John Yeng is Director of Product Marketing at United. He joined the company shortly before the merger was announced. He and his team are responsible for product development and marketing for the United Club product, aircraft interiors, all onboard products and amenities and inflight entertainment including Wi-Fi connectivity. Those who know John know he always has a positive outlook on things, a smile on his face and a strong belief in investing in people.
When he was 8 years old, John and his family immigrated to the United States. He and his wife Emay have 3 kids: Rachel (6), Ethan (4) and Caleb (8 weeks). In addition to passing on to them his love of all things aviation, John enjoys running and playing flag football and tennis.
United Hub: Have you had a longstanding interest in aviation?
John Yeng: I’ve always been fascinated with commercial aviation. Growing up in Taipei, my family would visit the Window of China theme park, where there were miniature models of landmarks and monuments and a big exhibit of an airport with aircraft on runways. I was always drawn to the big airplane with a “hump” (747). Even before I got into the aviation business, my love for the industry was so apparent that my friends and family would come to me for tips and advice regarding their air travel.
At one point, we lived in Los Angeles about 5 miles from LAX. One day after a morning run, I noticed aviation enthusiasts gathered on the grassy area next to In-n-Out burger on Sepulveda, watching airplanes land and take off. At Dockweiler Beach, which is also west of the airport, you can sit and watch the airplanes literally take off over you. This was one of my favorite ways to pass the time on a lazy weekend afternoon and I would often drag Emay there to sit with me. It wasn’t until I showed her these viewing spots that she realized I wasn’t the only aviation freak out there.
Hub: What led you to United? Tell us about the path you took to the position of Director of Product Marketing.
John: As a proud graduate of the University of Texas at Austin (Hook ‘em!), I started my career as a media planner with McCann Erickson (an advertising agency) in Houston. I stayed with ad agencies for about 10 years, learning all facets of the business, from media planning and product/brand development to account management. I was fortunate to work with some of the top global ad agencies in the country on leading retail accounts including Pizza Hut, Popeye’s Chicken & Biscuit, H.E.B. Grocery and Ameriquest Mortgage, as well as my family’s own business, Golden Foods Supermarket, an Asian American grocery store. From Super Bowl ad campaigns to one-to-one marketing, I had the privilege of doing it all.
While living in Los Angeles, a good friend who worked at ExpressJet asked if I would be interested in moving back to Houston and joining the company. I jumped at the opportunity to interview for a position in the Brand Marketing group and, in 2007, moved back to Houston to start my aviation career. I developed programs for ExpressJet, including the branded flying program, charter business and ground handling function. I learned so much working for a start-up airline and I built great relationships. But, especially being from Houston, I always aspired to work for the bigger brother (Continental). In late 2009, I applied for the Director of Product Marketing position at Continental. I joined the company in February 2010 and the rest is history.
Hub: Describe your role as Director of Product Marketing. What does your job entail?
I oversee a team that develops products for our customers in four main areas: onboard amenities (pillows, blankets and amenity kits), inflight entertainment, aircraft interiors and airport clubs and lounges.
We collaborate with the Dining Services and Inflight departments on menu planning, service design and service deliveries. I’m responsible for inflight entertainment, which encompasses content programming, our personal on-demand entertainment systems, LiveTV and bringing Wi-Fi onboard. I am responsible for the overall product development for all of United’s airport clubs and lounges. Lastly, I manage aircraft interiors including the design of the space, the color schemes, the fabrics and the lighting.
Hub: Wow, that’s a lot. What do you most enjoy about your role?
John: One of the best parts of my job is working with the individuals on my team. Every one of them brings a strong passion and unique perspective to the mix and really understands how to tailor our products to our customers. I love looking at ways to enhance our products. With this goal in mind, I meet with suppliers, look at the latest innovations out there, go on “check rides” on our own flights and with other carriers and monitor customer feedback.
An important part of my job is taking feedback from customers and showing that we’re listening by making changes to our products. This is an ever-changing mission as customers' tastes and values change. We’ve been working to build a consistent product and level of service. That work continues and, frankly, the work to improve on it is never done.
With every aspect of the process, we want our customers to come away thinking, “United gets me” – whether it’s through the inflight entertainment offerings, the meals, our clubs or the amenities.
Hub: Were you involved in the design of the 787 Dreamliner interior?
John: Many decisions had already been made before I joined the company, but I did play a part in the making sure the product specifications were successfully executed. I worked on the overall design of front-row furniture in the BusinessFirst® cabin and also had a hand in choosing the various pre-programmed lighting schemes for the cabin.
Hub: When it comes to new products, how does the decision process work?
We start off by asking ourselves what would make us stand out from our competitors. As we brainstorm ideas and evaluate our competition and customer insights, we explore whether each idea fits with United’s brand philosophy and positioning.
Let’s take our clubs as an example. This month we’re launching the newly redesigned United Club at our Chicago hub this month. This flagship location will showcase sleek seating and a spacious layout. We are incorporating elements of the United logo and color scheme as well as airline themes, such as an aircraft wing, into the design.
It’s great being hands on – and I encourage my team members to experience things first-hand, like our customers do. Recently, the United Club team went to our Chicago hub and walked into the various clubs. We took a look at the food display, the seating, the staffing. When we change things for the better, there’s a sense of pride in knowing that the team had a direct role in enhancing these products.
Global satellite Wi-Fi is another big product that we’re very excited about. We put great care into evaluating all of the products in the market. My team is busy actively testing the product on the aircraft and working with various groups to ensure we have a reliable product.
Last spring, we introduced new amenity kits. We went through careful design of the kit as well as the items included in the kit. We wanted to ensure that we offered high-quality products for our customers.
For our inflight entertainment, we have upgraded a lot of our programming to ensure that it serves our global customers. For example, we have increased the number of foreign films that we offer.
Hub: How do you think social media affects product marketing in general and how do you use social media in your department?
I’ll talk about our products to any customer who wants to listen. [chuckle] Seriously though, our customers use social media to talk about United products and we consider customer tweets and Facebook comments as valuable feedback. Also, social media is the best way for us to share our excitement about new products with our customers – and clear up any potential misinformation out there - and have them share the news with others.
Hub: Do you have any closing thoughts?
John: Rarely does anyone say they are in their dream job, but I can definitely say that I’m living the dream here at United.
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