honeycomb engagements in-flight

Report from the Aircraft Interiors, Catering and On Board Services Expo in Hamburg, Germany (April, 2012)

All brands can learn from a theme apparent in aviation design, technology and business: be bee.

Everywhere I looked at the ExporI saw “honeycomb” patterns and structures: from textiles, to stacked seat designs, from organization systems to cushioning material, from exhibition maps to display architecture. I learned that honeycomb is one of nature’s most elegant and strongest structures, packing a lot of content (people, exhibits, cutlery, amenities, etc.) into a small area. In addition, it’s a metaphor for our era dominated by social networks.

The airline industry, like a lot of businesses, still runs on the strength of human relationships and its “knowledge network.” The industry is small, tight and personal, with very little personnel turn-over. “Shhhhh,” they told me. “We want to keep it a secret how great this industry is.” Conferences, like this one, are key for face-time amongst people residing all over the globe. The four days were packed with “break-out” sessions and networking events. Every nook and cranny was filled with the buzz of people conversing, exchanging ideas and solidifying B2B trust.

This year, the star of the show was social networking: technology systems for inside airplanes AND social media coverage of the show. Tweet Walls shared real-time participant thoughts, bloggers outnumbered traditional journalists, and exhibitors pushed-out invitations on FourSquare.  Airbus announced new airplane designs that have built in “social zones” and in-flight entertainment companies boasted systems that support the trend towards BYOD (“bring your own device”, as in passengers using their phones, ereaders and tablets for self-tainment).

The lesson: the business of brand-building still relies on a combination of “hi tech” and “hi touch”; real-time face-time cannot be replaced by “iComms.” Human interaction and real life communities, not simply online communities, remain core to our behavior. Technology and social networking merely add a rich extra layer to life… and attract bees to a real-world honey pot.

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