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... On an extension, the task is loaded with twin responsibilities. One, to effectively derive power of image and substance from the brand, and two, to ensure that the new business would gradually contribute to the equity of the brand extended - - or at least sustain it unblemished. Mutual transferability of values progressively is the essence of brand extension. Lack of meaningful fit can only peel precious equity off the brand.

 

  15 August 2005

  Kingfisher Airlines. Cropping Feathers?

Published in the web exclusives of Business World - August 15, 2005

'Kingfisher' the brand is flying an airline now.  A reincarnation of UB Air, which flew only a few flights some years back. With Kingfisher as the name, would it float this time? One may wonder: whatís in a name? Isn't it really about the market and how you play the game out? Yes, but the names can tell a good deal about the chances. All else remaining common, name can make the task easy, hard or even impossible. With the brand known, it is easier to tell the chances when it is extended. Inapt extension can brew unfit strategies and mismatching strategies can devalue the brand.

 

When branding a new name the task is only to ensure that it has the potential to absorb values that are critical to the business. On an extension, the task is loaded with twin responsibilities. One, to effectively derive power of image and substance from the brand, and two, to ensure that the new business would gradually contribute to the equity of the brand extended - - or at least sustain it unblemished. Mutual transferability of values progressively is the essence of brand extension. Lack of meaningful fit can only peel precious equity off the brand.

 

Potential of brands for extending arises from their stature and characteristics.  Values of some are transferable only within the micro product category, some within a macro range and a few can carry almost any business. Even brands that can carry many a business hit limits, set by their essential character and image. Reliance fits almost any business but requires that it be huge. Kingfisher can also take quite a few but would fit only certain types. Critically, KF calls for certain attitude, class and style in operation. Size against pronounced attitude is what puts Reliance and KF apart. By that, perhaps KF is more valuable than Reliance. Reason enough for the team at KF to think hard. They need to figure out the value to know what is at stake. Comparatively, Kingfisher has the potential to become the Virgin of India. Mallya, I believe, would do well to sustain the value of KF than lose a load off it in mis-fitting it with the Airline business.

 

From branding perspectives, I feel the group has put both the brand and the business at stake in its re-take on the business. No doubts, airlines biz fits KF fine. The mistake is in fitting the business with the brand. Though the tunes in the press sound much like it the bird seems to be loosing feathers. It is a case of gross mismatch. Low fare or even value proposition defames the brand and the brand by its characteristics can only trouble the finances of the business. KF is imbibed with the essence ingrained in the words: fashion, glamour, beautiful girls, sexy dresses, great guys, beer and the drinks, and essentially Mallya. The critical branding question is: when a powerful brand is extended, should the brand drive the business or the business the brand? As I see it, the bird which is already uncomfortable, would deliver only on its terms. It has already forced KAL to shift from low fare to value pricing. The conflict would continue. The result is predictable. Eventually, the bird would drive the business in its unique style - - for good. Or the business would strive to survive profitably - - hurting the bird also in the process.

 

Fit or not, even business strategies are contagious like many a thing. A syndrome, which clouds opportunities and wise deviations in strategies. Low fare rush has infected every new airline in the Q. Air Deccan would lead a crowd. Guess the way the industry would move in the next 3 years, the time within which these airlines need to find ground to be able to fly beyond. In India, for ages, the segments were within the plane - - Business and Economy. It has now become basis for business. There would be more flyers and more flights but the situation may not really translate into growth and profits for all moving in. The blinding act is that all seem to see just 2 segments - Regular and low fare. Worse, Kingfisher has wrongly sighted this third obscure median segment surprisingly missing the one that fits it pretty well. In all possibilities, KAL would find the segment consumed by both regular and low fare carriers working on prices and products. Understandably, the proclaimed parallel hypothesis appears to have done KAL to the slot. The market in India, by size and maturity is too green for the US Jet Blue model to work.

 

KAL has missed the pot by distancing from the khans and malaikas, and their friends and the friendsí friends in business and otherwise. No pun, the segment very much belongs to KF and is big enough to write-in profits from the very first flight. More for more is what would have worked for sure for KAL. 10 - 20% more would only invite the segment that seeks exclusivity and class isolation. Above all, only KF is absolutely suited to serve this segment. Everything it has uttered fits this position and not low fare or even value proposition. Fun in the sky, personal video, younger birds (fleet) and birds inside too (models as hostesses), fashion show etc. KAL could have easily got the top layer of the IA & Jet migrate to its flights for life. Isnít segmenting done easier by slicing a layer from the existing market than creating a new one, when everything is weighing in favor?

 

If KAL would heed to the bird it need only imagine the possibilities. It can do a lot many things IA and Jet canít. It can offer all frills and more. The team at KAL need only draw inspiration from the brand. The ideas would spring and flow. With more for more strategy KF could have ignored the competition. With its not-here-not-there strategy it is right in the thick of it, having to fight flights on either side of the price. It is already away from the segment that suits. And the class it is chasing with value pricing would possibly shy away from it. I believe, KAL needs to recast its strategies all over once to make a profitable sense of this extension. Alternatively, it may rename itself as UB Air and try its misplaced strategies fighting every one out there. It will save the bird as well.

 

Adve Srinivasa Bhat

Management Consultant

 
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