Building the “spiciest” airline brand in India: Interview with SpiceJet COO

Sam Sridharan, COO, SpiceJet

Sam Sridharan, COO, SpiceJet

In the past year, I’ve featured interviews with a number airline executives and branding experts. Here’s one with a person I feel has a very good grasp of the airline industry and is not afraid to speak his mind. In his crisp answers, Sam Sridharan, Chief Operating Officer of SpiceJet, one of India’s foremost low cost carriers, speaks of what makes SpiceJet so good, and why branding is a work in progress.

No Indian LCC has a distinct brand positioning, yet

Sam believes that since LCCs in India are only 3 years old, in the consumer’s mind, they’re all the same. Most of the LCCs are still very price driven, and have not built a distinct brand positioning yet. Full service carriers certainly have cues that come to mind, like Jet Airways signifies efficient service, and Kingfisher Airlines bring forth their flamboyant image. Air Deccan was probably the only one with a strong brand positioning – make the common man fly, but it’s now dissolved.

The SpiceJet Brand

When asked what customers feel the SpiceJet brand stands for, Sam answers, “warmth, Indian-ness, “Masti”(fun) and vibrancy.” SpiceJet is four years old, and the three years wasn’t the right time to make the brand statement. But now, the timing is perfect. Over the next 12 mths, SpiceJet aims to evolve from the price-centric positioning to that of a mature brand. And all of this will be translated in the brand experience and delivery.

A Work in-progress

SpiceJet aims to become an efficient airline that offers value for money. What is value for money? According to Sam, it’s on time performance, pricing and quality of service delivery. To build the brand positioning in that manner, SpiceJet seldom does price-only promotions. The more you cue in price, the more the tendency to come across as a “cheap airline”.

Some of their recent promotions have read, “It’s not lonely at the top anymore” for a buy one-get-one-free ticket scheme. On Children’s Day, any child flies for free. Again, parents often accompany their children. The idea is to get people to buy the two adult tickets. The most successful promotions are about value, not just the price.

I’m sure you’ll enjoy this interview as much as I did. Special thanks to Deepa Dey and Mohona Chakrawarti for all their “Spicy” hospitality belted out to me at their headquarters just outside Delhi.

What did you think of Sam’s ideas? Is SpiceJet heading in the right direction with regards to their brand? How would you compare Sam’s plans with that of Sanjay from Indigo, featured last week? Which one if more likely to succeed? Let’s discuss.

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Showing 7 comments
  • haree
    Reply

    Hi Shashank

    Would like to clarify.. isnt COO of spicejet Peter hill and Samyukth (featured above) the CCO – same as Sanjay kumar in indigo

    Brdgs

    • Shashank Nigam
      Reply

      @haree: You’re right, he’s indeed the CCO, and not the COO. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  • Abdallah AlSalem
    Reply

    when they start working slowly and planed well, it will fly high and meet the challenge.

  • Arthur C. Van Wyk
    Reply

    I had no idea India did not have the LLC business structure until 3 years ago. I had always thought India was very advanced in every aspect of business.

    Thanks you for sharing this small insight via your interview with the Spicejet COO

  • Mohammed Thiab
    Reply

    There are three aspects to this topic; the technology part (which has to do with the aircrafts themselves and their operation/maintenance, as well as the airlines reservation systems, the airports and airfields, ….). Then there is the business part which has to do with the financial aspects including revenues, operational costs, profit/loss analysis, capital investments, fixed assets, liabilities, marketing and competition, … etc … etc … etc) and finally there is the cultural aspect which touches on management disciplines, policies and procedures, practice vs theory, management and leadership, human and social values, … etc

    I am not trying to over complicate the topic, because it is complex already. However and to keep things simple as much as possible, we need to remember the basic mission statement of any successful airlines company. The mission statement should stress the core issue of carrying people and goods from point A to point B, SAFELY, COMFORTABLY AND ON SCHEDULE.

    Apart from that, other differentiators will be of cosmetic nature like icing on the cake. You need to have the cake first so that the icing on its surface makes a difference. the food menu, the on board entertainment, extra space for the legs, internal decor inside the aircrafts, the look, style and charm of the hostesses, … etc are all NICE TO HAVE after the airlines secures THE MUST HAVE first.

    Optimizing the enterprise business model for maximum benefit and minimal operational costs is key to offering all the above at competitive prices and making/increasing the market share, coverage network, numbers of passengers, and $$$ revenues.

  • Aditya Tandel
    Reply

    I think the airline industry as a whole will benefit if airlines take part in the process of improving infrastructure in India. There is no doubt that an airline’s operations would only improve with better infrastructure. This is all the more important because as many LCC airlines are concentrating on stabilizing operations for the next year or so as Sam mentioned.
    This may not be an immediate task for companies, but for LCC airlines with experienced backing and strong financial postions (such asJetLite), this may be an opportunity to gain instant recognition in the minds of the consumer if these efforts are communicated.

    I like the way, SpiceJet is not positioning its brand as a price sensitive one even though at its heart it is a LCC airline which would compete on the basis of price.

    • Shashank Nigam
      Reply

      @Aditya: Absolutely agree with you with regards to infrastructure. My only qualm about how Indian systems/companies/govts work is that they’re reactive and do not do things in advance. Once the airline boom had happened, they started building the airports. Lack of foresight is often the problem. EG, I hear that Bangalore airport is already reaching full capacity!

      But yeah, I like the fact that SpiceJet positions itself as a value-based airline, rather than the cheapest.

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