brand hallmark

Hallmarks earn you high marks

3 minute read


Poor old British Airways.

Knocking our once esteemed national carrier seems to have become an annual event.

Take the most recent problem. Not many of us really know what happened with the IT system, precisely why it failed, why there didn’t seem to be an adequate back-up in place or whether it really was connected to the decision to outsource their IT. This may have just been an outlier, an unforeseen incident, something completely unexpected; whatever the case, I suspect there were many business leaders shifting uncomfortably in their chairs as the story broke.

For me, however, the greater sin is the fact that they have stopped serving free tea and coffee to passengers in economy.

This simple act of hospitality elevated BA above a wide plethora of the short-haul operators. Yes, it might be a bit cramped and airless at the back, but at least you were guaranteed a free cup of tea – a drop of civility amidst the cut and thrust of modern airline travel.

I know the tea wasn’t really ‘free’ but at least you didn’t have to worry about having the money in your pocket, or to be more precise, worry about having exactly the right type of change to hand! (Why don’t airlines EVER give their staff enough change for the trolley?). The hassle free cuppa has gone. Enter the usual paid for trolley nightmare with staff having no clue about how the contactless payment terminal actually works.

So why does all this matter? Well, because this small act of ‘generosity’ held a greater significance. It was a service hallmark. A way of marking out BA as different from the others, perhaps even evidence of the moniker ‘to fly, to serve’. Some people suspect that the decision to remove the free tea and coffee was motivated purely by wanting to save cost. And those same people wonder why saving on the cost of a cup of tea is necessary when the parent company has just posted annual operating profits of €2.5 bn.

And that’s where the rot sets in, when decisions are made purely on the basis of cost with no real thought to the impact on the customer experience; it takes self-discipline to manage cost, but it requires imagination and flair to create a memorable, efficient and distinctive customer experience.

The very best businesses recognise the importance of hallmarks.They regard them as tangible evidence of their purpose or proposition.They are purposeful and focused about the things that support their distinctiveness or price premium. They take the time to understand what matters most to their customers and they meet those requirements head-on.

Yes, I want a safe and reliable airline, but what are the hallmarks that make it distinctive? There don’t need to be a lot. Just a few well timed interventions.

More and more businesses are really beginning to focus on this.

Argos is cracking same day delivery, taking the fight to Amazon.

Halfords is removing practical angst by offering to pre-assemble and fit automotive parts and accessories to customers’ cars.

Metrobank is offering account opening within two hours of arrival in branch. offers a free preliminary credit check that doesn’t impact your credit score – a kind of pre-screening that helps customers see where they are likely to be accepted before they apply.

Premier Inn invests in Hypnos beds and focuses its resources on offering customers a great night’s sleep.

These are businesses and brands that are thinking hard about how to make themselves distinctive and memorable in a way that is relevant to their brands and valuable to their customers.

Focusing purely on cost might deliver short-term profitability, but it rarely brings long-term sustainability. The real heroes are those businesses quietly reinventing themselves by focusing on WHAT MATTERS MOST to the customer and then delivering against this with imagination and flair.

For anyone interested, Jeff Bezos has some great advice on how to avoid becoming a ‘Day 2 Company’ (his shorthand for a company in a state of decline); chief among these is the need to eschew proxies (such as copious amounts of research) and go and speak directly to customers.

So before you go and make (or buy) a cup of tea or coffee, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Product and service hallmarks help keep you memorable and distinctive
  • You don’t need many of them, but make sure the few you have count
  • Focus on WHAT MATTERS MOST to your customers and find new ways to address these needs
  • Think about the beginning, middle and end of the customer journey
  • Deliver with purpose and intention
  • Employ wit and imagination

Customers rarely have time to conduct a detailed evaluation of your product or service. Make yourself memorable and distinctive.

Enjoy that cuppa.

Image (c) The Goldsmiths’ Company Assay Office


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Simon Bailey

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