Singapore Airlines (SIA) launched its new advertising campaign recently. Given SIA’s stature as one of the top homegrown brands, it attracted lot of comments in the local media.
Branding experts and frequent travellers had a field day discussing the merits and the demerits of the new campaign. Some felt that SIA should be moving away from its traditional focus on the Singapore Girl.
To be clear, Singapore Airlines branding strategy which revolves around its service crew has served it well over the years. However, the best brands never start out with the intent of building a great brand. Instead, they first focus on building and delivering a profitable product or service and an organisation that can sustain it.
Towards this end, SIA has invested in the latest aircrafts, technology and processes. But very early on, SIA realised that it needed quality people to differentiate its offering. So it has invested in attracting and engaging the right cabin crew.
Savvy employers have learned that securing talent requires a compelling and differentiated employer brand that goes well beyond core salary and incentives. This includes learning and development opportunities. Here is where SIA scores.
Even though learning and development are key areas in service industries, SIA remains the airline with the strongest focus on this aspect. Its development programmes for newly recruited cabin crew are reported to be the most comprehensive in the industry.
SIA trains its fresh recruits for four months—twice as long as the industry average of eight weeks. Since SIA recognises that it’s in the business of selling experiences, its programmes cover not only safety and functional issues but also include courses on deportment, etiquette, wine appreciation and cultural sensitivity.
The cabin crew is trained to interact with Japanese, Chinese, and American passengers in different ways. They learn to appreciate subtle issues, such as communicating at eye level rather than “talking down” to passengers.
These programmes enable cabin crew to provide gracious service reflecting warmth and friendliness while maintaining an image of authority and confidence. (Sources: “Singapore Airlines’ Balancing Act”, Harvard Business Review. Loizos Heracleous and Jochen Wirtz, July 2010; Flying High in a Competitive Industry: Cost-Effective Service Excellence at Singapore Airlines, McGraw-Hill Education. Jochen Wirtz, Loizos Heracleous, and Nitin Pangarkar.)
Prospective cabin crew know that a career with SIA will equip them with these critical skills---skills which will keep them in good stead for many years in an increasingly globalised world. There are many examples of cabin crew pursuing successful careers in customer relations, marketing, PR, etc. even after they complete their contracts with SIA.
This is the brand promise their prospective employees are buying into. Many educated bright young people around the region apply to SIA due to this perceived value. By being SIA’s icon of quality and its most visible face in its marketing campaigns, the Singapore Girl also increases this perceived value of its employer brand.
To be effective, a company’s employer brand needs to be in alignment with its customer facing brand. The Singapore Girl does a great job of bringing this alignment in the minds of its prospective employees. Earlier in April this year, SIA was named Singapore's best employer brand for the second consecutive year by an independent agency.
As the war for talent increases in an uncertain economic environment in Asia, SIA will do well to continue to stick with the Singapore Girl as a key component of its brand strategy, despite what its detractors might suggest. The gracious Singapore Girl may well be helping SIA to win not only customers but attract high quality talent as well.
The views expressed by the author are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of his employers.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Maneesh is a regional marketing director for a global professional services company and also the Asia Pacific advisory board member in Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council. He has lived in Singapore for over 10 years, has travelled extensively across Asia, the Pacific, and the Middle East, and contributed to the success of many diverse teams in the B2B space. In 2011, he received Brand Leadership Award for Excellence in Branding & Marketing conferred by CMO Asia.