Branding lessons from the Aussies part 3

MaryLou Costa is a key member of the Marketing Week features team and her blog brings her unique Australian perspective to brands. She also oversees the Market Research Focus weekly bulletin.

Tiger Airways is set to become a roaring failure after only just taking off.

Ahh, more brand stories from my homeland. This time it’s about Tiger Airways, the latest addition to the Australian airspace that gave consumers a refreshing new budget option when it arrived on the scene in 2007, just months after my own departure from the country. This is a brand whose future looks very doubtful.

I was looking forward to taking my first Tiger Airways flight in just a few weeks from Melbourne to Cairns, before being abruptly told via a media statement that all Tiger flights up to August 1, and potentially beyond, have been cancelled. The cause? An investigation from the Australian airline industry regulator CASA into safety standards after airplane instruments gave erroneous flight data to pilots causing them to come into land 500 metres too low.

I’m not sure exactly of the danger in this, but as one online commentator said: “You’d notice the difference if a plane flew 500 metres too low over your house.”

The airline’s grounding that was meant to last for just a week has now spiralled into ongoing ramifications the business must deal with. As part of the aftermath, chief executive Crawford Rix resigned from his post, replaced by Tony Davis, who claims that the airline is “committed to a long-term future in Australia” despite the brand being tarnished permanently in the eyes of many consumers.

As someone booked to fly during the grounding period, the lack of communication I have had from the airline is concerning. There have been stories of passengers who have turned up at the airline’s check in desk to be greeted with literally nothing, as if the flight never existed. I have at least been spared this experience.

There are some messages on Twitter and Facebook because the brand ill-advisedly believes this is how people want to communicate, but the first place I thought to look – its own site – is devoid of helpful information.

The only acknowledgement on the site is a brief statement outlining the grounding period and claims that customers will be contacted and their money refunded. On the day I read the statement online, I had not received an email, and no timeline has been placed on when the money will be refunded. In such a situation, the call centre should be running 24 hours, but it isn’t. There isn’t an email address you can contact and you must fill in a form to request your refund through a “live customer portal” which isn’t live at all. Why am I requesting a refund for something that should be issued automatically?

Tiger Airways
Tiger Airways is grounded – could it be for good?

This brand may have built up some awareness and loyalty since its Australian debut, but four years does not an indestructible heritage build. I can just about see veteran brand Qantas recovering from something like this, and indeed it has recovered from safety scares over the past couple of years. But Tiger simply hasn’t earned the years of brownie points you need to have stockpiled to allow for consumer forgiveness, and isn’t earning now for how it’s handling the situation.

In the world of marketing, bad situations can be opportunities to show people another side to your brand, a human side, where you own up to mistakes but are proactively working to fix them and be even better than you were before. Just ask Toyota – despite its recall saga, its brand value actually increased, according to this year’s BrandZ ranking of the world’s most valuable brands.

Rather than living up to its name and grabbing this situation by the balls, Tiger seems to be floundering. There is much finger pointing going on – its supporters blame the regulator for an allegedly unfair grounding; its staff blame the company for not providing resources for them to provide the right customer service.

Consumers don’t care whose fault it is, they just want it fixed, and their money back quickly.

News reports say the brand is losing around £2.8 million for every week it’s grounded, so this extended period is putting an obvious dent into the company’s bottom line. As a budget airline, it can’t expect to recoup this money on ticket prices, and certainly not even future sales as many people – myself included – pledge never to book with Tiger again.