How Ryanair soared above rivals

As a creative agency, one of the most important things we must do for our clients is to clearly define and communicate their customer value proposition.

If we can explain what makes the brands we work with special and unique, if we can show what they stand for, and convey that through all the materials we design, and marketing campaigns we produce, then we have a pretty good chance of convincing their potential customers they are the right choice for their needs.

But a value proposition has to be more than skin deep. It has to be representative of the actual customer experience. Because if it does not, then there will be trouble. In the airline industry, Ryanair had, for a long time, quite a simple value proposition as expressed in their original slogan: ‘the low fares airline’. Everything they did was about reinforcing this message - including PR stunts about plans to introduce standing seats or to charge for using the onboard loos. They wanted people to think they were relentlessly looking at ways to cut costs, even if the ideas were controversial, because this kept people talking.

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And it worked because their value proposition matched the customer experience on the ground - or in the air. People knew what to expect - no frills - and so they would tolerate discomfort so long as the flights were punctual and reasonably priced. And it worked. Ryanair has grown to become Europe’s largest low cost airline, carrying more than 130m passengers a year on more than 2,000 daily flights.

British Airways, meanwhile, has struggled. They can no longer claim to be the World’s Favourite Airline at a time when others, like Qatar Airways and Emirates, are perceived to offer a more premium service.

And their attempts to compete with low cost airlines are hampered by their legacy as a high end carrier. When they announced they would not offer inclusive in-flight meals on short-haul flights, it created a kind of cognitive dissonance among their customers and there was uproar. Research shows people rate an experience based not on how good it was overall, but how closely it matched their expectations.

By Guy Cookson, Partner at Hotfoot Design