Brand Jet Airways died an untimely death, but the planes are still hale and hearty. Duly appropriated by the competition to expand operations, otherwise constrained by limited routes and equipment. The high cost of a branding makeover, however, has compelled both Vistara and SpiceJet to do makeshift external livery change, while leaving the interiors largely untampered.
Prima facie, it does suggest an unfamiliar experience, in terms of the touch-and-feel dimensions. While Vistara will not operate the Premium Economy in the Boeing 737 sectors, SpiceJet is saddled with a windfall business class that is being aggressively marketed. In either case, one can argue the adopted aircraft are challenging the core value propositions, full-service luxury and low-cost, respectively. Truthfully, full respect must be accorded to the managements, who chose to capitalise on the immediacy of a business opportunity in a difficult environment, securing short-term business interests.
A similar experience occurred at Nando’s in Cyber Hub recently as I noticed that it had become prepaid like QSR and no longer postpaid like Fine Dining. While the chicken tasted as crunchy, one did feel less special, purely through habitual logic. Quite certainly, there must be business imperatives behind this move, connected possibly to efficiency, no longer trying to pander to the spoilt Indian customer’s fancies. Thus, not pretending to be experientially fine dining, instead remaining the original inclusive brand.
The imperatives of business are thus taking over the experience of brands, in a contrarian movement across the globe. While the manufacturer’s logic is certainly sound, the consumer’s acceptability is the focus of discussion. Contrary to expectations, most existing customers are remarkably cool about the amendment in experience, as long as the core performance attributes are taken care of. This opens up multiple frontiers of discussion, in terms of breaking certain myths about customer behaviour.
The first hypothesis is about the elevated experience as an invitational adhesive, especially in categories driven by measurably high-performance metrics. As long as the airline delivers on the functional parameters, the customer who is already an insider will not easily exit. Jet Airways earned bad press due to the breakdown in reliability, much before people noticed the diminished services. Only when competition arrives with disruptive differentiation, will a higher-order migratory pattern be noticed. Like the restaurant, where the right-sizing of ambience will frankly not matter if the chef is performing and there are no serious negatives. So, should brands have a laddered experience strategy based on life cycle of self and customer?
The second observation is about the growing influence of online behaviour on the offline world. We know very well that digital experiences are largely democratic in nature, similar lines of access for the entire universe. While the chosen outcomes are genuinely high-involvement, as they are usually co-created. This has successfully reduced societal and professional power distances, as demonstrated beautifully by the first-name culture of Starbucks which offends nobody. Perhaps this is slowly moving on to brick-and-mortar actions, exaggerations increasingly less important across the spectrum.
The third aspect in this matter is growing customer knowledge about businesses, especially the correlation between experiences and pricing. People today are fully aware that indulgence does not come for free — an educational service rendered efficiently by the aviation and hospitality sectors. So, they are far more tolerant of right-sizing in experiences when the price-value equation remains untampered. In an era where we are happily paying for packets in supermarkets, the relationship between brands and customers has become far more transparent and practical.
Only when businesses survive do brands thrive and not the other way around; however romantically we may think. When a brand that we like shuts down, be it Jet Airways or a neighbourhood restaurant or beauty parlour, we are the ones who genuinely suffer. Thus, we are increasingly delighted to partner with businesses in the rationalisation of experiences, as long as the core continues to delight. This is indeed the era of thoughtful and meaningful collaboration, not ruthless transaction where sensitive customers are co-creating the journey of sensible brands.
(Shivaji Dasgupta is the Chief Strategy Officer of Havas Group India and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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