Low Cost & Regional

Comment: Airline brands must find a unique identity to avoid being ‘bland and boring’

Ryan Frost, executive creative director at brand specialists Landor and an expert on airline branding, says firms need to up their game

In many ways today’s global airline industry is brimming with excitement.

From airline loyalty programmes that segment customers around emotional factors like values and interests, to AI-powered operations forecasting that can help reduce delays and cancellations, it’s a time of innovation for the industry.

Yet, when it comes to the branding of airlines, it’s quite the opposite. Airline brands are becoming increasingly bland and boring, lacking any real differentiation.

Too many of them are playing it safe as they seek to project a global image that is often bereft of any charm or individuality.

Regrettably, many airlines have washed away their personality as they strive to be internationally appealing, resulting in a uniformity that is prevalent across the industry.

Moreover, as they homogenise, many of these brands are sacrificing histories and heritages that mean a great deal to their customers, evoking fond memories of yesteryear.

As any marketer knows, these types of positive emotional connections are priceless.

Instead, customers are more likely to develop a meaningful connection with aggregator sites like SkyScanner, as it helps solve a problem when they are at their most stressed; the airline is only discerned through a value equation.

More than graphics

Those which stand out are about so much more than mere graphics. A brand is about the entire experience that a passenger receives.

For example, the recent rebrand that Landor led for Saudia Airlines, was multi-sensory, covering sounds, smell, taste – everything from the initial online ticket booking experience, to pre-boarding, on-board and post flight.

It’s an immersive experience which leaves a lasting impression, bringing the brand closer to the customer.

Passengers receive an authentic Saudi experience throughout their journey, including a distinctive fragrance, sonic identity, and locally inspired cuisine.

And the brand lives and breathes in every part of the business from the design of cabins and lounges to office spaces, the design of the uniform, onboard interfaces, the website, the app and all customer touchpoints.

Creating a connection

It’s also important to focus in on what really makes the airline unique.

In the case of Saudia, it was the airline’s connection to Saudi Arabia’s distinctive culture, and we very much focused the rebrand on embodying the country’s culture and communicating its charm and personality.

By doing so, we elevated the warmth and hospitality of Saudi people to unlock a more emotionally engaging identity, so that the airline stands out against global competitors.

We also drew inspiration from the fact that the airline is a national icon and point of pride in Saudi Arabia, using this nostalgia to take the best from the past while simultaneously looking forward to create a clear purpose for the future.

For example, the original name and logo are an integral part of the Kingdom’s aviation history and development.

It was important that we play into the emotional connection Saudis have with these elements of the brand and restore them to suit today’s world.

So, we incorporated this rich heritage into the new identity, reigniting core elements of the old brand while aligning and reflecting the new vision and values.

This is an important point for several of today’s airlines. Many airlines exert powerful memories for passengers or have rich and meaningful heritages.

The trick is to use their nostalgia and take the best from the past. Rather than just inventing something new, it’s often important to restore or reinvent the old, too.

Fiji Airways is another good example of an airline brand having a strong relationship with its home country, that has likely been curated in partnership with its culture and tourism boards to project a specific story and image.

As a result, the airline becomes an extension of national identity that customers feel a connection with.

Virgin Atlantic is brilliant at bucking the trend and continues to build a unique, memorable brand.

Through and through Virgin Atlantic champions individuality and they are fantastic at bringing their brand purpose to life across all audiences with complete authenticity.

For example, their gender-neutral uniform policy, which was part of a marketing campaign featuring RuPaul Drag star judge Michelle Visage, sent a strong message that they want their employees to be their true selves at work.

It helps give their brand a memorable, meaningful and unique space that it can ‘own’.

Don’t fly in a ‘sky of sameness’

If you fail to have a point of view, which many airlines do, you are failing to give yourself the attributes to build an identity that cuts through in this highly saturated industry.

Brand should be the strategic thread that weaves everything together, sewn through every aspect of the business.

Airlines need to invest in brand and create a personal connection with customers that extends beyond the service itself, or risk becoming just another carrier in a ‘sky of sameness’.

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