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Last week we wrote a story about Flight Centre Travel Group, one of the world’s largest travel agencies at $14 billion plus annual revenues, and its efforts to reinvent itself beyond being a travel agent into a travel retailer. The essence of its reinvention efforts: We don’t want to sell third party products, and just be the middle agent, we want to create our own branded products with exclusivity built into those, and become a retailer.
Contrasting that with the continuing reinvention of another giant player in the travel agent and tour operator world, Thomas Cook, at about $15 billion in revenues in 2012. The new CEO Harriet Green has, in a year since she joined, tried to sell off some non-core units, consolidate others, done some moves around digital, and of course tons of layoffs. The company has 30 brands in UK, but is looking to cull that down to less than 10.
Earlier this week Thomas Cook announced its rebranding, with a new logo, new tagline and a new corporate structure.
It also outlined its new brand strategy, and its transformation through unification, so to speak. We’ve excerpted the two relevant paragraphs out of it:
The new, unified brand captures the essence of Thomas Cook: how it delivers inspiring personal journeys as the trusted pioneer in global travel. In its shortened form this essence translates to Let’s go! It is a promise made to all stakeholders and for customers it reflects the values that they come to us for, values of trust, personalisation and innovation, and an approach that is high-tech and high-touch across all customer touch points.
The unification of Thomas Cook brands will make it easier for customers to understand the full strength and end-to-end value of the entire Thomas Cook Group coupled with the innovative offering of services and products. It will show more clearly what differentiates the Group and how the Group provides a total experience along every customer touch point – from research, to booking, to anticipation, and to the holiday itself. Importantly the unification will clarify the customer promise of a complete range of inspirational experiences.
Both of these key graphs in the outlined strategy are full of corporate cliches, the epitome of which is “values of trust, personalisation and innovation,” whatever that means in real life. But the value of these cliches comes out in the “consumer touch points” chart that shows how it intends to be the brand at all points of its customers’ journeys.
And that’s where it all becomes clear: the unification strategy is a solution to Thomas Cook’s business problems, including plethora of brands, bloated corporate structure and its debt. CEO Green has said in the past that Thomas Cook has been in the business of silos, and this is a solution around it.
But, it isn’t a solution to its consumer problem at all, and assuming that the 8 stages of consumer touchpoints will all remain within the new unified Thomas Cook brand experience misses the point of the new digital reality: that all the traditional industry- defined stages of travel are meaningless these days. Consumers are using all the digital tools to jump across these silos and are prolific and promiscuous when it comes using all kinds of travel brands, among which are non-travel brands like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others.
Brand leakage is the new reality. Playing this field requires digital nativeness, not just hired digital guns to form a committee, and Thomas Cook has shown very little propensity for it. These cliched buzzwords above show a fundamental misunderstanding of consumer behavior, though it surely does make the market analysts happy.