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When a brand story goes wrong

I don’t know about you, but it drives me nuts when promises (including those of the brand story variety) are made but not kept.

When traveling to London from Dublin to speak at a recent event I flew with the low fares and no frills Ryanair airline despite knowing they had been named as the worst airline in Europe last year (as they have for the last 6 years in a row) in a survey run by consumer magazine Which!

And that’s because I reasoned:

a) It’s a short flight and I’m willing to trade a few creature comforts for a better deal, and

b) I mostly believed Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary when he announced some years ago that Ryanair was going to change their ways and become nicer to their customers…and he even adopted a new slogan: Always getting better.

I bought into their new brand makeover story that they would stop chiselling customers with sneaky extra charges or finding way to fine them if they made minor mistakes when travelling. Yes, the new Ryanair was going to ditch being dismissive of their patrons and to focus instead on positive customer experiences.

Hurrah. And to be fair, overnight changes were made to live up this new and improved story:

Scowls were replaced with smiles. Free seating scrums were replaced with allocated seats. Baggage allowances were increased, booking systems were simplified, new apps were rolled out and customer notifications were better too.

That’s good, right? Absolutely, but…

…You know how folks say it’s hard for a leopard to change its spots?

So I got a ‘priority’ customer notification that it was time to check in for my flight and I duly logged into my mobile app. Moments later I was guided to a map of the plane and greeted by a selection of prices for a variety of reserved seating options. And since I didn’t want to pay any more money for my flight I went looking for the ‘I’ll accept random seating option’ instead.

Having found and hit this quite well hidden button I got an instant pop up box message saying something like: Are you sure you wish to take this option, you may be randomly allocated a middle seat?

And while I thought “I’ll bet that’s exactly what I’ll get” I hit the confirmation button and rolled that dice.

No prizes for what happens now…I did indeed get a middle seat (also known in our house – and don’t ask me why – as the Lucky Luke seat)! Ok. They did warn me and I just thought ‘hey ho’.

2 Days later I get my flight and once most folks had boarded it was obvious there was a plethora of empty aisle and window seats, including the window seat right beside me!

This boiled me. This was nowhere near being a full flight and I was darned if I could think of a reason why new and improved Ryanair, who now care about customer experiences, would deliberately give passengers inferior seats when it was clear they didn’t have to do this.

Well, being the curious sort I stopped one of flight attendants and asked: “So, you know your random seat selection options for passengers – how does that work? I would have thought you’d give passengers an aisle or window seat where you could.”

“Ha” she laughed. “You don’t understand. This is Ryanair joke. Random seat is random middle seat! Is funny, no?”

“No”, I said. “It’s not funny!”

And truth is, it wasn’t funny and served to undermine their new-ish brand story.

Here’s the thing about brand stories – their value is tied up in all the promises they help your target customers to associate with you or your services/offering. And while you may deliver or live many of these promises, that’s not enough.

Rather…Here’s a truism: If your audience has reasons to question your sincerity, trustworthiness or motivations regarding any elements of your promises – trust will be lost and not regained. Oops!

As Warren Buffet once opined: “It can take 20 years to build a reputation and just 5 minutes to ruin it”

True that! And one look on my face in the picture of all those empty window seats beside and behind me tells its own story!

Rant over.