A negative brand experience with Malaysia Airlines can be a lesson for all brands


Although this post is almost inevitably a branding lesson for Malaysia Airlines, it’s also a branding lesson for any company that doesn’t appreciate the importance of retaining customers.

At the risk of stating the obvious, customers are key to a brand’s success. After all, you can’t build a brand without customers although there are probably some advertising agencies that would dispute that.

Retention not aquisition should be at the heart of any Malaysia Airlines restructuring
Retention not aquisition should be at the heart of any Malaysia Airlines restructuring

Loyal customers are generally the most profitable of all. And as I wrote in my book, if you have enough loyal customers and look after them, you don’t need to spend the equivalent of the GDP of a small Scandinavian country on advertising to keep selling to new people.

Just think about it. If every customer you ever had came back over and over again and never left you, it would hardly matter how slowly the numbers built up. Fast or slow, your business would grow.

If every new customer became a convert for life, most of the risks would be taken out of running your business. Simply put, you’d be able to plan your sales and production, predict your cash flow, know when to open and when to close, recruit the right people at the right time and know exactly when to commit yourself to a new factory or, in the case of an airline, new aircraft.

Branding means looking after your customers. If you do, why would they leave?
Branding means looking after your customers. If you do, why would they leave?

In a situation like that, the only way is up. Unfortunately, though, it’s not going to happen. Customers don’t just come. Repeat business and customer retention rates are never going to be anywhere near 100 per cent in practice. Customers will leave too. But the absolute key to building a brand is getting more of them to stay.

And the reason why is because once they’ve become a customer presuming the experience from their perspective was a success, they are likely to come back again. According to one report, once a customer buys something, there’s a 70% chance of him coming back. And, once he’s back, he’s likely to stay.

repeat-customers-are-more-likely-to-convert

So how do you get more customers to stay? Obviously, by offering something that’s more attractive than the offer your competitors put up against it. Actually it’s easier than that because quite often a loyal customer will be oblivious to what the competition as to offer anyway.

But that’s not as easy today as it was 20 or even 10 years ago. There are companies out there who can manufacture what you manufacture more cheaply. There are companies out there who can get the same product as you to the market more quickly and in smaller or larger quantities than you.

Unless you are very lucky, there’s only really one advantage that you have over your competitors and that is your company’s relationship with your customers. That relationship, managed properly can never be duplicated.

And good relationships are the key to repeat business. Once Malaysia Airlines returns to profitability, and take it from me that it will do and ahead of target it will then need to start rebuilding it’s brand.

Customer experiences must be improved at Malaysia Airlines
Customer experiences must be improved at Malaysia Airlines

And if it really wants to rebuild its brand, and continue to make a profit once it starts to increase prices, which it will have to do, it must start to place relationships with existing and especially loyal customers at the heart of its turnaround strategy.

Malaysia Airlines must be prepared to invest in getting to know its customers by collecting the right data about them, developing relationships with them and then leveraging those relationships to generate higher sales and the referrals that will bring in more customers.

Malaysia Airlines must understand that building businesses today requires a relational, rather than a transactional, approach to doing business. This will be an almost 180 degree change in direction from the way it is managed at the moment.

The customer who is attracted to the airline because of a discounted fare but has no relationship with it will walk away the moment he sees the same thing cheaper somewhere else.

But customers who feel they are getting something out of the relationship, beyond the individual transaction, will stick around.

That ‘something’ the customer gains will depend on its ability to deliver emotional, economic and experiential value to every customer. And this is going to be hard because a lot of customers have now experienced the competition.

Branding isn't transactional, it's relational
Branding isn’t transactional, it’s relational

This is where branding gets complicated because it requires C level executives and senior management to refocus and move away from the ingrained, traditional ways of running a business. And for Malaysia Airlines it will mean tearing up the very strategy that got it back to profitability.

Most difficult of all, it means they have to give more responsibility to front line staff, many of whom they frankly don’t trust to do the right thing.

And much of that lack of trust is based on the fact that those management and C level executives see staff as a cost not an investment.

Even after the massive cull that has seen more than 6,000 workers retrenched, the carrier is staffed with people who simply don’t have the skills to represent the brand at this critical time.

But it’s also because whilst the ‘turnaround’ focus has been on slashing costs, the organization still suffers from a traditional, top down approach to managing the business.

A case in point is yet another depressingly familiar experience with Malaysia Airlines. As I’ve said many times before, I fly fifty times a year domestically with Malaysia Airlines and anything from two to ten times internationally. I’m not a major customer but I am a loyal one and continued to fly with them through the dark days of 2014.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will know how loyal I’ve been to Malaysia Airlines. You’ll know how I flew repeatedly following those 2 tragic events of 2014 and despite the fear and the mess the management and government made of engaging with the global media, family of those lost in the disasters and other stakeholders, I kept flying.

I don't expect to be treated like a VIP but I expect to be appreciated otherwise I'll take my business elsewhere
I don’t expect to be treated like a VIP but I expect to be appreciated otherwise I’ll take my business elsewhere

But like just about every other consumer, my loyalty shouldn’t be taken for granted. And if the quality of the product provided deteriorates and there is no attempt to reach out to me in a human way during that process, then it’s only logical that I’ll start to look for other suppliers. If those other suppliers deliver value to me, why would I go back?

Malaysia Airlines never reached out to me despite my loyalty. I wasn’t looking for much, perhaps an unexpected upgrade here, an invitation to use a lounge when travelling economy or perhaps some bonus miles as a gesture of appreciation.

Sure there were times when I picked up a few bargains during travel fairs but they weren’t personal and required me to invest hours of my time sitting in front of my computer waiting for the page to load.

Since 2014, the brand continued on its downward spiral to ignominy thanks to a ‘transformation plan’ that resembled the cast of a disaster movie as they stripped everything out of a plane in a desperate attempt to keep it in the air.

The quality of the product, the aircraft, the offering, the service, the ability of the brand to deliver value to me and on my terms degenerated to such an extent that I’ve finally started to cut the umbilical chord and over the last 12 months, I’ve booked me and/or my family on British Airways, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Silk Air, Air Asia and most recently, Malindo.

All of the bookings are on routes served by Malaysia Airlines and only one of them because Malaysia Airlines was full on that sector.

Last week I was flying Malindo on a domestic sector that I always fly Malaysia Airlines. My Malindo experience wasn’t perfect (For the first time ever, my flight departure time was brought FORWARD which could have caused havoc with my work schedule) but my expectations weren’t high anyway.

Although I wasn’t even travelling on Malaysia Airlines, I still managed to have a negative experience with the carrier.

Let me explain. When I got to KLIA I thought I’d try to use the Malaysia Airlines business class lounge. After all I was flying business class and besides, I’m a gold member of their frequent flyer programme (FFP) and have been as long as they’ve had one.

In case you are unaware, the top two tiers of the Malaysia Airlines FFP are Platinum and Gold. To be a Platinum member you need 100,000 Elite Miles or 130 Elite Sectors.

A tale of two toiletry bags. Emirates offers a brand experience
A tale of two toiletry bags. Emirates offers a brand experience
Malaysia Airlines does what it has to do
Malaysia Airlines does what it has to do

To qualify for a Gold card which is what I have, you need 50,000 Elite Miles or 50 Elite Sectors. If I’m not mistaken, you get 2 elite sectors for each business class flight and one for each economy class flight. This means I’ve travelled at least 25 times in business or 50 times in economy.

My most common route is KL to Kuching so let’s say for the sake of argument that all of those sectors were KL to Kuching. The fare to Kuching is about RM1,000 for business class so at a minimum I’ve spent RM25,000 to get those 50 elite sectors. Not a lot but if you add it to the other fares it starts to add up. To become a Platinum member I’d need to spend about RM65,000.

When I got to the Malaysia Airlines lounge I asked if I could get a cup of coffee. Long story short, the receptionist said I couldn’t and nor could a Platinum member however, and here’s the kicker, anyone can access the lounge for RM200 (US$50).

As you can imagine, this wound me up. Royally. I support a brand through the most difficult period of its history and encourage others to do so but I can’t get a cup of coffee in the lounge.

However, someone who has never flown the airline before and may never do so, can drop RM200 at the door and sit in the lounge as long as he likes.

That simply doesn’t make branding sense. Whilst the motivation for doing this is obvious, isn’t it a bit shortsighted? It was the last straw and I wrote this in my business class seat on an Emirates flight to London.

Sitting next to me was my wife and in economy were two of our kids. We spent about RM30,000 (US$7,500) on this trip but would have spent it on Malaysia Airlines. During the trip to London we met up with a group of about 20 Malaysian all of whom, bar two had flown in on Emirates.

Now I’ve flown the ‘world’s best airline’ it’s going to pretty hard for Malaysia Airlines to win back my business. Even my wife who travels more than I do and is a true patriot and blindly loyal to Malaysia Airlines admits it’s going to be tough to go back.

You could argue that not allowing me to use the lounge for 10 minutes has cost the airline perhaps RM250,000 a year from my family. Every year for the next say 10 years. That’s RM2,500,000 of lost revenue.

Of the group we met, 2 travelled first class on Emirates, 10 travelled business class and the rest economy. How much has that cost Malaysia Airlines? And it doesn’t take into account anyone who reads this or listens to my rants offline. Was it worth losing all that business over RM200? Of course not.

So what should Malaysia Airlines have done?

When the latest turnaround plan was developed, instead of the Chairman announcing there was no need to rebrand, there should have been a strong commitment to the brand.

The Chairman doesn’t understand what constitutes a brand and what is required to build a brand. He probably assumed a rebrand was a new name or logo or positioning statement implemented with a global advertising campaign pushed out across all media for as long as the budget would allow.

Whilst Malaysia Airlines is restructuring it's brand is being sacrificed
Whilst Malaysia Airlines is restructuring it’s brand is being sacrificed

Someone on the restructuring task force should have been able to educate the rest of the team on what constitutes a brand and its importance during the turnaround process. As mentioned already, emphasis should have been placed on delivering value to customers and not simply slashing costs.

More responsibility should have been given to those staff on the front line who were interfacing with the few customers still travelling on the airline.

The FFP should have been revamped immediately with personalized communications, ongoing engagement through unique dialogues to build an ecosystem of supporters willing to discuss the brand positively.

A concerted effort should have been placed on creating positivity about the airline. A transparent approach to building a new narrative, openness and humility should have been the foundation for any communications, not poorly thought out advertising campaigns.

Instead, with no one guiding the brand, much of the narrative around Malaysia Airlines has been negative, related to the 6,000 plus personnel that have been laid off and the replacement of modern aircraft with old, worn out planes.

Pictures appeared online of masking tape used to fix breaks in the business class cabins of old 737s on routes that had normally been served by much newer aircraft.

Unlikely to inspire confidence in the Malaysia Airlines brand
Unlikely to inspire confidence in the Malaysia Airlines brand

IMG_4538

Discussions and complaints raged about the lack of alcohol on flights of less than 3 hours and then the departure of the CEO after only a year or so of a 3 year contract generated more negativity. More recently, the new CEO made headlines for his comments about charges at terminals one and two.

Non stop negativity surrounding Malaysia Airlines is destroying the brand
Non stop negativity surrounding Malaysia Airlines is destroying the brand

Now I expect a lot of people reading this will say I’m being petty and besides, the airline is right. They need to have rules in place and if the front line staff were given freedom to make such decisions, it would be open to abuse.

Others will say that few airlines will let travellers into a lounge if they are not flying with the airline and they are probably right although many of them would let a frequent flyer use the lounge. Bbut that’s not the point because unlike the Malaysia Airlines brand, the majority of these airlines don’t have a broken brand.

But most importantly of all, branding today is about small steps, it’s about the small things that matter to customers. There is no more ‘big idea’ or other traditional mass media solution that speaks to everyone in the same way.

If you want to restore a broken brand you need to focus on many, many little things to make sure the brand get’s fixed quickly. Move the narrative away from negativity to positivity, from mass communictions to personalized collaboration.

Emirates is a classic example of an airline that understands branding. It spends a phenomenal amount of money building its brand. Not just through communications but in the experience and relationships.

I flew from London to Kuala Lumpur via Dubai and both sectors were full, despite the fact that a week before an Emirates 777 had been involved in a crash in Dubai.

Despite suggestions of a deeper issue at DXB, Emirates investments in its brand meant it had plenty of equity in the bank. Crucially, this meant there was little negative news to write about the carrier following the crash.

The event and the fall out was managed effectively and efficiently. Fortunately other than one brave fireman, there were no fatalities and the international media had little interest in building a story around the crash.

That’s one of the many benefits of real branding. The equity you have comes in handy when you need it. A week after the crash, it’s business as usual at Emirates.

Compare that to Malaysia Airlines, two years after the twin tragedies. It’s still struggling and continues to slash prices and the quality of the product.

Malaysia Airlines will return to profitability thanks to labour cuts, more old aircraft, new supplier deals and low oil prices. But unless it learns some harsh branding lessons and starts to invest in its brand, it is unlikely to stay profitable for very long and will struggle when it begins to increase fares.

Can Yuna save Malaysia?


More than 4 years ago the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak set up a department tasked with building the Malaysia nation brand. We had a number of meetings with the head of the new department but her understanding of what constitutes a nation brand was very different to ours and so we didn’t get involved.

But we gave her plenty of ideas, one of which was that the Malaysian entertainer Yuna should be the face of any Malaysia nation branding initiative. I even wrote about it on my blog here.

Yuna never became the face of the Malaysian nation brand but she did feature in some Malaysia Airlines marketing campaigns but they didn’t really understand how to get the best out of such a potential game changer.

During those 4 years, Yuna’s career has continued to blossom and recently she became the first Malaysian to feature in Billboard’s Top 10 R&B Albums and Billboard’s Top 20 R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts. The best selling single on that album was Crush, a collaboration with Usher.

With such success comes confidence and in an interview with Elle magazine Malaysia, Yuna ripped into the haters in Malaysia who weren’t happy with her for hugging Usher.

I heard recently that the special department was being disbanded which is a waste because the Malaysia nation brand needs some help. Used properly, I still think this impressive young artist can rescue a once iconic nation brand.

Another Malaysia Airlines marketing fail


Malaysia Airlines’ latest Twitter campaign is live. It really seems as if the struggling carrier sees digital and social media as another version of mass media – as a channel for pushing a corporate message onto an unsuspecting public.

Over the last couple of years they’ve made some terrible blunders online and you can read about them here and here.

Today the attached post appeared in my Twitter feed.

why would anyone share this pointless tweet from Malaysia Airlines?
why would anyone share this pointless tweet from Malaysia Airlines?

In an attempt to increase sales of business class, the marketing department seeks to make the business class offering unique by telling you that if you buy a business class seat you can have access to the business class lounge before your flight leaves!

Isn’t that stating the obvious? Doesn’t every business class passenger have access to the business class lounge? Or does Malaysia Airlines not allow business class passengers to use the business class lounge?

And if you click on the link in the tweet, you go to the golden lounge page on the website. That’s it!

That's it? A page with standard information on the lounges?
That’s it? A page with standard information on the lounges?

Seriously Malaysia Airlines marketing department, is this the best you can come up with? If it is, give me a call. I promise we can do better as you stop advertising, start branding.

The spat between AirAsia and Malaysia Airports is damaging both brands and the Malaysia Nation brand


Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, the charismatic founder of Air Asia acknowledged this week that despite threats to do so, he has no right to change the name of Malaysia’s low cost terminal from klia2 to LCCT2.

Tan Sri Tony Fernandes. Charismatic but controversial and ill informed
Tan Sri Tony Fernandes. Charismatic but controversial and ill informed

This U turn is a relief to many because his spat with Malaysian airport operator Malaysia Airports over the naming of the second terminal at the country’s main gateway was becoming increasingly petulant and was yet another controversy Malaysia’s damaged brand could do without.

Nevertheless, the outspoken entrepreneur hasn’t given up on the project and is scheduled to meet the Malaysian Minister of Transport today, June 29th.

Tan Sri Tony was quoted recently as saying, “I’m doing a marketing campaign and the minister knows that. There is nothing wrong with it.”

He added, rather confusingly “It’s freedom of speech. I’m allowed to do any advertising I want. Why are we always bullied? We are trying to do business here, to create jobs, to attract tourists.”

“Penalties, fines, that’s old fashion (sic). Aren’t we (AirAsia and Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad) doing the same business together? Isn’t this good for Malaysia?”

“If anyone can tell me this is bad for the country, then I’ll stop,” Fernandes said, adding: “Let us work together to build something in this economic season.”

Well Tan Sri, what you are doing IS bad for the country and it’s bad for you and your airline as well. In addition to having a negative impact on the nation brand, these very public spats between an airline and an airport operator do not inspire confidence in either organisation.

Malaysia's transport minister
Malaysia’s transport minister

Furthermore, and I apologise in advance for being so candid but your rants are confusing, misinformed and contradictory. Promoting the nation’s second airport terminal as LCCT2 isn’t marketing, it’s illogical.

And confusing naming with a marketing campaign whilst suggesting you are a victim might gain you some sympathetic traction somewhere but it only detracts the reader from your stated aims.

Southwest Airlines, the largest and most successful low cost carrier and one I’m sure you are familiar with hasn’t tried to rename any of the terminals it has successful flown out of since 1971.

Newer low cost carriers such as AirArabia in the Middle East and IndiGo in India as well as the more established Jetstar in Australia and Gol in South America don’t fly in and out of terminals called LCCT, they fly in and out of terminals named terminal 1 or 2 or main terminal.

Other low cost carriers such as Air Arabia haven't tried to change airport names to LCCT2
Other low cost carriers such as Air Arabia haven’t tried to change airport names to LCCT2

It’s also a bit naïve to suggest that changing the name of terminal 2 to LCCT2 would ‘reinforce Kuala Lumpur’s position as the leading low cost gateway to Asia and beyond’.

Firstly, the concept of positioning is outdated and irrelevant in today’s social media world where consumers are more knowledgeable and no longer need to rely on the word of the corporation. But even if it was relevant, who are you positioning it to?

AirAsia is responsible for something like 90% of the passengers at Malaysia’s second terminal. If you haven’t already sold your passengers an onward flight, do you think the name of the terminal is going to make any difference? No matter how much you spend on positioning the terminal, it won’t make a difference.

Secondly, where is LCCT1? Just because you know it doesn’t exist, doesn’t mean a young Beijing based Chinese travel writer travelling to SE Asia for the first time doesn’t know. But if he’s confused, he’ll write about it and I guarantee that’ll have more impact than any positioning campaign.

Thirdly, is it really possible to ‘reinforce Kuala Lumpur’s position as the leading low cost gateway to Asia and beyond?’ Irrespective of the fact that nobody else is trying to position Kuala Lumpur as anything or the fact that positioning doesn’t make sense, who is going to drive this? Have you got buy in from other stakeholders? And who is going to fund it? And how?

And what about the future? Which other airlines are going to use the LCC terminal? Already Malindo has moved to the main terminal. Do airlines really want to be associated with a LCCT? Especially when the experience of using the second terminal is not one passengers are enamoured with.

There is definately a need for consistency in the naming of the terminals at KLIA. It is logical to name the terminals one and two. Preferably KLIAT1 and KLIAT2.

And the next one can be called KLIAT3 and so on, just like Changi, Heathrow, Los Angeles, Sydney and just about every other easy to use and successful airport in the world that has chosen logic and the user experience over everything else when naming their airports and terminals.

Once the naming has been addressed logically and in line with global best practices, we can move onto the marketing of Kuala Lumpur and the airport and the freedom of speech and all the other stuff TS Tony mentioned. But only then.

AirAsia needs to back down over Klia2 before it has a negative impact on the brand


AirAsia has been involved in a long running dispute with Malaysia Airports (MAHB) over Terminal 2 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Basically AirAsia wants to change the name of the terminal to LCCT2. You can read more about that here.

Today, the CEO of AirAsia Aireen Omar is reported to have said, “AirAsia is set to change the name klia2 to LCCT2 (Low-Cost Carrier Terminal 2) on its website and promotional materials.”

“Aireen said the move would also send a clear message to MAHB that they should stop denying the existence of AirAsia and its contributions to the growth of the aviation industry.”

OK, first of all I’m no fan of MAHB. KLIA is a tired, depressing, soulless, outdated, poorly designed airport and MAHB doesn’t seem to be interested in the customer experience, making it better or improving the wayfinding. And I use the airport at least 50 times a year.

Nobody owes AirAsia anything
Nobody owes AirAsia anything

But what has ‘denying the existence of AirAsia and its contributions to the growth of the aviation industry’ got to do with not agreeing to change the name of a terminal?

Furthermore, what does Air Asia think it is doing telling MAHB it will change the name of the airport on it’s website even though MAHB doesn’t agree with the name change?

Who do they think they are that they can make such audacious moves and what is the point? Isn’t it going to make it even more confusing for Air Asia passengers? Especially those from other countries.

Are they so arrogant that if a manufacturer tells them an aircraft can only fly so fast, are they going to ignore that manufacturer because it doesn’t suit them? Talk about a baby throwing it’s toys out of the pram because it doesn’t get it’s own way!!

AirAsia may be trying to send a defiant message to MAHB but to me it portrays the airline as arrogant, out of touch, unreasonable, petulant, pedantic and stubborn. Is that the sort of culture one wants at an airline?

Can you imagine Cebu Air telling Changi that if doesn’t change the name of terminal 3 to LCCT3 it will do so on it’s website and collaterals? Or Air France changing the name of Heathrow Terminal 2 to French national carrier terminal 2?

And the irony is that changing the name to LCCT2 is wrong anyway. Firstly it’s going to cause confusion on so many levels – where is LCCT1? How do I get from LCCT2 to Klia? Is it a long way? And so on.

AirAsia has done an amazing job of bringing aviation to the masses. But no one owes it anything. It needs to remember that or it could join the more than 350 airlines that have come and gone in the last 50 years.

Is this another Malaysia Airlines branding fail?


Back in August 2014, as part of its ill conceived attempt to move on from the twin tragedies of earlier in the year, Malaysia Airlines launched a contest called “My Ultimate Bucket List” which Time magazine said was not such a good idea because a bucket list is made up of the things one wants to see or accomplish before dying.

Following the wave of criticism, the airline quickly apologized and the campaign was withdrawn but not before social medial let rip, with one Twitter user asking, “This is a sick, sick joke right? Marketing/PR needs to be fired.”

The focus at Malaysia Airlines has been an ambitious restructuring plan led by outgoing CEO Christoph Mueller who has cut unprofitable routes or offloaded them to competitors, slashed thousands of jobs, and brought in new management.

Is this the right image for Malaysia Airlines to use in its latest campaign?
Is this the right image for Malaysia Airlines to use in its latest campaign?

But throughout this process, the carrier has developed a reputation for poorly conceived communications. Last Saturday I was flying out of Kuching International Airport and saw this strange image above the entrance.

Maybe it’s me but my first thought was that the woman looked like an angel. Doesn’t her hat look like a halo? My next thought was of MH370 and the tagline although totally innocent suggested an announcement was imminent.

And if it isn’t an angel, what is she supposed to be? A butterfly? And what’s the campaign about? Is the world waiting for her? Will she ever arrive?

Whatever it is, I couldn’t help but think this was the beginning of another bucket list fiasco. Or am I over thinking it? Tell me what you think!

Calling the second terminal at KLIA LCCT2 is a terrible idea


The irrepresible Malaysian entrepreneur, Tan Sri Tony Fernandes has another mega deal on the table, this time he’s reported to be getting ready to divest Asia Aviation Capital Ltd, his aircraft leasing company for about US$1 billion.

Despite this big deal on the cards, he hasn’t stopped having a go at Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) over the last couple of weeks. Last Friday, June 10th he was reported to be ‘shocked to see water pouring out of a ceiling at the relatively new airport in Kota Kinabalu.

Please do not call an airport terminal LCCT2
Please do not call an airport terminal LCCT2

And then on 13th June he berated MAHB again, this time for denying Kuala Lumpur International Airport terminal 2 was a low cost terminal and that the name didn’t mean anything.

He was quoted as saying, “To me, klia2 doesn’t mean anything. LCCT2, on the other hand, is synonymous with low-cost. It’s a brand we built up together with Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd and it shouldn’t go to waste.”

I’m not sure why any brand would be pleased their product was synonymous with low cost. AirAsia might be called a Low Cost Carrier but everyone knows it isn’t. In fact there are times when it is the most expensive of the 3 main carriers in Malaysia. Certainly on some domestic routes.

He went on to say, “As we grow towards becoming the Dubai of Asia, we want the world to know that the best value fares are here in Malaysia.” Hang on a minute, what are we selling here? If we name an airport terminal LCCT2, how will the world know that the best value fares are here in Malaysia?

Social Media wasn’t impressed either. One wag was rumoured to have posted on Facebook “Low-Cost Carrier Terminal 2 (LCCT2)? “I spent 6 months training to do the walk to Everest base camp once but my elderly mother and I weren’t prepared for the long trek through empty airport halls and past retail outlets, in the long pre-journey, journey from check-in to our boarding gates!”

Another in keeping with the Himalayan theme, is reported to have said, “I was flying to Bangkok and on my way to the departure lounge I passed Sherpa Tensing coming the other way. He looked exhausted but still managed to tell me he had given up before he got to the gate.” Apparently it was just too far.

But joking aside, why would you want to call an airport terminal ‘Low-Cost Carrier Terminal 2 (LCCT2)?’ I mean for a start it isn’t Low Cost Carrier Terminal 2. It’s LCCT1 because there currently isn’t an LCCT1. I think anyone reading that would think it was the name of an airline and that the airline had sponsored the terminal.

Why can't we do what everyone else does and have the airport name followed by the terminal number?
Why can’t we do what everyone else does and have the airport name followed by the terminal number?

No airline aspires to be cheap and no terminal aspires to be low cost. But more importantly, what is a non English speaking mainland Chinese person, Korean investor or Australian traveller to make of that moniker?

Is it going to help them navigate through the maze and warrens of Kuala Lumpur’s terminal 2? Of course it isn’t. Is it going to help make an already stressful experience even more stressful? I’d bet the farm on it.

Bearing in mind the airport has been known for a long time as KLIA, now that they’ve built a second terminal at the same airport, wouldn’t it make more sense to name the terminal ‘Kuala Lumpur International Airport Terminal 2’ or KLIAT2? I do appreciate this would require Klia1 to be renamed but that’s a necesity as well because what does Klia1 mean? Is it referring to the terminal? It’s position or what?

Klia 2 doesn't really mean anything so we need to change it
Klia 2 doesn’t really mean anything so we need to change it

KLIA should be like every other airport in the world that is designed with the passenger in mind. Think Heathrow Terminal 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, Dubai Terminal 1, 2 and 3 or Singapore Changi terminal 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Surely that makes it easier for everyone concerned? Calling it LCCT2 really is a terrible idea.

Together we are rebuilding the Malaysia Airlines brand


Two days ago I posted this blog post about what I called a minor yet significant step by Malaysia Airlines to rebrand by engaging me.

I was asked by some people why the email I got has anything to do with the Malaysia Airlines brand. I explained that in the social economy of today where consumers not companies define brands, it is the little things that brands do when interacting with consumers and how those consumers share their thoughts on those experiences, that build strong brands today.

I used as an example how much money Malaysia Airlines had spent over the previous 10 years on advertising whilst driving the brand experience into the ground. This meant that the brand had no equity in the bank and that if anything were to go wrong, it may struggle to rebuild its brand.

From the outside it looked like management had come to believe that the brand was defined by the company and as long as the company kept creating messages that the management liked, the brand would one day bounce back.

And then came the tragic events of 2014. The out of touch management didn’t have a clue how to address the issue and could not engage with relatives and other stakeholders. I compared their reaction to that of Tony Fernandez following the terrible Air Asia Indonesia accident of the same year and how his response was so ‘human’.

Following the twin events and with no equity in the bank because few customers were talking positively about their experiences with the brand, Malaysia Airlines had to be bailed out by the government and is still lurching from one problem to another.

I explained that whilst the interaction I had with Malaysia Airlines was small it was nevertheless a step in the right direction and if it was part of a strategic plan to start delivering value in key customer facing areas, it was a step in the right direction to save the brand.

I went on to explain that brands are not built with a big idea, a creative campaign or a one off interaction. They are built organically, over time and through little interactions at nearly every touchpoint. This isn’t rocket science but it is amazing how many firms still think they can build a brand through a creative programme.

And then today I read this article about a Virgin employee who works at San Francisco airport. Over the years he has adapted flight information boards to include famous quotes, jokes and irreverent announcements.

branding is not about the big idea, its about experiences
branding is not about the big idea, its about experiences

Rather than discipline the employee Steve Freitag, Virgin actively encourages him to make passengers smile. Passengers who encounter Steve Freitag will envariably talk about the experience and tell their friends.

No big idea thought up over a six month period and then turned into a slick advertising campaign. Just a real person doing real things and making life better for a minute for those people flying with Virgin.

In the case of my little experience with Malaysia Airlines it meant that instead of clicking my heels and the airport and wasting time I could ill afford to waste, I could spend an extra 45 minutes in the office.

And here I am sharing my experience with you through this blog and on Twitter and Facebook. And some of you are sharing my story with your friends. And together we are rebuilding the Malaysia Airlines brand.

Is this the first glimpse of the new Malaysia Airlines brand?


Malaysia Airlines has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising campaigns in an effort to convince us that it’s a top carrier and we’ll all have fun flying the airline etc. You can read one of my scathing attacks on the marketing department here and another one here.

Unsurprisingly this 1960s approach to building a brand didn’t work so they focussed instead on cutting costs wherever costs could be cut, without giving much thought to the effects of these cuts.

Most recently the carrier was ripped apart in the Malaysia media because it has stopped serving alcohol on any flight of less than three hours and not just in economy but in business class as well. What appeared to be most galling to the hundreds of consumers who commented on the ban was the fact that the airline had implemented the rule below the radar. Without apparently any formal announcement. Scores of furious business class travellers took to Facebook to air their frustrations and to swear never to fly the carrier again.

And then a few days later the CEO stepped down, nearly two years before the end of his lucrative contract. We’ll come back to that in another post. Because this post is a positive one.

This afternoon I received an email from Malaysia Airlines telling me my flight was delayed. Now I know a lot of you are going to ask what is the big deal but this is the first time, for as long as I can remember that MAS has emailed me to inform me that my flight was delayed.

Rebuilding the Malaysia Airlines brand, one baby step at a time.
Rebuilding the Malaysia Airlines brand, one baby step at a time.

It’s not perfect. For instance I would also like to have received a text notifying me of the delay because I might not have checked my email before leaving for the airport. And of course you’d think that after more than 20 years of being a customer, they could address me by my name but that doesn’t matter.

What matters is that rebuilding the reputation of the Malaysia Airlines brand will require a greater investment in improving experiences at every touch point than in advertising campaigns that are lost in the sea of noise. I’m not holding my breath, but I hope this is the first step in the rebranding process.

Is the Malaysia Airlines CEO going to resign after only a year?


Rumour has it that Malaysia Airlines CEO and managing director Christoph Mueller is quitting the airline before the end of 2016.

If this is true it’s a major blow for the carrier that announced its first monthly profit in years in February 2016. Although it won’t come as a surprise to many who spotted tension between Mueller and Khazanah late last year when he announced the new Malaysia Airlines brand would be launched in December 2015.

The CEO was quoted as saying, “The entire brand needs a ‘refresh’ and will be like a start up with a new culture, values and ideas” However, the brand continued in the same livery with little change to the product or values and ideas. Well little positive change anyway.

And then in January 2016, Khazanah Nasional Chairman Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar said “undertaking a rebranding exercise without having a strong foundation would create a vacuum in the carrier.” This comment can’t have gone down well with Mueller.

Most recently Malaysia Airlines has been slated in social media because it has stopped serving alcohol on regional flights of less than 3 hours.

This comes at a time when the Malaysia brand is struggling to overcome numerous negative issues and is a massive setback for the carriers reputation and that of the country.