It is hard to conceive of a bigger branding challenge than what lies before Malaysia Airlines. The airline has become synonymous with the MH370 and MH17 disasters. New CEO Christopher Mueller articulated as much when he pointed out Malaysia Airlines’ demand now correlates to social media mentions of MH370 rather than price in a recent interview with Fairfax.
A new company will replace Malaysia Airlines on September 1. Mueller has provided some signposts as to what direction the airline’s new brand will take:
“Brand is not just the name and the logo but is more what your airline stands for. We will embark on the idea that we provide value for money for our travellers”.
This rebirth strategy is likely to be accepted by the infrequent traveller market segment, which prioritises price over airline allegiance. The association of the Malaysia Airlines brand with the risk of mortal danger – an overriding consideration that beats even price – will no longer stand as a barrier to the airline being considered by this segment in its purchasing decision process. Most infrequent travellers have trouble differentiating between the numerous Chinese or Middle Eastern airlines and the new brand would blend into the pack with little market awareness.
There are reasons why the new brand should also have traction with frequent travellers and loyal customers. Given the amount they travel, there is a good chance frequent travellers would have reconciled the Malaysia Airlines tragedies in a more positive light – viewing them as freak occurrences in the context of millions of flights safely taken around the world each year – and see the new brand as a necessary business evolution. You would also hope that the airline built enough equity in its old brand for its loyal customers to naturally follow it across to the new one. Finally, you cannot discount a nationalistic desire for the airline to succeed feeding loyalty in Malaysia.
One thing is certain: the new brand needs to ideally represent an energised proposition. What is it going to stand for? What value for money is the airline going to provide? It would be great to see the brand own something; whether it is the youngest fleet in the world, the most skilful pilots (unprecedented training?) or amazing service despite the price point. However, just when you thought all of this was hard enough, the airline is technically bankrupt and suffering low staff morale. In light of what it’s been through, I hope the airline can use the new brand to refresh itself in the market place. The real test is whether a name change will influence a purchase decision either way.