Brand personality and a bit about airlines

I Love the recent news story, and classic sun headline ‘Willie Wager’, about Richard Branson’s bet with British Airways. It reflects the personality of the two brands oh so well.

On one hand we have the traditional corporate figure of Willie Walsh, with his serious pinstripe suit to go with his serious predictions for the downfall of Virgin, cue evil laugh. And on the other we have the smiley Mr Branson in his laid back linen number, on his Caribbean Island, basically saying ‘bring it on Willie, let’s have some fun with this.’ Virgin v British Airways – The Big Bet The bet from the Caribbean, that BA pay £1 million to Virgin staff, if Virgin is still around in 5 years or vice a versa, comes following Mr Walsh’s claims that, if Virgin goes ahead with the Delta airlines joint venture, the Virgin name will be ditched.

Richard Branson’s put your money where your mouth is way of completely dismissing the predictions is in itself a great bit of marketing. And is the kind of response we have come to expect from the, less conventional, business magnate. Of course should Mr Walsh reply with the light heartedness, typical of the Virgin brand, it would immediately seem at odds with the stiff upper lip and bowler hat personality of BA. That isn’t to say that one is right and the other is wrong, just that they both have a very definite voice which we, as consumers, associate with each airline and which must be reflected in all communications.

Know your business personality

The individual personality of each corporation can be seen right from the visual branding through to all communications and staff behaviour. Visually British Airways is classic and refined and, I have to admit, when you look at a row of BA planes you do get a certain feeling of patriotism. The Virgin brand on the other hand is a lot more vibrant, loose and fun.

Fly on a BA plane and, in my opinion, you really don’t get much in the way of personality; it’s all very just so. With Virgin, however, you even get little jokes in the flight and safety briefing and the vibrancy is carried through to the way you are looked after on board and the way all Virgin crew communicate. Having said that it would seem wrong if BA were to start cracking jokes during their safety briefing, just as it would if Virgin were to suddenly take a far more serious approach. Don’t surprise us As consumers we like to know what to expect, we don’t generally like surprises. So what a business promises with its brand visuals and communications, we expect to receive. And when we don’t we fall out of love with them and go elsewhere.

A great brand begins on the inside It is, therefore, essential to define what your brand is, what it stands for, where it sits in the market and who it is targeted at before you start any outward marketing. A good and very simple exercise we ask clients to do is to answer the question ‘If you were a supermarket what supermarket would you be, and why?’ You can also take this further and align yourself to a magazine, newspaper, brand of car etc. It helps you to develop a clear picture of the personality you want to portray. Are you fun and vibrant like Virgin or Classic and dependable like British Airways? Once you have decided all this you must now make sure that you communicate all this to the outside world in all your branding. Make sure your staff fully understands the personality of your brand and how to reflect this in their behaviour and communication with all your clients. Review your brand and respond to the market And it doesn’t stop there. You must constantly review your brand. Ask yourself how are we being received? Have we changed as an organisation? Does my branding and communication still reflect the business as it is today? Has the market changed and are we reacting to this? British Airways is a good example of a brand that was falling behind the competition in terms of brand perception.

A year ago, according to YouGov’s BrandIndex, it was positioned only 21st in a chart of 25 aviation brands. A year later, thanks to the ‘To fly, to serve’ campaign and the campaigns that supported the 2012 sponsorship it is now rated as 2nd only to Virgin. I guess the ‘wishful thinking’ that Mr Branson assigns to Walsh’s recent claims will hit a nerve! The BA adverts were not a complete move away from the brand as we all know it, but rather than focussing on destinations and aircraft, as many airlines continue to do, they focused instead on customer service.

Bringing it back to the customer, something Virgin do very well, has meant a far better buy in from consumers. Not that I am suggesting for one minute that you run out and place a load of adverts, but just as British Airways did, you do need to protect the future success of your brand. And when a change is needed you need to recognise it and respond. Willie or Won’t he? So as Willie wriggles his way out of accepting the bet laid down in front of him, who is your money on? For me it’s Mr Branson all the way, but you probably guessed that already! Thanks for reading, Sarah

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