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BA marketing change shows big branding is at an end, says expert

09/04/2015

A former BA executive has said the airline is clearly moving from a focus on big branding to customer service.

Marketers are all familiar with the fact that digital, social media, big data and a wider range of potential mediums have changed the face of marketing.

However, changing mediums and styles are not the only element of radical change, according to Paul Tullo, group chairman of TMW. He told Marketing Magazine that the 'big brand' approach used by major firms appears to be on its way out.

Mr Tullo may be in a very good position to know. He worked for British Airways for 12 years and said the decision of the airline to restructure its management - bringing marketing under the remit of its commercial officer Andrew Crawley - is a sign of a major change in strategy.

He commented: "I think BA has been doing good stuff. It’s moved away from the big brand approach, that sees an idea trickle down with a waterfall effect before moving on to another idea in six months. They’ve become more sophisticated marketers than when we were working with them."

The BA approach down the years has certainly been one of pinpointing its size and familiarity. It has used logos highlighting its global reach like 'The world's favourite airline' and also placed great emphasis on the use of its red, white and blue logos - with its brief adoption of 'ethnic' motifs a few years ago being widely criticised.

However, what matters most from Mr Tulla's point of view is that customers are less interested in loyally following a particular brand than having a good experience. "An airline is like a hotel and the experience of consumers when they arrive is 80 per cent of your marketing in a sense. The better the experience, the more likely they are to fly with you again."

Even so, Mr Tullo said there is not a complete disconnect between the brand and experience. He noted that the airline is seen as a "personification" of Britain, which brings with it certain expectations from people in other countries. For this reasons, he suggested the current logo "To fly, to serve" is perfectly on-message. It means the brand relies less on being big than on meeting the high expectations placed on it.

Of course, it does not follow that every large brand is in this situation. After all, most do not have to provide service to people who are feeling hints of jetlag or cabin fever by the end of the experience. Moreover, as Apple's record profits in the third quarter of 2014 - when tens of millions rushed out to buy its newly-launched iPhone products - have indicated, there are some brands that can still command a sense of devotion.

Apple may be an exception, however. Just as poor service can harm an airline, so the big brand names in the UK retail industry have suffered. Aldi and Lidl may be foreign-owned, but they have helped meet consumer needs effectively with low prices, not to mention avoiding the kind of financial calamities experienced by Tesco. The results in terms of market share have provided a clear lesson in the lack of power some brands have.

 

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