The Indian airline, Jet Airways, is one of the country’s powerful brands. It has built up a strong reputation for offering a great flight experience by combining world-class service, reliable operations and on-time performance.
Though there are several reasons for Jet Airways’ success, the main reason is the support from the management towards building a strong brand. By having a clear-cut branding strategy built on the four pillars of world class service, on-time performance, reliable operations and customer responsiveness, Jet Airways has been very successful in carving a strong presence.
Jet Airways was started by Naresh Goyal in 1993. With the Indian airline industry thrown open for private players by the Indian Government, Jet Airways was one of the 17 airlines that entered the market. With the cut-throat competitive pressures and the capital constraints of the industry, only 2 of those 17 managed to stay alive Jet Airways and Air Sahara. Jet Airways bought Air Sahara in January 2006 for 500 USD.
From then on, Jet Airways has come a long way in the last 17 years. Today it operates flights to 41 domestics and 21 international destinations and has become the largest private carrier in the country.
The success of Jet Airways is a standing tribute to the commitment and investment of the corporate management in driving a strong management team coupled with cost effective and robust operation systems to build a strong brand. Right from the start, the mission of the company has been to be the most preferred domestic carrier in the country. The entire corporate and brand strategy of Jet Airways has been based on this underlying mission.
Jet Airways has built its brand by focusing on the ingredients required to realize its stated corporate mission – to be the most preferred airline brand in India. When Jet Airways entered the market, Indian Airlines was the market leader and was a virtual monopoly as it was state owned.
Indian Airlines had built a strong reputation for providing pathetic service, delayed flights, bad food and grumpy and irresponsible staff. These things made it quite easy for Jet Airways initially. Understanding the concerns and requirements of the Indian customers, Jet Airways began on a crusading journey by taking steps to address those very concerns. Flight safety, ontime flights, world-class service, sumptuous food and a very friendly and responsive staff were to become the foundations for the Jet Airways brand.
Jet Airways began by flying what was then and even today, the youngest fleet of airplanes in India.
This served as a double edged boon for Jet Airways. On one hand it was able to instill confidence in consumers about flight safety because of the technical superiority of the young flights and on the other it was able to optimize the fuel costs. The technical superiority has helped Jet Airways to maintain 99.6% technical dispatch reliability. It has also enabled Jet Airways to have 83% of all its flight departures within 15 minutes of schedule as against 65% of flights for Indian Airlines.
Fuel cost constitutes the biggest portion of any airlines’ costs. With a young fleet, Jet Airways was able to reduce its fuel costs to 26% of its total cost as against 40% for other airlines.
Jet Airways also placed a strong emphasis on recruiting well-trained and efficient pilots by conducting extensive in-house training to all of its pilots to ensure safer flights.
Till the late 1990s, a majority of the people who opted for air travel were business executives. With air tickets being very expensive, air travel was beyond the reach of the common man. This prompted Jet Airways to set a very high standard of in-flight service and it aspired to become the businessmen’s preferred airline. This objective has lead to many service innovations like the first in-flight mail order shopping program called Jet Mall, frequent flier program called Jet Privilege, cobranded credit cards, to name a few.
Jet Airways also launched Jet Privilege, its frequent flier program, to offer its members frequent flier rewards, special deals for vacation, hotels and The Economist magazine. Delivering on its promise of providing a full experience, Jet Airways also launched co-branded credit cards with financial institutions to provide the best of both the big brands.
Jet Airways has also established a benchmark in ensuring on-time flights, something that was a major concern of passengers with Indian Airlines. To complete the service experience, Jet Airways has been very pro-active in ensuring a very friendly and responsive customer service on the ground. Right from cancellations, rescheduling of tickets, frequent flier programs, to garnering feedback from customers during baggage collection to constantly pushing its own limits, Jet Airways has been a pioneer.
All of this has endeared Jet Airways to its core segment of travelers, the business executives. Now, with more leisure travelers also opting for air travel, Jet Airways has once again taken the initiative to delight them with its promotional packages, seasonal discounts, apex fares and so on.
Jet Airways has not followed the traditional rules of brand building by spending huge sums on money on advertising. Instead it has depended heavily on third party endorsements like national and international awards, public relations and word of mouth publicity. This communication strategy has worked very well for the airline.
Right from its inception, Jet Airways has captured the attention of all major awards for all the right reasons. It has won awards in literally all major categories—from the Best Domestic Airlines in Asia Pacific by TTG Asia, best technical dispatch reliability award from Boeing Company, Air transport world market development award for market development, to being declared a string brand by various industry associations.
These awards have been able to communicate Jet Airways’ emphasis on its core brand promise and its consistent delivery in a very credible and efficient way more than any advertisements could have ever done.
While the initial endorsements built the brand awareness in the market, the subsequent brand experience that passengers had with Jet Airways helped cement close ties. This also spread the good word of mouth amongst the various segments of the market. It created a buzz about Jet Airway’s impeccable service, its friendly staff and its on-time flights. All of this enhanced Jet Airways’ images in the eyes of its prospective customers.
With a positive buzz going on in the market, media was not to be left behind. Thus the word of mouth and the related buzz lead to the media writing articles and stories in the press based on their own experience. With the prominent newspapers and magazines giving a positive review about Jet Airways, its equity with the public rose even higher.
Jet Airways was successfully able to leverage its positive image by consistently delivering on all its promises. Thus Jet Airways was able to build strong brand equity without going the usual and most very expensive advertising road.
While the initial endorsements built the brand awareness in the market, the subsequent brand experience that passengers had with Jet Airways helped cement close ties. This also spread the good word of mouth amongst the various segments of the market.
Major Challenges of the Future
Despite all the success Jet Airways has enjoyed, the coming years will bring with it some unique challenges. Jet Airways has to remain focused on its mission of being the most preferred airlines and on the consistent delivery of its brand promises if it has to stay ahead of the increasing competition.
The emergence of low cost carriers. The biggest challenge will be the emergence of the low cost carrier which threatens to alter the very dynamics of the domestic airlines industry in India.
Brand dilution because of a severe brand stretch. Jet Airways has responded to the threat from the lost cost carriers by coming out with various schemes to lure the budget travelers. Jet Airways is trying to be everything to everyone. Though it operates a business and an economy class with different prices, competing with a low cost carrier on price despite being a full service airline could prove challenging and very dangerous for the brand.
Competing with international airlines. With Jet Airways being given the license to operate on international long haul routes, it will bring with it a lot of challenges. Even though Jet Airways has managed to have a very good customer perception and response to its services inside India, it will be a major challenge for Jet Airways to offer the same levels of services on mediumand long-haul flights and keep the consistency which made it known in the first place.
Like other Asian brands, Jet Airways has to find an optimum balance between the unique Indian tradition of hospitality and culture and the best practices of the airline industry to appeal to a global audience.
Print ed: 06/10