When Taiwanese carrier EVA Air began its new nonstop flights in June from Houston to Taipei, that wasn’t the only thing new. In addition to the excitement of having yet another nonstop route in Houston, the route is serviced by an EVA Hello Kitty Jet. Sanrio, the official home of Hello Kitty and Friends and its partnership with EVA Air is a prime example of successful co-branding in a global market. The successful pop icon Hello Kitty, includes apparel, appliances, stationery, toys, plush stuffed animals and more.
More than10 years ago, Sanrio approached EVA Air about selling Hello Kitty-branded products inflight. EVA Chairman KW Chang, a visionary leader of the successful Taiwanese company, had a bigger idea.
What if EVA Air made Hello Kitty part of the flight experience and instead of merely offering products, the airline and Sanrio collaborated to create a fun-filled immersive Hello Kitty and Friends travel experience.
After only six months of collaboration between the two companies, EVA Air launched its first generation of the Hello Kitty Jets in October 2005.
How did these two companies successfully work together?
The process of co-branding is not always an easy one and EVA and Sanrio overcame numerous challenges. However, their successful partnership moved forward due to strong leadership and shared values. Chairman Chang reviewed every detail and surprised Sanrio by investing significant resources into the co-branding program.
Both companies emphasize customer service, quality products and excellent customer experiences. Both companies had different customer bases and working together meant sharing their customers with each other. Ultimately, the companies understood that the focus had to be their customers.
Chang, EVA Air chairman and vice group chairman of Evergreen Group, has a passion for airplanes and everything about them. His passion has shown throughout every phase of his young career. He is a continuous learner who started his career as an entry-level EVA Air check-in agent and then joined Evergreen Group’s airline division in 1996. His affinity for aircraft and the airline business is complemented by his well-developed management skills, technical acumen and an international perspective.
His leadership, savvy and creativity led the growing international airline to become a Star Alliance member and launch the internationally acclaimed EVA Hello Kitty Jet program. He became president of the airline in 2005 and took an unpaid leave of absence in 2006 to study and further develop his airline-industry knowledge.
The board selected him again to serve in that leadership role in 2011. He spent a hot summer in a steamy aircraft hangar in engineering and maintenance with enthusiasm. He earned his pilot’s rating to fly Boeing 777s and achieved the rank of captain.
EVA’s Hello Kitty Jets have become more successful than Sanrio projected. This concept appeals to a wide range of travelers as some passengers book flights to collect the service items (pillow cases, utensils, headrest covers and more). Besides the colorful décor and theme, every passenger receives warm, friendly service and comfortable aircraft.
Passenger bookings on the Hello Kitty Jets are approximately 3 percent higher than their regular aircraft and inflight duty-free sales of exclusive Hello Kitty and Sanrio items has climbed to $3 million a year.
Here are some tips for executives considering co-branding:
- Think big.
- Look for shared values between companies.
- Do everything possible to meet and exceed customer expectations.
Hello Kitty Jets are much more than co-branding. More importantly, the secret of the EVA Air and Sanrio/Hello Kitty success is their shared values and goals. It is important to select the right partner.
Linda Toyota is president of the Asian Chamber of Commerce of Houston. Contact her at [email protected]