Ground zero: how the BMI brand is making a comeback

In YouTube tributes and global press coverage, Bye-bye BMI became a much over-used headline last year when British Airways finally announced that the end had come. But BMI, it seems, is not dead. Pamela Whitby talks to BMI Regional’s new director of marketing about what is being coined ‘the oldest start-up in town’

When British Airways pulls the plug on a well-known brand it is hardly surprising that everybody will hear about it. But, says Colin Lewis BMI Regional’s Director of Marketing, if you hadn’t been paying attention when the news about the closure of bmi mainline and bmibaby was official, you could be forgiven for not knowing that there was one that got away.

Unlike bmibaby which BA could not find a suitor for, BMI Regional was acquired by Sector Aviation Holdings for £8million. But it wasn’t exactly business as usual. With the closure of BMI Mainline, BMI Regional was left facing huge organisational challenges as it depended on all BMI Mainlines’ systems. Because the group was a member of the Star Alliance, all BMI codeshares had to close down as well as all operating systems, accounting systems, booking engines, reservations systems and so on. For 16 weeks the team had to work very quickly to ensure the business would stay afloat after the formal cut off date from BA on October 27, 2012 when all IT and operational support was terminated.  From this date forward, the airline needed new IATA codes, new offices, a new reservations team, new bank accounts; they even had to find somewhere to store BMI crew uniforms. “It was like starting from ground zero. All the things you take for granted had to be built from scratch.”

Work cut out

From a communications perspective, the challenge was that many people were unsure if BMI was dead and gone. Trade, corporate customers and business travel agencies, as well as the man on the street thought that the BMI brand was no longer. So Lewis has had his work cut out rejuvenating a brand that many people thought has gone out of business!

It has been an interesting journey and has led the team to pause for thought on number of marketing matters. The airline has a lot of credentials to communicate to customers:  the BMI brand has a 70-year heritage, and is well-known for its service. In fact, BMI Regional was named the most punctual airline in the UK for the 8th year in a row, and has launched nine new routes since the start of this year. It will fly over 450 flights a week to eight countries and 25 destinations such as Milan, Munich, Toulouse, Lyon and Hamburg this summer.

Think like a start up

Lewis was brought in to move the marketing agenda forward, bearing in mind that BA owned the keywords associated with BMI, all social media and so on. “We decided the best way to approach this was to get back to basics and think like a startup,” he says. So they asked the question: what will have the most impact on the business rather than simply be a nice-to-have? “In marketing terms we started to thing very carefully about what part of paid for, earned and owned media we would like to have,” says Lewis.

There were three main strands to this.

1. Communication: When a brand has fallen out of people’s minds, the key is to understand where the consumer’s mind is. You need to understand what is in it for them and feed them those messages.  Working with the same ad agency as before BMI Regional came up with a campaign: ‘streamlined for business’. This was to communicate that the airline was even more streamlined than before.  On top of that they also advertised relevant deals.

2. Working the network: 11 new routes were opened in six weeks, another message that was communicated with all relevant partners including the Star Alliance as well as the airports BMI flies into. Again the aim was to explain to people why this matters such as, for example, the fact that regional airports are less crowded.

3. PR: Finally they hired an aggressive PR agency in London to communicate the message first to the trade press, then national and finally consumer press. 

“In the last month we have been fine-tuning the website content and ironing out comprehensive ad words, search marketing, display campaigns and so on,” says Lewis.

Social hype

Interestingly, social media doesn’t come into this first marketing stage. “You would imagine that all the hype around social it would panacea for everything,” says Lewis. But the reality is that BA owned the rights to BMI so even here BMI Regional had to set up social media accounts like Facebook and Twitter from scratch. To complicate matters, they had a lot of squatters using BMI on Twitter and Facebook.  While BMI Regional has now sorted out the trademark issue with BA, Lewis argues that unless you run huge competitions it’s really hard to reach people and engage and it doesn’t happen overnight.

Of course that is not to say that social strategy isn’t important. But for Lewis it’s not the most important. If you think of the decision making funnel the most important thing is getting people onto the website to book. “Without followers, social is a big draw on resources and money and doesn’t deliver ROI quickly,” he says.

So when it come to marketing, BMI Regional is being “bullishly pragmatic” by putting resources first into online marketing, with a focus on search, then email and finally social.

To hear more insights on how to rejuvenate a brand join us at the EyeforTravel Travel Distribution Summit in London on May 23-24 where Colin Lewis BMI Regional’s Director of Marketing will be speaking

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