In the summer of 2009, the management of Gatwick Airport Limited was preparing for a change in ownership. The UK Competition Commission had announced that BAA would be forced to sell Gatwick and other airports, given fears that its “monopoly” position could have “adverse effects for both passengers and airlines”. In other words, customers deserved more of a choice.
brandstory was invited to advise Gatwick management on a brand strategy for its new era of liberation from BAA and immediately noted the tell-tale signs of its quasi-monopolist parentage. Staff were crying out for change, to be free from the shadow of Heathrow, but no-one could describe the Gatwick brand or its competitive advantage: one outgoing director even claimed the airport “cannot truly compete”, echoing in a phrase the worst of its State-owned past. Vision statements had endangered rainforests without highlighting what one director eventually volunteered were their two important words: customers and choice.
Yet deep within the Gatwick folk memory there were seeds of a true and competitive brand story. After all, the airport had originally been developed as an alternative to Heathrow. It had a history of user-friendly access and innovations. (Years before, the chairman of brandstory had himself uncovered its fast track offer and branded it within the Fast Track Airport.) And Gatwick people had an underlying sense of kinship with their communities distinct from other airports, perhaps not fully understood at BAA.
So the brand story was written and shared of an airport which gave you a choice, a challenger brand, a place run by people for people. Gatwick managers saw the truth in this story and exploded with ideas on how its promised investment could make their airport easier for passengers and airline partners alike. The finest design specialists competed to tell the brand story in a new visual identity. And then Gatwick’s new owners saw the value in this challenger brand territory, in articulating the customer’s choice.
In this way, Gatwick found its sense of purpose once more. Twenty years after pioneering fast track channels, it opened “family lanes” through security and immigration, it outperformed snow-bound Heathrow in getting passengers away, and it presented itself as their choice – in brandstory words: “YOUR LONDON AIRPORT”.
Whilst Gatwick’s new owners invest in better services – “making life easier for passengers” as its website and brand story put it – the airport’s previous owners may be suffering. Not its passengers, however, who now have a choice. (“From hell to heaven in one year” wrote the London Evening Standard.) And our creator of Fast Track Airport yesterday hopes to become just as proud of “YOUR LONDON AIRPORT” tomorrow, already celebrating its CorpComms award for rebranding of 2011 .