Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: High Flyers Always Risk Turbulence

Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: High Flyers Always Risk Turbulence

Article excerpt

There is little doubt that British Airways is a brand Britain can be proud of. Not just because it's the national airline, but because in the stormy skies of airline marketing, BA is a brand that has plotted a sure and successful course.

Outgoing chief executive Rod Eddington has steered BA through the tough times that followed 11 September and the loss of more than 13,000 jobs to healthy profits, consolidated timetables and the best first-quarter results for a decade.

Marketing director Martin George is among the most talented marketers of his generation. The former Cadbury man has transformed BA from an ailing operation that saw branding as a paint-job on its tail-fins to one that actually leads the industry in brand and marketing.

Clear and distinctive positioning, savvy marketing communications, a wildly successful web presence, a sound customer relationship management strategy centred on an Executive Club, and service levels that consistently exceed the industry average - these are all hallmarks of George and his marketing team.

Last week more than 1m people flew in and out of Heathrow Airport and I was among them. As a card-carrying member of the Executive Club, I waited for my flight in the BA lounge. Poor old Martin George's ears must have been burning, because the 60 customers in that lounge were united in their dissatisfaction with BA and its current service.

Unfortunately, because of the ongoing dispute at Gate Gourmet, BA was unable to offer a beverage service or high-quality meals in business class.

In an effort to compensate, BA had offered business class passengers a voucher for pounds 10.

At Heathrow that buys you a glass of warm chardonnay and a packet of soggy crisps, and the lounge was united in indignation at BA, its brand and its management.

Now, I know what you are thinking. Either BA is a great brand or it's a crap brand. You can't have it both ways, Ritson.

Well, actually, I can. The very strength and consistency of British Airways in recent years is its biggest strategic vulnerability. I call it the 'strong brand paradox'.

Most brands completely fail to differentiate themselves and therefore do not build a loyal base of expectant customers. The rare few, such as BA, that succeed in the branding challenge must accept the painful reality that they now have more to lose. …

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