Cruising for a bruising

The Clearing doffs its antlers to the PR team at P&O Cruises. On Tuesday, they secured none other than Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II as their brand ambassador to launch their newest ship, Britannia.

The P&O marketers made the savvy move to name the new cruise ship after The Queen’s beloved Royal Yacht Britannia, and then stuck a 94-metre Union Jack on its bow (just in case she missed the hint).

Let’s put aside the facts that the parent company – Carnival Cruises – is American, and that the ship was built in Italy. In style and story, this is all about looking and feeling British, and this gives P&O an angle, what we’d call ‘Clear Defendable Territory’. British-ness carries weight – in the UK of course, but to an even greater extent in the overseas markets where this ship will seek passengers. Many Anglophiles, to be found in the US, Sweden, France, and even Germany, crave the formality, pomp and deference of British service (really, they’re thinking of ‘English’ service, but that’s a different blog). If P&O can recreate Downton Abbey on the high seas, they’ll rake it in.

But this story of focused brand building is unusual. The cruise industry is in a blind scramble for differentiation. All the big operators are in a desperate arms race to stand out with new liners, on-board innovations, flashy advertising, iPhone apps and celebrity chefs.

In my opinion, they are failing to translate this investment into meaningful long-term brand advantage. The industry will introduce 24 new ships – costing up to £500 million apiece – over the next 12 months. Each operator, from Royal Caribbean and Costa to Princess and Norwegian will trot out their latest innovations and features. Lately we’ve been served up robotic bartenders (Royal Caribbean), IMAX cinemas (Carnival Cruises) and Marco Pierre White as part of P&O’s ‘Food Heroes’ initiative.

The market is daunting. Research agency Mintel reports that a whopping 64% of British adults are ‘Cruise Refusers’, and 5% being ‘Dissatisfied Cruisers’. With another 7% making up the ‘Satisfied Cruisers’ that leaves the remaining 23% of ‘New Potentials’ for the industry to set their sights on.

But this 23% is a diverse bunch with differing demands. Romancing couples don’t want noisy children. Thrill seekers get restless if the ambience is dictated by sedentary cruisers. Some want to relax on board, whilst others want to dock frequently and explore the latest port.

The brand building challenge is big, but there are three rules that will help them steer a course (ho ho ho) to success.

RULE 1: STAKE OUT YOUR TERRITORY

Line-up cruise brands side-by-side and it can be hard to tell one from the other. That’s because they tend not to stand for anything distinctive, therefore they don’t sound or look distinctive. So, the first rule is to stake out one’s territory. The space P&O has found with Britishness, will only work if embedded as a core part of their brand, not merely on a single ship.

RULE 2: CREATE TOTEMS

Once you’ve decided on your focus, you need to prove its truth through signature experiences. These are the moments that people will talk about, that exemplify your Clear Defendable Territory. They need to be distinctively yours – not just ‘table stakes’ service or random gimmicks. Look to the airline industry for examples – specifically Virgin Atlantic – their salt and pepper shakers emblazoned with “Pinched from Virgin Atlantic” could only be done credibly and with such humour by them.

RULE 3: GO FOR ‘AND’ NOT ‘OR’

No successful operator of scale will succeed by building their brand around a single demographic. It’s too simplistic just to focus on young or old, high-end or luxury, adventure-seekers or relaxers. Partly this can be achieved with sub-brands and endorsements, but mostly it will need to be designed by carefully crafted propositions and targeted communications. On a very simple level, this makes intuitive business sense – the couple with kids might want romantic meals at night, but dodgems during the day.

 

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