceeded our customers' expectations. So, we created the A330-300: a striking new bespoke cabin designed for business and economy class travelers. In addition to the fresh interiors, we introduced a new in-flight entertainment system from Zodiac called Rave that allows passengers to download an app before their flight and access a variety of pre-loaded entertainment, which they can stream to their personal device right in the palm of their hand.

This new product extends our brand identity and design language. The on-board portion of the A330-300 design is part of a long-term brand refresh done in partnership with our branding agency CUB3D and design consultancy PriestmanGoode. In 2014, PriestmanGood also worked with SAA to develop a portion of the airline's short-haul fleet. These initiatives are part of a long-term program designed to address the overall visual language of SAA across its passenger touch points through a brand refresh. We wanted to create a strong identity that was reflective of South Africa's rich cultural heritage and appealed to both domestic and international passengers.

In this instance, the actualization of a customer need through design collaboration, brand development, and marketing proved to be a great fit for various departments. Our innovations took certain passenger requirements and translated them to the product arena, adding to the overall customer experience developed within the marketing framework.

About the author:

Kim Thipe is VP of marketing for South African Airways. Her responsibilities include the development, management, and leadership of both domestic and global marketing, digital, and advertising efforts. With product, business innovation, and development at the heart of her role, she strives to ensure a unique and memorable experience for passengers. She is an experienced thought leader with a proven track record of marketing and innovation excellence.



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Update March 20, 2017: The story was updated with details about South African Airways' agency partnerships.

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