It’s no surprise Ryanair reported a 28 per cent increase in passenger number this week. Spokesman Kenny Jacobs put it best, when he attributed it to “not unnecessarily pissing people off”.
Don’t get me wrong - I used to love reading chief executive Michael O’Leary’s latest ruse for making press noise: standing room only in the planes, pay £1 to use the toilets, banning luggage.
All of these “plans” were, of course, outrageous ideas designed to drive chatter, rather than serious strategies to affect the bottom line.
The problem with his media persona and resulting press was that it transferred to the experience. I spend my holidays in Puglia and therefore fly Ryanair several times a year.
My family holiday would always start with the elbow-jostling scrap for seats together. I wore my sunglasses inside the cabin (very Italian) to protect myself against the gaudy blue and yellow plastic daubed over every surface.
The strange thing was that if you knew the system (buy one speedy boarding ticket and spread out your clothes on the seats), secreted an M&S picnic up your jumper and took an iPad, then actually it wasn’t too bad for the price.
Then Carolyn McCall joined EasyJet, and her brand grew up. It bought a new fleet, the interiors of the cabins were upgraded, staff training brought a new level of service, and assigned seating was introduced. Many innovations arrived which made Ryanair feel dirty by comparison, despite being more or less the same price.
Just because you’re running a value brand, doesn’t mean you have to look cheap. Consumers love the idea of a “smart” choice, rather than being made to feel cheap.
Assigned seating can on the whole be automated, you don’t need to employ Alan Turing to work it out. In a quest to be humorous and subversive, O’Leary had pulled a classic Ratner - he had demonstrated a significant lack of respect for his customer and devalued his brand. There’s only so long the consumer will suffer a poor experience for the sake of price.
I’m delighted the brand has seen the light, as are its customers - and its shareholders, judging by the latest results. And as the self appointed manifestation of the brand, it’s critical O’Leary projects a savvy, but approachable and considerate persona.
This is what consumers want from an experience brand: the fundamentals of the experience, such as assigned seating and the new website, have made a huge difference, making Ryanair feel more organised and less aggressive as a brand in the process.
I believe the next stage is that the cabins are to be redesigned: I sincerely hope they refresh the brand colours along the way - perhaps I’ll finally be able to take my sunglasses off...