30 July 2007

Is Virgin's new airline V and an old V?

What's in a name when you already use it?

Certainly it seems a case of recycling, a name when Virgin Airlines Australia announced the name of it's new US/Australia long haul airline last week.

V Australia is the official name of Virgin Blue's new long haul carrier, but a visit to parent company Virgin's website already lists Virgin Vie (pronounced V) and the V Festival (recently launched in Australia) as company sub-brands. So DIFFUSION really wonders if the airline has really thought through the whole naming and sub-brand process.

But what should we expect when the name came as a result of a two week competition ran by a radio station which attracted a total of 5942 entries, which included some what the airlines desscribes as "creative suggrestions" like "Randy Roo Airlines", "Choo Choo Flying Big Blue" and "Pineapple Airlines". Among the finalists were: Matilda Blue, V Australia Airlines, Australia Blue, Virgin Pacific, Amelia Blue, Didgeree Blue, Liberty Blue and Virgin Australia.

Here at DIFFUSION either Virgin Pacific or Virgin Australia would seem to fit with current nomenclature.

The company says the decision was unanimous but we're not sure if that was because Virgin Blue CEO Brett Godfrey really didn't have to pay any of the fees associated with a real name and branding project of this status, or just like Virgin CEO Richard Branson was more interested in the PR value.

Certainly it doesn't fit into any of the British namesake's nomenclature and is remarkably similar to Virgin's cosmetics company Virgin Vie, which DIFFUSION director Stephen Byrne worked on, or to the eponymously named V Festival.

But Godfrey claimed the new name was "nice and simple, easily recognised, both understated and obvious and has a clear Australian identity" (does he mean brand identity?)

Even more interesting was the inclusion of the Southern Cross in the new livery for the airline, yet another swipe at rival Qantas.

The livery, closer to former Qantas rival Ansett, features a smart silver fuselage with a red tail including the stars of the Southern Cross, elements of the Australian flag and the distinctive Virgin red.

"It is important for us to use the Southern Cross not only for its geographic connotations, but also for its place in Australian aviation folklore," said Godfrey.

When DIFFUSION checked, the name wasn't even associated with a local website or the huge Virgin.com portal.

Not much to notice in the Qantas rebrand.

As DIFFUSION mentioned in our 21 July blog Qantas needs more than a logo makeover the world's most profitable airline unveiled a new version of the iconic flying kangaroo last week.

In a company annoucement, Qantas Executive General Manager John Borghetti claimed the new design was part of Qantas' "increasing focus on contemporary design for its in-flight and on-the-ground products" but DIFFUSION accepts that the logo change was more to do with the requirement that the new logo fit the new A380s it will start taking delivery of this time next year.

Qantas went to Sydney based design company Hulsbosch for the work, rather than to a specialist brand agency.

Accompanying the logo redesign, is a change in the corporate typeface to a more modern grey sans serif for the airline.

What's most interesting will be to see whether customers will see any real benefit from the rebrand. In visual theory, it just registers against the Difference Threshold (or what is also known as "Just Noticeable Difference") under the widely regarded Weber's Law, which determines the minimum amount by which stimulus intensity must be changed in order to produce a noticeable variation in sensory experience. So the more sleeker, angular kangaroo is a slight variation on the 1984 rebrand.

Ernst Weber, a 19th century experimental psychologist, observed that the size of the difference threshold appeared to be lawfully related to initial stimulus magnitude. This relationship has since been known as Weber's Law.

We're not sure if either Hulsbosch or Mark Newson know about Weber's law, but certainly Qantas going to have to go a lot further to deliver tangible benefits to both customers and shareholder. Focussing on the perceptible physical displays (brand marks, livery, seating, cabin design) is far easier than looking at the more underlying brand problems than can cause sudden unexplainable shifts in brand perception. With a six year time frame to repaint the entire fleet with the new logo, they certainly have some time to get things right.

21 July 2007

QANTAS needs more than a logo makeover.

Reports that Qantas is considering plans to "kill off" the bid red kangaroo logo, serves merely to sensationalise and simplify the debate on the process of rebranding.

Here at DIFFUSION, rebranding is more than just a tweak of the logo or change in the colour palette and if Qantas' latest remodelling of both its first and business class service is anything to go by, brand management is something that Qantas is not good at.

DIFFUSION recently flew business class to Los Angeles (at last on points) and was interested to see if the much lauded makeover by Australian designer Mark Newson has really made an impact.

Now Qantas business class is widely regarded as one of the world's best and sure, the flat seats were Newson's design as was the new Noritake crockery and the Alessi cutlery (even the plastic Alessi knife). But branding is in the detail and this seemed to lack.

The much vaunted Marc Newson designed amenities kit was merely a grey plastic shell box with Newson's signature embossed on the front with some in-flight men's cosmetics thrown in. All of this was in a grey cloth bag that also contained socks, a mask and a toothbrush - none of which fitted in the Mark Newson amenties box.

Nor was there any sign of the also announced Peter Morrissey pyjamas with the smart flying kangaroo logo on the front featured in the full colour campaign the airline had been running.. No, these were for "available on selected routes*" and the Sydney/LA route was obviously not one of them, despite the announcement by Qantas Executive General Manager John Borghetti that the collection would be offered to First and Business customers travelling on Qantas international services from 25 March.

So here goes the lesson. International business is an important part of the company's business and more particularly on the protected and coveted US route.

So with Qantas controlling more than two-thirds of the capacity on direct flights to the United States and now under threat from a new Virgin yet unnamed Australia/US carrier (for which DIFFUSION puts it's hand up to work on), so much so that the airline announced this month it would also be creating a premium economy section to sit alongside the revamped business class and to match Virgin's offering.

It would seem of some import that any brand decisions the airline makes, however small, will have a significant impact on future revenues. Those per kilometre revenues, according to Qantas' last Australian Stock Exchange announcement, rose by 1.6% on international routes this year against a 4.7% increase in revenues per seat.

And for Mark Newson, the company's unofficial "creative director", there are some salient lessons. Either manage the process well enough to know everything a customer wants will go into the amenities kit or make sure that Qantas delivers on the design experience you envisaged. Execution is always core of any re-branding exercise.

The future of the media agency.

DIFFUSION was recently asked by a London based agency to look at how media agencies build new business and access clients.

Here's our response.

Media agencies, like all within their category, need to re-examine how they engage with client’s brands and what their roles are in this process. Increasingly media agencies will need to take more of a stewardship role, rather than continue to adopt what I call the agent or carrier role. They will need to go beyond simple single channel thinking, creative responses and one-dimensional strategy and work more closely with client brands at much higher levels.

Agencies need to build excitement, momentum, loyalty, equity and, most importantly, business for their brands and those of their clients. Agencies will need to look at more complete brand portfolio approaches, where they look to work with clients to develop real brand management strategies that embrace every customer touch point; they need to conceive and develop differentiating ideas (for the most part they create non-differentiating ones); and execute with both creativity and thus daring media planning.

Agencies need to really understand the consumer experience – both how people interact with the brand online and offline – as well as how they consume and define the brands they use – will succeed.

Agencies will need to move beyond the idea of "campaign" or the success of campaigns, replacing this with a series of what I call client interactions or engagements within the development of the brand. They should be using all available data driven insights to inform the development of strategic brand portfolio (media) planning across the wide arc of a customer’s interaction with the brand, rather than those interactions which are linked to limited tactical assignments agencies are used to. Furher, agencies will need to create scaled solutions in specific emerging media channels, rather than continuing to cling to those compensations models that are unscaleable.

Increasingly media agencies must embrace those compensation mechanisms that reward the quality of the idea (and here I don’t just mean the advertising idea but a brand one), rather than simply the media idea itself, its execution and tailoring fees to the needs, circumstances and culture of each individual client, rather than a one-size fits all approach. For example, not charging clients fees upfront for any creative work, or charging only for data analysis. All of this needs to be addressed.

My experience with the now defunct 360 agency here in Sydney demonstrates the need for agencies to break down those internal silo approaches that effectively work against widening new business and start doing what they tell their clients to do, provide true integration rather than simply department-to-department billing in the guise of an integrated model. Silos don’t work simply because they foster inwardness and comfort and neither will the agencies that continue to embrace this. This includes media agencies. Welcome to the network. Where increasingly agencies will work within micro-network models to best meet client needs rather than continue to propound the full-service models, which most people will acknowledge are more puffery than reality.

Finally, media agencies need to concentrate on their chief differentiator – their people. In the end this is how businesses win business.