National airlines are unique brands: They need to compete with other airlines in the market place where – in times of shrinking travel budgets – value, price, routes, service and product count.
At the same time they will always be seen as a representative of their country of origin; it is often assumed that the country is just like the airline. Lufthansa German Airlines = efficient and safe but cold. Thai Airways = slightly dated but warm and friendly.
So how about Singapore’s flag carrier? It’s surprising. On the one hand, Singapore Airlines is leading the industry in technology: not only was it first to fly the Airbus A380, but its Krisworld system is constantly updated and one of the best in the world, it’s already offering WiFi on selected routes, and its fleet is amongst the youngest in the world.
SIA’s impressive long-haul business cabin which has been offering a wide seat and flat bed for the longest time, is due for updating shortly.
An airline at the cutting edge of technology, suitable for a flag carrier from a country that prides itself on its “world firsts” and modernity.
But then there is the other side of Singapore Airlines: While the male uniforms have been upgraded to a more professional colour-scheme, with only the ties signifying rank, the famous sarong cabbaya of the female cabin crew has remained basically untouched since the 1970s.
Without giving up this unique look, a gentle updating of sarong, handbags and shoes could do wonders for changing perception. And particularly the make-up is in dire need of a more contemporary look.
And how about the communication: For decades, TV ads have been featuring the ‘Singapore Girl’ helping people in different, far-away locations, in soft lighting. And while there’s nothing wrong with the messages sent (route network, Singapore Girl, service excellence), the execution could be more up-to-date, if not cutting edge.
The print ads are even worse: Often illustrated, their style and typography seem to be stuck in the 1970s and 80s. The fact that their collaterals, amongst them the expensive desk calendar for PPS-Club members (who is still using a desk calendar these days?), have the same consistent but antiquated look and feel leads to the assumption that it is preferred by the client and not suggested by their current advertising agency.
But brands need to understand that they need to be clear and consistent in communicating their brand image across all touch-points. If our experience with a brand is one thing onboard the plane and another when looking at their ads and collaterals, we tend to be unsure which the intended image is.
Instead of departments working in independent silos, branding needs to be supported by the CEO, and every decision that creates a visible brand expression – from planes to uniforms to cutlery to ads – needs to run through the same “Does it express the overall desired brand image”-filter before it can become reality. Only this way can the flag carrier build the cutting edge image it needs to survive and thrive in the airline industry and that does Singapore justice.