The branding of Qatar Airways

Al Baker …

THE branding of a product, a service, a destination or even a country is vitally important in the highly-competitive global economy.

In a world of information overload, the task of creating an identifying trademark resonant with the positive characteristics of the product is an immense task and a multi-million dollar industry.
For the finer art of branding is to allow the consumer to separate the wheat from the chaff and distinguish the best from the mediocre. 
A brand is no mere label or cosmetic packaging but must also reflect real substance and value, and when the country’s national carrier, must be a source of national pride. For Qatar Airways, a singular vision has been at work since the dynamic Akbar Al Baker, its energetic CEO, took the helm of the then ailing airline in November, 1996.
Within four months Al Baker had relaunched the airline in its distinctive livery of burgundy and grey, Qatar’s national colours. This new corporate identity signalled the airline’s visionary ambitions, its renewed confidence and the emergence of a new culture of organisation spearheaded by Al Baker and his service-driven professionals. 
The eye-catching oryx image was placed on the tail fins on the Qatar Airways fleet, a statement of supreme confidence as the Arabian antelope was once considered, like the Qatar Airways that was first launched in January 1994, as an endangered species.

The new brand reflected the building of a new organisation that brought commercial and financial discipline to every aspect of the airline’s business and quickly reflected in the quality of service and improving route network.
Managed with a no-nonsense business-minded approach, Al Baker has spearheaded Qatar Airways through a rapid growth-oriented expansion of its Airbus fleet and service quality. As well as increasing the number of destinations, frequencies, turnaround times and maximising aircraft utilisation, Qatar Airways has dramatically changed customer expectations. According to Al Baker, the task from the outset was to build a solid business that would differentiate Qatar Airways through its quality of service and radically change perceptions. 
Qatar Airways is one of the fastest growing airlines in the world and with 33 Airbus aircraft, one of the youngest fleets, serving a network of 53 destinations including the recent inauguration of new services to Luxor, Istanbul and Zurich. In early 2005, services to Seychelles, Johannesburg and Osaka will follow. Al Baker has set his target on 70 destinations by the end of 2005 that will propel Qatar Airways into a truly global carrier, reaching five continents.
Creating and maintaining brand awareness is mandated by Al Baker and implicit in the communications and marketing departments of Qatar Airways. Every single item of printed and electronic collateral from advertising, brochures, flyers, in-flight products, giveaways to the Oryx in-flight magazine is controlled by the marketing and corporate communications team. This branding emanates from head office to all destinations and outstations, and an important task is to ensure that there is no dilution from the brand in these outstations. Whether the branded material is published in Arabic, English, French, German or Mandarin, the same strict guidelines are rigorously applied from Shanghai to Riyadh.
New service destinations are literally been launched every three or four weeks by Qatar Airways across the five continents, and the requirement to maintain this intensive detailed approach is strictly disciplined. 
As a spokesperson for Qatar Airways explained, “As well as the standard collateral that must always be available, a key aspect of our branding is that when Qatar Airways inaugurates a new destination our departmental expertise involves thinking through our branding taking sophisticated multi-functional and cross-cultural considerations into account, both inbound and outbound.
“For example, we decided that our giveaway for the Shanghai launch would be chopsticks branded for the airline and must, of course, be culturally appropriate. These items were given in a Hong Bau (red packet) signifying wealth and prosperity.  In the same way, much thought is being given to the selected items for our Tehran launch.  Luxor will also have a unique branding approach consistent with the destination and the type of traffic expected on this route. Similarly, the same considerations will be made for Seychelles, Johannesburg or Osaka and other destinations in the planning phase.
“We pride ourselves on the detailed approach we take to each new destination from the selection of photographic images, the creation of banners and the media planning that lies behind the launch.
“No agency completely understands our branding model as the Qatar Airways vision is a singular vision and we do not imitate but consider ourselves leaders rather followers,” he added.
In early April, Qatar Airways hosted the fourth Global Travel and Tourism Summit in Doha. This global summit provided an opportunity for Qatar Airways to relate its brand to an international forum from arrival at the airport, from the roads leading to the conference centre and the various hotels hosting the delegates. All promotional material was created in-house through the marketing and corporate communications departments.
Although it is a tough job to oversee every single aspect of the corporate branding and identity of the airline, absolute control is the norm with Al Baker involved in the detailed aspects of the branding process to his exacting standards. Whether it is ensuing that the corporate logo is always perfectly represented, or crew wearing their uniforms to the strictest dress codes, these details are noticed and reflect the positive attributes of the Qatar Airways brand.