At the heart of every business is a service whose aim is to be the consumer’s first choice. To make this happen, the product must be easily remembered. But how?
In the recently concluded Asia Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) SME Summit 2015 held in Manila weeks ago, Tony Fernandes, founder and CEO of AirAsia, talked about how he managed to turn an airline company into one of Asia’s biggest players in the budget airline industry with no experience at all.
His secret? Branding and people.
When he took the job, he went for the unconventional way in looking for people. He believed in the talent hidden inside every individual. He also decided to change the way the company was perceived by its consumers by changing the logo, the visuals, and the advertisements they put up. He narrated how their first advertisement consisted of the new red logo with the word AirAsia. “All of a sudden people knew us.” Fernandes emphasized how design contributed a lot in the success of the company.
Many people think a brand only consists of the logo, the typeface, slogans, and music. I’d like to think of it as the image of how the company defines and promotes itself and how the consumers think and feel of it. It is an image of what the company does, the values portrayed, and the business as a whole. It can almost be used interchangeably with the organization or the company.
With no experience at all, how did he face the challenge of reviving a failing commercial airline? The answer is really very simple: market research. Fernandes mentioned the importance of knowing the people before anything else. In its simplest form, the first thing one has to know when designing a brand is the perception of the people — understand the audience and what they think of the company. Then, you capitalize that perception. Better perception, better product. Take away the logo from a BMW car, a pair of Nike shoes, or blind taste test a Coca Cola drink… you’d still know what it is because of the design, the taste, the experience. They build a certain relationship with us. We don’t know it exists but, deep inside, we know how to sing that catchy jingle of the Ariel commercial, or the theme song of that new McDonald’s commercial by heart. It’s branding at work.
There is a big difference between design and brand but both of them should not be considered different disciplines. Design and brand are inseparable. Design is a language. It is thinking made visual: an artist’s way of communicating an emotion or a thought. There are many ways to convey a design but, of course, it has to be clear, concise, and effective in engaging its audience. Combined and well thought out, design can be as powerful as the loudest speaker or the strongest fighter.
Meanwhile, brand encompasses the value of a whole, the message that a design wants to communicate. A well-designed brand can change the way we decide on things through the associations we make on the product: from the advertisements to the visual elements to the environment which we experience it. Products may fail and technologies may change but a strong brand makes a mark on people that cannot be easily removed. If there is one thing I learned from Tony Fernandes in this year’s APEC SME summit, it is the power of a good design: its ability to understand and be understood.
Tony Fernandes is a Malaysian entrepreneur. He is the founder and CEO of Air Asia who proposed an open skies agreements in the Asia-Pacific region. He managed to turn a failing government-linked commercial airline into one of Asia’s biggest players in the budget airline industry.