Airline as stunned mullet

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Why Malaysia’s national carrier needs to do far more to resurrect its brand

Few companies can survive the profound impact of disaster, but it looks like Malaysia Airlines is backing itself to survive two.  It will be a long time yet before business resumes normal flight patterns in Kuala Lumpur, but from where I’m sitting they have no choice but to weather this storm.

It is a commonly held belief that if a name gets in the way of business, you should just press the reset button and change it.  And sometimes that’s exactly what should happen. Yet a name can only ever be a name.

An organisation’s ultimate competitive advantage is its ability to learn and translate that learning into powerful action – not just words, or new names.

When one of the two words of your business name happens to also be the name of your country, the need for learning and swift change in times of crisis is amplified ten fold.

In truth, to take the word Malaysia out of the airline’s name would connect national shame to the word itself. A kind of a “don’t mention the war” mentality… as though the war was called Malaysia.

Not fair. 

The national carrier for a country will always contribute to that country’s DNA.  Malaysia’s tourism board has spent many millions convincing the world that their place on the globe is ‘Truly Asia”, a magical wonderland of culture, cuisine, natural beauty and shopping. Why shouldn’t that still be true?

It’s not just the airline which should be taking stock of its meaning in the marketplace. Strategists from both Malaysia’s government and Tourism Board should be deeply involved in what happens next for the brand called Malaysia.

From an outsider’s point of view, I’m not seeing much movement yet.

September’s profoundly ill-conceived “Ultimate Bucket List” promotion did nothing to stabilize our collective opinion that this is a brand in big trouble. Seriously? Let’s brainstorm what we want to do before we die and win some Malaysia Airline tickets or an ipad?

The international media had a field day before the airline renamed the campaign.

Google Malaysia and the official Tourism Board site looks frozen in time. “Our thoughts and prayers are for the passengers and crew of MH17 and their families and loved ones” remains the primary proclamation.  So they replaced the MH370 press release with this one on July 17 and went back to work? Doing what?

According to news agency Associated Press, Malaysia Airlines hasn’t been profitable in the last three years. With or without a double tragedy and 537 dead passengers and crew), the airline was in serious need of restructuring. 

Call it what you want. But evidence of collective action and sustained change will be the only thing that will shift this brand out of these deep dark days and back into the blue skies of a robust future.