Investing brand personality is an under-estimated way to set brands apart and engage customers. Kulula.com is an airline that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Its humorous brand personality is clear through all aspects of the brand experience. So how did this all begin? And also what lessons can we learn and apply to your brand?
Having identified a gap in the market for a low-cost airline to bring air travel to the South African masses, Kulula.com launched in July 2001. It operates on major domestic routes out of Tambo International Airport and Lanseria on the outskirts of Johannesburg. As building a business based on price alone risks vulnerability to attack from more established airlines, it has hewn a positioning based on ease, inspirational service and safety. This is summed up in its name which means ‘easy’ in Zulu. Though most distinctive is its brand personality. Being totally honest, straight-forward and helping people lighten-up.
Launching with a budget of just 3m rand (c. £200k) demands cut-through communication. The brand launched with a super heroes campaign. The jingle espouses “Now Everyone Can Fly” (and there isn’t a plane in sight).
Similarly to easyjet’s bright orange in the UK, Kulula has a distinctive lime green livery. The unconventional markings include ‘this way up’ and arrows pointing to parts of the plane, including rudder, nose cone, sun-roof. Also to where ‘the big cheese’ (‘captain, my captain’) sits.
When South Africa hosted the FIFA World Cup and Kulula.com in 2010 it ran a campaign describing itself as the “Unofficial National Carrier of the You-Know-What”. This took place “Not next year, not last year, but somewhere between”. Another advert announced “affordable flights [to] everybody except Sepp Blatter” (the FIFA president), who was offered a free seat “for the duration of that thing that is happening right now”. Obviously, oblique references to the World Cup which FIFA intervened to stop. Thus creating even more publicity for Kulula.
Kulula flight crew are encouraged to let their natural talent show through. Here are some examples heard of or reported from in-flight “safety lectures” and announcements :
“In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, masks descend from the ceiling and provide free oxygen. Stop screaming, grab the mask, and pull it over your face. If you have a small child travelling with you, secure your mask before assisting with theirs. If you are with more than one small child, pick your favourite.”
“There are 50 ways to leave your lover, but there are only 4 ways out of this airplane.”
“Your seat cushions float; and in the event of an emergency water landing, please paddle to shore and then take them with our compliments.”
“It is with pleasure that Kulula Airlines announces that we have some of the best flight attendants in the industry. Unfortunately, none of them are on this flight!”
“We’ve reached cruising altitude and will now turn down the cabin lights. This is for your comfort and to enhance your flight attendants’ appearance.”
“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to The Mother City. Please stay in your seats with your seat belts fastened while the Captain taxis what’s left of our airplane to the gate!”
The airline has a policy which requires the first officer to stand at the door while the passengers exit, smile, and say “thanks for flying our airline”. In light of a particularly bad landing, he had a hard time looking passengers in the eye, expecting a smart comment from someone. Finally a little old woman walking with a cane disembarked the aircraft saying;
“Sir, do you mind if I ask you a question?”
“Why, no Ma’am,” said the pilot. “What is it?”
“Did we land, or were we shot down?”
“We’d like to thank you folks for flying with us today. And, the next time you get the insane urge to blast through the skies in a pressurized metal tube, we hope you think of Kulula Airways.”
“As you exit the plane, please gather all of your belongings. If not, we’ll then distribute anything left evenly among the flight attendants. Please do not leave children or spouses.”
“Please be sure to take all of your belongings. If you’re going to leave anything, please make sure it’s something we’d like to have.”
“Thank you for flying Kulula. We hope you enjoyed giving us the business as much as we enjoyed taking you for a ride.”
With 96% UK households having internet access in 2020 (1), the ability to buy food, clothes, music, films, sports equipment, holidays, cars etc. has never been easier. Shopping no longer takes place just in the High Street but anywhere, anytime. So what is the impact on how customers shop generally and what does this mean for businesses and brands?
More UK customers shop online compared with other major countries. Eight in ten (79%) internet users said they ordered goods or services on-line in 2010 (2). They also spent more time on retail sites; an average of 84 minutes in January 2011 compared with 20 minutes for Italy and Poland (2).
Mobile phones are also changing shopping behaviour with significant growth in those connecting to the internet via their mobile phone. Further smartphone ownership nearly doubled in the UK between February 2010 and August 2011 from 24% to 46% and nearly half used their phone to go online in October 2011 (2).
The use of wi-fi hotspots increased seven-fold from 2007 to 4.9 million in 2011 as has watching TV online with over 27% of UK internet users watching TV online every week (2).
Changes in customer behaviour present new opportunities and threats to ‘bricks and mortar’ and ‘clicks and mortar’ businesses and (r)etailers.
Understanding the sequence, nature, and importance of the steps in the customer’s journey allows marketers to what influence’s awareness and sales of a particular service or product. In turn how to promote it and where and how to add value. The traditional view of the customer journey is as a linear series of steps, as espoused by Lavidge and Steiner (3) et al.
Though this is less relevant in the online world. With the proliferation of online media, the customer journey is becoming non-linear; a more random, looping, stepping stone process. Customers use online to aid shopping decisions as well as buy. Increasingly from the comfort of their own home, desk or even bus! Retail is used to see and touch. Customers jump to and fro on their journey, reflecting, comparing and considering. They also jump from online to retail and back before finally buying.
Many factors influence if, how and when they buy, as well as their relationship with, and propensity to endorse a brand. Online media, specifically fact-finding tools and ratings on Amazon, ebay, Twitter and Facebook et al, play an increasing role.
(1) Office for National Statistics, Internet access – households and individuals, February 2020
(2) OFCOM, Sixth International Communications Market Report, December 2011
(3) Lavidge Robert J and Steiner Gary A A Model of Predictive Measurements of Advertising Effectiveness: Journal of Marketing, vol. 25, no 6, 1961.
The greatest brands have high awareness and a clear and distinctive image. Also an ability to evoke a strong rational and emotional bond with audiences, stretch into new markets as well as change with the times. With the opening of its new London store, The National Geographic Society delivered a great brand experience.
It all started in 1888 when 33 explorers and scientists gathered to form the National Geographic Society ‘for the increase and diffusion of geographical knowledge’. Over the years, the Society has supported many expeditions and research projects including polar and undersea expeditions, studies of animals, such as Dian Fossey’s study of mountain gorillas. It has also enabled discoveries such as the wreck of the Titanic (Robert Ballard) and the man-like Zinjanthropus in Tanzania (Louis Leakey).
The first brand extension, National Geographic magazine appeared in 1888. Then with its articles on geography, science, world history and current events, dramatic photographs from around the world, and trademarked yellow border, it became an icon of our times. Also a coffee table essential for the chattering classes.
In June 1985, National Geographic chose a close-up of an ‘Afghan girl’ as the cover photo for an article on the refugee crisis in Afghanistan.
Photographed by Steve McCurry, the girl had sea green eyes striped with blue and yellow. She peered with a mixture of bitterness and courage from within a tattered burgundy scarf. As a result her picture touched the souls of millions.
In 1964, the brand extended onto television with stories of adventure and science. In turn, it gave fame to marine explorer and ecologist Jacques Cousteau and his adventures on board Calypso. The first TV channel then followed in 1997. Then in 2007, National Geographic created a global media group comprising all of its magazine, book publishing, television, film, music, radio, digital and maps units.
Together with franchise partner, Worldwide Retail Store, National Geographic opened in Regent Street in November 2008. It is (or was*) a fantastic sensory experience.
On walking in you are greeted by a staff member from one of the many nations represented in the store. To the right are magazines and videos, all with the iconic yellow border, neatly displayed in a small pagoda-like structure. Beyond is a café with rustic tables and chairs. It is a great place to chat and enjoy a drink and pastry or pincho created by the fabulous Spanish chef.
All is interposed with state of the art interactive screens and video walls bringing HD quality pictures from around the world up close and real. After hours, the merchandise then packs away and the room becomes a lecture theatre.
Inside the door are a series of horse sculptures carefully crafted from driftwood. Beyond are rows of hanging prints taken by National Geographic photographers. Also a market-place brimming with hand-crafted furnishings and artefacts from all over the world.
In the basement you’ll find clothing for the great outdoors as well as the most fashion conscious. Also a cold chamber to test the weather-proofing abilities of the outerwear. This includes a wind turbine, block of ice, thermal imaging camera and visual display to add dramatic effect. The shirts are priced at £119 therefore demonstrating the premium that great brands command.
Finally, on the top floor polished wooden desks adorned with glowing globes signal this is where to book your expedition (or holiday). In the nearby technology department the latest camera and optical equipment is showcased in sturdy steel cases. Dressed in their khaki safari gear, staff are unobtrusive yet close to hand. For example, to advise on what’s best to see the stars or (photographically) shoot beasts in the bush. All that seems missing is a Masai warrior or lion on the loose…… but then again, did I really look everywhere?
While many great brands evolved by accident, what’s critical is management vision and conviction to push the boundaries. Also rigorous attention to detail to inspire and deliver consistently through all activities. As with all great brand experiences you should see, hear, think and feel the quality, value and difference.
*Sadly the London store closed in 2017, and its demise is our loss. Thus, we presume the high cost of a Regent Street venue, and associated high costs of merchandise, were insufficient to keep the business in the black. And/or alternatively following Disney’s acquisition of 67% of the shares, the place to visit is now the Disney Store.
Nevertheless, even without a stand-alone London store, National Geographic remains a great brand experience, with clever brand extensions, and underpinned by a clear brand strategy!
Photo credits: Afghan girl by Steve McCurry, other photos of the National Geographic Store © Guy Tomlinson 2009.