In case I didn’t say it enough (you may have missed it, what with the 13 hour time difference) I am just back from a trip to New Zealand.
I can’t even begin to describe how amazing it was - it would require many, many blog posts - suffice to say I’m lucky I married a Kiwi so my first visit won’t be my last!
Rather, what struck me as a blog-worthy item was my first ever luxury brand experience:
Flying With Emirates
The Dubai-based international aviation company is the largest airline in the Middle East with 170 aircraft flying to over 140 global destinations. There were other long-haul airlines to choose from for our Dublin-Dubai-Sydney-Christchurch journey, but Emirates came out on top for price (surprisingly for a luxury brand).
Or perhaps not surprising. It would seem that although first class seats are more profitable than economy seats for other airlines, the opposite is true for Emirates. It has been claimed by sources that, despite the lucrative (and beautiful) top end bed-seats their profits are actually made in the back of the plane. The fact that you have to pass the first class section to get to your economy seat is possibly the only fault I could find with them.
And I looked hard!
I must point out that the first Australian leg of our trip was operated by rivals Quantas (much to the 7 year old’s disappointment; “they don’t have nearly as many movies.”) And they don’t deliver pre-booked child meals. Enough said.
It’s funny that rather than the logo or the plane design, what pops up in the mind on first hearing the name Emirates is always one thing: their air hostesses!
Red hats, white veils, tan suits. Red lips. Emirates exudes glamour, poise and old-school sophistication. So how come a 30-year old brand can remain so relevant and appealing to a cynical modern marketing person like me?
Well, it all comes down to the customer experience.
Budget Airlines Versus Luxury Travel
I’m an avid enough traveller. I’ve been to much of Europe but my only experience of long-haul was a mere 8 hours to Canada in my youth. European short-haul means I tend to fly with budget airlines like EasyJet or Ryanair. They do what they set out to do. And I’ve never missed the “frills” they removed to make air travel accessible to the masses.
Until I had a hot towel.
A hot towel after running through sweltering heat at Dubai airport to make a 45 minute transfer.
A hot towel that smells like aromatherapy oils in a spa.
A hot towel gracefully placed in my hands with tongs by the most friendly, exotically beautiful woman I’ve ever been served by.
Nope, I tell myself, this does not justify an almost 4-figure ticket price.
But over the course of 32 hours this brand continues to bombard me with little luxuries that make an arduous trip not just bearable, but enjoyable (NB I hate flying!)
Long Haul Flying Experience
From the 3 course meals that include everything from toothpicks to mints, the hand lotion in the bathrooms, the exceptional (multi-award-winning) on board “ICE” system where I could watch a multitude of movies/TV shows, listen to every music album imaginable, play Battleship with my son and watch the view from not one, but two cameras at the nose and base of the plane…
I had a touch of jet lag on the return journey but let me tell you that the trek to the other side of the world was nowhere near as bad as people told me it would be. And that is surely down to the Emirates experience.
Emirates Service Outside The Plane
For customer service too, they rock. My non-technical-Dad arrived at Dublin airport to collect us so that I wouldn’t have to jet-lag-drive us home to Belfast. But without internet he couldn’t track the plane online. As it turned out the plane had landed 20 minutes early.
So he went to the Emirates service desk and asked where would be best to stand to meet us and at what time. Not only did the staff tell him - they took him physically to the very spot so he could wave as we walked in.
And as we walked past our final crew, who were also awaiting their baggage at the carousel, we hear Laura call out “Goodbye Che!” to my son and they all waved. He was so chuffed.
“Laura” had been lovely enough to take my son’s photo for a souvenir card that noted the journey he had made and on what dates. Inside she had written a message that wished him a Happy St. Patrick’s Day (almost - we flew home on the 16th March).
Flying Long Haul With Children
And this is on top of all the extras little travellers already get on Emirates flights, including travel bags with world maps, colouring books, pencils, sleep eye masks and travel flasks (part of the Fly With Me range they launched in 2015).
Not to mention a cute travel bag filled with a travel blanket in a variety of animals to collect. “Leila the camel” was such a comfort to Che and just the right size for him to carry.
Then when his meal came, not only was he served first (with his name and seat number noted), but he was offered a hot meal AND a box of snacks - an absolute relief for parents of picky eaters!
I also noted complimentary branded strollers parked up in Dubai airport, for those like us, whose baggage is following them on a madcap dash round the world. A very thoughtful addition for families.
So does all of this constitute a luxury price tag?
Well it didn’t cost us an exorbitant amount but knowing what I know now, would I pay extra to travel with Emirates?
In a word, yes.
And that’s from a girl who buys all her clothes in Primark or on eBay.
I am by no means a designer brand consumer. I am not easily led by luxury messaging or peer-pressured logos. I am an individual and a somewhat tight-arse one at that.
But I am very easily led by an excellent customer experience.
The Brand Value of Customer Experiences
My trip brought home to me how important that ultimately is. In a world of constant cost-cutting, where we think we want everything fast, throwaway, cheap as chips. Sometimes, we only see what we want when a brand shows us what we need. When they make us feel special.
With this approach to branding, experience and customer service, Emirates has become more than just a service provider, but a luxury brand in its own right, even boasting a digital “High Street” store where you can buy over 400 products from retro design travel items to iconic artwork and children’s toys.
The World’s Most Valuable Airline
It’s no surprise then that for the fifth consecutive year, Emirates have been ranked the world’s most valuable airline brand and the top brand in the Middle East, according to the 2016 Brand Finance Global 500 report.
With a combined social media following of 11million+ it also became the first airline to reach a million followers on Instagram and have just risen past half a million on LinkedIn (this article has some great insights into what the brand does that works so well on LinkedIn).
The airline has also recently launched the longest flight ever made by a commercial airline; Dubai to Auckland, New Zealand (17 hours) as well as enjoying the notoriety of a $5million advertising campaign starring Jennifer Aniston (which has racked up almost 6million YouTube views to date) plus viral social media hits like their air hostess spoof safety demonstration at the 2015 football game between Benfica and Sporting Lisbon.
As a brand, Emirates are doing a lot right just now.
I feel it important to point out, as a blogger, that I have not been compensated by Emirates for this post.
However if they want to thank me in some way, I will most likely be flying with them again soon…