Rob Pollack's job at the Boeing Co. is b-to-b marketing taken to its extreme. The iconic company markets incredibly expensive products—airliners—to a very small group of potential customers. “Ours is a pretty small industry in terms of number of people who are involved in it. It's incredibly huge in terms of the amount of dollars that are involved in it,” Pollack said. His job has been complicated recently due to high-profile delays in getting the 787 Dreamliner and the revamped 747-8 Intercontinental to market. With a focus on Boeing's digital and content marketing, Pollack discussed how the company is communicating with its customers.
BtoB: How important is content marketing to your strategy?
Content has become, as in any other industry, incredibly important to telling the story and building a positive perception. As an example, the [Boeing] 747 was first introduced in the late '60s. It is being redone in its fifth generation at this current time. We were trying to deal with a perception issue of, “Boy, the 747 is 50 years old, why would I still be interested in that airplane?” The truth be told, it's the name that's 50 years old, not the airplane. The airplane itself is almost totally new. Its engines are powered by engines even more current than are going to be on the Dreamliner, the 787. We have this state-of-the-art aircraft, and we want to build a perception and tell that story. So we use the Web. We have an unveiling of the airplane. We do it in our hangar. It happens once every several years. We brought 15,000 people in for this unveiling celebration. Bringing in people means a combination of employees, customers, suppliers, media.
BtoB: How does the Internet play a role in this approach?
We felt the best way to reach a broad audience of customers and aficionados and others was to use the Internet to broadcast the unveiling ceremony live on the Internet. And so we promoted the week or two before the actual ceremony. We used a combination of search engine marketing and Web-based ads, plus our own websites to promote it. We had a huge number of people watch the actual event. It was very effective. That was followed three or four weeks later by using the Internet to show the first flight live. We almost did it like you were watching a football or baseball game from the standpoint of we had a narrator who can tell you what's going on and the color guy was a former test pilot for Boeing, who could give you insights that no one else would be able to. It really created an understanding of what the pilots were going through. [Note: 173,000 watched the webcast of the unveiling, and 238,000 watched the webcast of the first flight.]
BtoB: Boeing seems to talk to the ultimate end-user of the airplane, the passenger, frequently. What's the rationale for that?
There's a two-pronged approach to that. The main one is through a cooperative marketing approach through our airline customers. Our preference will always be to have the airline talk about its offering to its passengers. The other piece that we look at is broadening the reach beyond our actual industry and trying to reach out—mostly digitally—to the travel industry and, as best we can, to frequent travelers. It's really the people who fly a lot who are the mainstays for most of our customers. A team of folks works with the marketing guys in the airlines, and we'll prepare materials jointly with them that they can use on their websites. We'll feature the customers and some of the unique things they're doing on NewAirplane.com. We try to use NewAirplane.com in many ways to honor our customer base, [such as] when they take the first one of an airplane or when they have done something unique with an interior we like to show them off on our website.
BtoB: NewAirplane.com was started in conjunction with the Dreamliner launch. How are you using it now?
Now it has basically become our interactive content site for Boeing, although we have done a real nice job at Boeing.com in creating human interest stories right on the home page. What's interesting in this case is this has been somewhat difficult over the last three years because our Dreamliner has frankly been late. So you go into a little bit of hiatus until the airplane actually reaches the market. I think we're going to see a really big step up in visibility as these airplanes complete their flight tests and go into service at multiple airlines. You will see a real acceleration in visibility [of the Dreamliner and the 747-8]. Whenever any airplane starts up for the first time there's a huge amount of interest by the public but also media interest. So I think you're going to see a lot more coming from our industry hopefully in the second half of this year.