Thinking Tech

Marketing the 787 Dreamliner

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Boeing's 787 Dreamliner Gallery to seduce customers is imbued with nature themes and symbols. It's all part of marketing 787 luxury to airline customers.

On the eve on the 787's first flight, the media was taken through the Dreamliner Gallery in Everett, Wash. where customers pick seats, themes, galleys, bars and any number of amenities or simply view the new jetliner's standard features such as single panel lavatory door.

credit: Boeing Commercial Airplanes

"This is a catalog airplane," says Boeing creative director Jeffery Van Dyck. By that, he means Boeing's airline customers can one stop shop for everything right down to coffee makers and convection ovens. In the past, airlines were on their own after picking seats, according to Van Dyck. The only thing customers have to outsource now are some premium seats should they have their own design.

[Image Gallery: Boeing 787 prepares for maiden flight]

But before customers even get to the airplane mock-ups, they're situated in one of two lounges complete with a business offices and a conference room. There they can relax and contemplate what their airplane will look like. One of the rooms has a very Asian feel with lots of cork, bamboo and earth tones. That tells you where a lot of Boeing's business is coming from these - China and Japan.

Indeed, Boeing has model planes clustered together and emblazoned with customer names like China Southern and Shanghai Airlines.

[Image Gallery: Marketing the 787 Dreamliner]

"We want customers to see it from their perspective, not Boeing's perspective," says Van Dyck. To stress that the 787 reduces emissions by 20 per cent (or 20 per cent less "fuel burn" in Boeing parlance), Boeing tries to make the plane seem like a product of nature. Posters with leafy landscapes and seashore shells line the wall as if you were walking through a nature museum instead of a jetliner showroom. Symbols are heavily used as opposed to words. Very calming.

"It's brand language. We can talk boldly or subtly," says Van Dyck.

Boeing has four themes for designing the 787's interior: modern nature, modern technology, classic technology and classic nature. Hmmm, a jet one with nature is a challenges idea for a literal-ist like me.

Electrochromic window eliminates shades

But once beyond the themes, you're picking out seats or galley configurations based on full mock-ups using an "econfig" tool that allows you to electronically design your 787 on a large display. Put a galley there and you have to move some first class seats.

The center is to woo and wow customers. A very cool large display called OAG (Official Airlines Guide) Flight Tracker shows where all world's flights are on a world map. When we passed by it, the screen showed 12,376 flights and refreshed every five minutes. "It's fun to watch the swarm come out of Europe and head to Asia," says Van Dyck.

The most interesting innovations were the "Electrochromic" shadeless window which can be darkened from four settings on a button below the window. What's more, the 787's windows are a third bigger than ones we know in today's jetliners. Boeing claims the flight deck's windows are the largest in any jetliner and for the first time allow the pilots to actually see the engines.

The soft ceiling and wall lighting warms the cabin with reds and blues that change automatically (although the media type I was standing next to whispered "Airbus had that 10 years ago."). The 787's crew quarters used in longer flights have been moved above the main deck so as not to take up precious space either in the cargo hold or where seats can be located (flight attendants often had to crash below deck in a cargo container).

Nature symbols line the walls of the 787 Dreamliner Gallery

Any number of seat types can be ordered and of course Boeing emphasized the first class units that allow you go horizontal few of us can afford and will ever occupy. The interior reminds me of a new car that looks great when you buy it, but quickly loses its luster after a few hundred trips. Indeed, I could not help think about the tired coach class interior in a United Boeing 757 on my trip from Denver to Seattle today.

Yes and there's that cool single panel lavatory door that replace the clumsy bi-fold doors in today's jetliners. Now that's innovation.

Complete coverage of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner on SmartPlanet:

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John Dodge

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor John Dodge has written for the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, PC Week (now eWeek), EDN, Design News, Electronic Business, Bio-IT World, Health-IT World, Lowell Sun, Haverhill Gazette and Newburyport Daily News. He is based in Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure