Lufthansa Newsroom, Frankfurt

Lufthansa Group has lofty ambitions. It wants to be ‘the most digitalized aviation group’ in the world. That’s according to Christoph Meier, Director Communication Strategy, Planning and Operations at Lufthansa Group. TheNewsMarket managed to grab some of his precious time to discuss digitalization and why the lines between internal and external communications are blurring.

Digitalization of the Market

Digitalization looks to be the next key differentiating factor of the airline market. It is likely one of the biggest challenges for established players, but a major opportunity, too. “If you asked me what is your main business challenge just 5 years ago, I certainly would have mentioned the low cost competition and the price pressure that came with it. Obviously, it is still a relevant challenge, but it is a classic one, if you will. Digitalization, however, will change the whole ball game. It goes much deeper and will affect everything we do in the years to come”, Meier says, “in communications, too”.

In 2014 the Lufthansa Group established its own Innovation Hub in Berlin to help find responses to rapidly changing consumer behavior and market dynamics in the digital era. The Innovation Hub also connects the aviation group with relevant actors of the technology and start-up eco-system. In June of this year it was voted Germany’s best Innovation Lab by the business magazine Capital and the Hamburg management consultancy Infront Consulting, ahead of similar labs that were launched years before.

Lufthansa is investing hundreds of million euros into innovation and digitalization over the next few years to advance its product and service offer. This includes all aspects of air travel and the group’s aviation service businesses as well. Revealing future plans, Meier says, “Lufthansa is investing into real time data analytics, for example, in order to be capable of proposing tailor-made product and services to travellers when it’s the most relevant for them”. Meier also sings the praises of chat bots. He sees them as a great complementary service to the personal customer service. “They cannot replace actual human interaction, but are very helpful in speeding up response times. It’s a useful tool for simple issues”.

Digital Dimensions

According to Meier, there are three main dimensions of digitalization. “The first one focuses on business processes, anything from engineering to accounting, where efficiency gains from digitalization can go far beyond those of classical methods such as lean management.” As a second dimension he mentions the product and service side of things, which is all about enhancing the customer experience. Examples here are mobile solutions, connectivity on board or tailor-made services.

The third dimension is the digital platform business. “This is the one which has the most disruptive potential”, Meier states, pointing out Uber and Airbnb as well known examples for such online market places, which have virtually no infrastructure assets beyond their powerful digital platforms. As a home-grown example of a digital platform initiative Meier mentions Lufthansa Technik’s Aviatar. “The Aviatar platform serves as a connecting hub for apps, which offer digital products and services for the aviation industry”, he explains. Aviatar is an open, modular and neutral platform, which invites partners, clients and developers to co-create the future of aviation jointly with Lufthansa Technik. Access to Aviatar is not dependent of a maintenance, repair and overhaul contract with Lufthansa Technik.

Blurred Lines Between Internal and External Communications

“The world is as big as the screen of your smartphone. What you communicate externally will be on the screens of your employees and there is always a chance that what you distribute internally will also find its way into external publications”, Meier says. “As communicators we already got used to that, but with online and social media ever more dominant, the lines between internal and external communications are now not only blurred, they are in fact starting to disappear”, he goes on. He sees it as an opportunity for corporate communications, if the processes and the infrastructure necessary to exploit it are there.

Organisations typically are doing a better job in sharing softer stories internally than they do externally. Historically, external communication was news focused, often operating in a somewhat reactive mode. Internal communications units on the other hand, usually have a longer planning horizon and have been using a diverse set of formats including videos, infographics and feature stories for some time.

Up until recently, Meier says, the usual questions they would ask themselves when discussing the content pipeline was: what’s the news? Will it lead to – immediate – media coverage? There may have been a great story, but if the answers to those questions were negative, he explains, it would most likely not be published externally, for lack of an alternative to the classic press release format. “Sometimes we would pitch such background stories, but more often we were going in-house only”, Meier explains, “for good reasons at the time, but still a shame.” According to Lufthansa this is changing. “We are convinced that stories published through attractive owned online media can support us in our ambition to shape a positive reputation with fans or customers, but also with journalists, bloggers and other influencer.”

He adds, “There are so many interesting topics we can cover as an aviation group. Currently we are thinking about a focus week on culinary excellence. We could cover anything from wine tasting and wine selection by our expert (i.e sommelier), the selection of meats and vegetables, the design of the supply chain from sourcing to the creation of the meals served on board. This is just one example of really great content, with a lot of personality. We are very excited to bring to market more such stories, once our brand new corporate website, which we developed jointly with TheNewsMarket, goes live.”

Christoph Meier, Lufthansa

In Conclusion

Feature stories will have a bigger impact in the future of corporate communication, and comms teams are well advised to take an approach which integrates longer-term topics more actively into the daily 24 hour news cycle. That is why Lufthansa decided to completely overhaul its media web page and turn it into an information hub. “With TheNewsMarket we have found a setup, which helps us establish a state-of-the-art owned-media platform, providing an excellent user experience for fans, media and any other stakeholder interested in background information and news about our company”, Meier says.

But the impact goes far beyond the attractive facade of a modern webpage. “The real innovation”, Meier explains, “is the seamless integration of TheNewsMarket into the content management system, we used exclusively for our internal channels, i.e. the intranet, our employee app and our in-house screens until now”, concludes Meier. By using one and the same Content Management System (CMS), Lufthansa now wants to make another big step towards fully integrated corporate communications. And the company’s comms team plans to take it even further; it plans to write its press releases, its management briefings, media wordings and other communications material in the same CMS it currently uses only internally.