What’s the best way to become a millionaire? According to Sir Richard Branson, you “start with a billion dollars and launch a new airline.” This is how Tony Anderson, former Marketing Director of EasyJet began his engaging guest lecture to the entire MSc Strategic Marketing cohort. Naturally, we were all hooked.

From challenger brand to industry leader

After completing British Airways’ graduate programme, Tony came across a marketing role with a new airline called EasyJet. Knowing how capital intensive the airline industry was, he was hesitant about joining a new entrant. However, with his industry knowledge, Tony understood that EasyJet was basing its business model on Southwest Airlines. Knowing that Southwest was unique for its consistent profitability, he decided to give EasyJet a try.

The EasyJet team based itself in London Luton Airport with another new airline that you might have heard of called Ryanair. Easyjet became well known through stunts such as booking ten seats on the inaugural flight route that British Airways had established to compete. Another reason for EasyJet’s success was that it banked heavily on the power of the internet. It gave customers discounts for making online bookings rather than through EasyJet direct or airline agents.

This foresight had a significant effect on EasyJet’s long term profitability. EasyJet now ranks as the 8th largest airline in the world in terms of number of passengers carried. Ryanair, its Luton Airport counterpart, is number five in the world.

Tony Anderson, former Marketing Director of EasyJet

As part of our Brand Strategy module, we also had guest lectures from Dr Konstantin Theile, the founding President of Swatch and Katharine Joy Newby Grant, Marketing Director and Hair & Skin Care Commercial Director for Northern Europe Procter & Gamble (P&G).

Branding watches as fashion accessories for the first time

Dr Theile cemented Swatch watches’ place in pop culture history as fashion accessories. More remarkably, he did this at a time when Swiss watches were facing fierce competition from low cost quartz watches from Japan. Just as a rising tide lifts all boats, Swatch’s resounding success also saved the Swiss watch industry.

Dr Theile had the insight to truly set Swatch apart in the 1980’s. Not only were the watches fashionable, but their price was low enough to encourage impulse buys. Additionally, Swatch watches were sold in Swatch stores in high fashion locations, and advertised in fashion magazines. The result? Many Swatch customers built personal collections and sales exploded.  For such an accomplished man, Dr Theile was extremely humble. His final advice was – go with your gut, rely on your team, and seek inspiration from the most unlikely places.

Dr. Konstantin Theile, founding President of Swatch

Nurturing brands over time

Katherine Grant has spent almost 20 years at P&G and has definitely seen it all. She first spoke about the importance of constantly refreshing your brand, even if its performing well. The tendency for companies with large portfolios is to reallocate resources from successful brands to the new ones.

However, Katherine recommended against this using the case of P&G’s Aussie, a hair care cosmetics brand. In Katherine’s words “Aussie stood still while everyone else was innovating.” This neglect negatively impacted sales in the long term, causing P&G to course correct. Her advice to avoid this scenario is to stay in touch with consumer preferences and constantly innovate. All this is easier said than done but once the intention is there, you’re better poised to succeed.

One of my peers asked Katherine about *that* controversial Gillette ad (Gillette is a P&G brand). Her response? Although the execution may have left something to be desired, the message was clear. She hinted that we may be seeing more of such messaging from P&G in the coming years. This is because the company is intent on continuing to use its platform and voice for social good.

My overall takeaways from this series of guest lectures are:

  • A good brand is difficult to build and easy to destroy
  • Textbooks and theories give you a foundation but it’s up to you to use your gut, your instincts
  • Build a strong team to carry you all the way through
  • Focus on doing good for your customers and for broader society

A big thank you to our Brand Strategy module leader and MSc Strategic Marketing Programme Director, Dr Omar Merlo, for a fantastic and practical module. I will remember these brand management lessons forever.