How significant is the decline in brand value for Qantas?

Reputation rehab - ADAM BISHOP weighs in on Qantas' delayed take-off on brand trust.

One could sense the needle shifting to please customers at Qantas HQ in February when it called in an emergency flight to make sure Taylor Swift fans in Melbourne could make the megastar’s Sydney concert. An adverse weather event forced the airline to scrap flights, but instead of asking its customers to simply take it on the chin (or even, shake it off), Qantas called in an emergency A380, normally on standby for international flights, to ensure Swifties were kept happy and the noise of any TayTay rioting was kept to a dull roar.

Perhaps I’m not cynical enough, but that gesture alone felt like a significant gear change for The Flying Kangaroo, which for many years could reliably be expected to run a pragmatic and somewhat uncaring corporate response somewhere in the vicinity of ‘s*#t happens’.

The more jaded marketers among us I’m sure would argue that from a PR standpoint, Qantas had much to gain outside of pure altruism – especially given the manic nature of Swift’s fandom. However, I could still envisage the Joyce-led incarnation of the carrier holding firm on rigid policy prescriptions, even in the face of such a high-profile event.

The reason for mentioning all of this is because the full extent of Qantas’ brand damage was in the Travel Daily headlines this week, after a Brand Finance report found the company had leaked a massive $384 million in value last year alone. The finding was significant because this was the first time an independent valuation agency had placed a monetary figure on the litany of negative headlines sustained by the carrier over the past couple of years.

Data in the report showed The Flying Kangaroo had dropped down to 21st on the list of airline brand value rankings, sliding by five places on the previous year. The result looked worse still in light of a strong broader brand recovery achieved by prominent airlines globally, with the top 10 carriers collectively piling on 17% in 2023.

While poor perceptions over customer service, sales practices, route monopolies, and agent relations are hardly new, what Qantas must do now to arrest the rot will clearly be key to the carrier’s fortunes this year.

In her first Annual General Meeting since becoming CEO of Qantas, Vanessa Hudson kept things simple and her cards close to the chest. But what she did make clear in her succinct address was the need for Qantas to revive its brand and become one of the country’s most trusted companies again.

Not too long ago, Qantas was a consistent performer in Roy Morgan’s Most Trusted Brands list, however, the deluge of PR disasters in recent times has created so much turbulence that the only list it did manage to make last month was Roy Morgan’s Brand ‘Distrust’ report.

Qantas stood out as the only travel business to make the undesirable list, beating home only scandal-riddled brands like Optus and Meta (Facebook) in the minds of Australian consumers.

The carrier has made clear that a central part of the picture of improving customer relations will be digital innovation. Qantas has already forked out millions of dollars on investment on new technology, particularly around its app and online channels to ensure travellers can more easily manage disruptions to flight schedules.

But relations with customers is not the only area of concern, with Qantas also needing to rebuild its reputation with many key stakeholders within the travel ecosystem. Part of the olive branch offensive has already included a price lock feature for up to five days for sellers using its Qantas Distribution Platform. Many are also wondering if the recent appointment of former Carnival Australia Chief Commercial Officer, Kathryn Robertson, as its new head of Global sales distribution will signal a thawing of agent relations. When contacted by TD at the time, Robertson stated it was too early to talk about any specific objectives, but certainly many readers weren’t displeased with her recruitment to such a key position.

Brand value can appear on the surface to be a slightly nebulous quantity, but while it’s often hard to precisely pin down how a brand is tracking, what’s abundantly clear is just how important good branding and brand trust is in generating sales and fuelling future business confidence.

For what it’s worth, in my opinion Hudson appears to be making all of the right noises on the brand rehab front, and only time will tell if she can back up the rhetoric and successfully bring Qantas back from the brink of intractable ill will with travellers.

Proving it may not be all doom and gloom, Brand Finance Managing Director, Mark Crowe, believes both internal and external factors are likely to buoy the Qantas brand over the next 12 months.

“Favourable market conditions are expected to uplift Qantas’s investment in customer experience to strengthen its brand, therefore arresting a further decline in value,” he predicted.

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