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Honesty as Competitive Advantage

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[Photo of Jakarta's Blue Bird](The Success of Jakarta's Blue Bird Group)

Minutes after touching down at the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport during my first trip to Jakarta two years ago, I received valuable advice: If you need a taxi, take only Blue Bird.

As travelers into Southeast Asia’s megalopolises know, it’s not just the traffic that makes local transport perilous. Even if traffic isn’t terrible, an unscrupulous taxi driver may just make it so. Getting around Jakarta has become so unpredictable, locals even have a name for it: jam karet or rubber time.

Considering how often first-time commuters get scammed, perhaps ongkos karet or rubber cost should also be added into local lingo. And you know what? Without the visionary work of Blue Bird Group founder Mutiara Djokosoetono it probably would have.

Brand Founded on Trust

We often assume that, in a corrupt environment, integrity is a competitive disadvantage. While this is arguably often the case, this need not be true all the time.

Take the success of the Blue Bird Group as an example. Assuming the average Jakarta taxi meter bills 10% more than it should, then the honest taxi driver will earn approximately 9% less than average. This may not mean much if the dishonest operator simply spends the difference but, if he reinvests it into the business by refurbishing units or adding new ones to their fleet, then, over time, the honest operator will lose out to the dishonest operator.

This also assumes, however, that the average taxi rider is oblivious to what’s happening. Anyone who’s taken a taxi in Jakarta or in similar cities would know this isn’t the case. This is because the average business traveler often commutes between two locations (hotel to local office and vice versa). While it may be hard to tell when the meter bill is higher, or the trip longer than expected, during the first ride, on your way back, the difference tends to be quite obvious.

While a 10% up-charge may mean nothing to a large business, to a commuter, it's lot. And, if an option without the unfair up-charge and of equal or better quality exists, then I can’t imagine a commuter who wouldn't grab it.

The Blue Bird Group was founded in 1972 with a fleet of 25 cabs. Today, the conglomerate has over 17,000. That’s growth by a factor of over 680 times!

Birds of the Same Feather

The Blue Bird Group has thrived with its ownership of providing high quality and trustworthy transportation services as its core brand equity. Its impeccable reputation among commuters provided the Blue Bird Group with a strong foundation for strategic brand extensions; that is, extensions within the same broad category of goods or services, and brand stretching, as well as extensions outside the latter.

Visit Jakarta today and you can’t miss how Blue Bird taxis have not only flourished but a range of other vehicles under the Blue Bird Group (executive taxi services through Silver Bird, limousine and rent a car services through Golden Bird, charter bus services through Big Bird, and freight and trucking services through Iron Bird) have emerged.

The Blue Bird Group’s brand extensions through Silver Bird and Golden Bird, as well as brand stretching projects through Big Bird and Iron Bird, come under different brand names but still leverage the Blue Bird Group’s overall reputation in providing high quality and trustworthy transportation services through familial similarities. Note the use of the word ‘Bird’ in the new service’s brand name and the image of a bird in its brand logo. This allows the Blue Bird Group to adequately differentiate its services across tiers—regular (blue), executive (silver), and premium (gold)—while building on the same foundation of trust and quality.

Traveling to the airport on a Blue Bird taxi last week, it struck me how many sky-blue taxis were on the street. If New York is famous for its yellow cabs, Jakarta is now famous for its blue ones. I though to myself, if the Blue Bird Group chose to color its taxis pink instead of blue, would Jakarta’s streets be filled with pink instead?

Print ed: 01/10


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