Communication Lessons from the Airbus A380

On 18 January 2005, the world’s largest aeroplane, the Airbus A380 was birthed. It is an engineering masterpiece—Quiet, Spacious, and Loved by passengers. It could take more than 800 passengers, almost double what airlines pack into ordinary planes. With A380s, airports could handle many more passengers. And if airlines fill the planes, costs per head could plummet. It also promised a solution to an emotional issue—making Airbus cooler—and an aviation issue—congested airports.

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Singapore Airline’s A380 lifted off from Singapore to Sydney on October 25, 2007. The new plane stunned the world. A new era had begun but it was short-lived.

Just over a decade later, Airbus announced the A380’s demise. What happened? Airports weren’t so clogged as to justify rebuilding terminals to accommodate it. And with four engines and lavish bar spaces, the A380 easily swallowed a third more fuel per passenger than the latest Boeing 787. As a commercial venture, the A380 failed—badly.

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In the A380 example, the warning from finance and engineering were silenced by the guys in the ‘cool camp’. I am focusing on A380 because it presents massive customer data opportunities; lessons that communicators and business organizations should be paying attention to. Here are my thoughts:

1. Customer strategy: Airbus A380 learnings

On 14 February 2019, Airbus announced their A380s have been cancelled; with production ending in 2021. After 12 long years of shaky business and development, its closure didn’t come as a surprise. It was a sigh of relief for a company burdened by the weight of its own ambitions; the dream is over for the world’s largest passenger airliner.

Many a time, companies downplay how customers influence their business. They consciously or unconsciously do this by ignoring data. Surprisingly, many companies have reams of amazing customer insights from years of interaction sitting in its drawers; but no way of analysing or using them.

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To correct some of these lapses, it is vital to understand competitive market space and customers’ buying habits. Looking at how A380 failed, it’s impossible to believe that available data could not predict that most airlines had failed to fill the plane. Unforgivable.

This moves me to ask a few basic questions about the communication and overall company strategy. Please note that the questions ordinary look simple yet are huge steps in putting your best foot forward:

  • Who are your customers?
  • Are you in touch with them?
  • Do you know what they like or dislike about you?
  • Are they willing to spend with you?
  • How much are they willing to spend?

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2. Rebranding

No matter how cool a company/project/campaign is, one day it will hit the profit and loss reality.

Faced with brand or product hitches, PR experts and everyone in the C-suite usually recommend rebranding. Rebranding has become the magic word. It usually focuses on a new name, direction or product line; and not abandoning the original brand. The rebranding should instead move it to new ground with fresh expectations. Like branding, rebranding is all about positioning.

In Ghana alone, I have seen popular hotels and restaurants practically burned out. Some of these hotels and eateries resorted to rebranding to tell the world who they are in a fresh way while the others sat aloof. Novotel, now Accra City Hotel, has done a beautiful job using videos to tell the stories, engaging in more partnerships or placing their story in new channels where customers hang out and pay attention.

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3. To expand or not to expand

Usually, organizations do not know when to say “No”. To serve your customers well, you have to focus on quality, delivery, follow-through, and follow-up. I know companies that have thousands of products which even confuse their consumers.

Faced with the situation of making noise about diversified products, the key question for communications people should be to keep ones cool or be cool with the task.

As communications people and business heads, going after all the business can drain your cash and actually reduces overall profitability.

Sometimes, it’s okay to say no to projects or business so you can focus on quality, not quantity.

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Running an organization is no easy task; it’s a constant challenge to innovate or die. Being aware of common downfalls in business can help you proactively avoid them.

I can’t conclude without talking about communication people taking ownership of the massive customer data potential. Don’t postponed data usage to the indefinite future and then resort to rebranding when your ship comes sinking.

By Paa Kwesi Forson

The author is Head of PR at Global Media Alliance and writer at

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