A brand worth watching. And flying.

Here’s a news flash for all of you who are 35 or under: Flying wasn’t always this bad. There was a time when racking up frequent flyers miles was, actually, a little glamorous. You could fly the friendly skies and have a pleasant time. Sometimes it even lived up to the advertised brand experience.

Sorry you missed it.

In the age of strip searches, baggage fees and laptop bans, most airlines are as bad as Greyhound busses. Cattle have it better on the way to the slaughterhouse. Every time I board a flight I think, “wow, there’s gotta be an opportunity here for an airline to do things differently.”

Sure enough, a small start-up airline out of Toronto is jumping in, and turning the clock back to better days in coach.

Porter airlines brand advertsingIt’s too early to tell if Porter Airlines will become a success story in the airline industry, but there’s a lot to be learned from their launch. From a branding standpoint, they’ve done it right.

In 2006, Robert Deluce, Porter’s CEO, made a conscious decision to build his airline around the brand, and vice-versa. According to Marketing News, he approached branding agencies with his vision, a business plan and a well-defined value proposition built on three things: speed, convenience and customer service.

Convenience was guaranteed by making Toronto’s City Center Airport the home base, eliminating a long commute from Pearson International. Speediness comes from fast turboprop planes and streamlined check-in and baggage service. And customer service… well the bar was pretty low, and Porter’s a fairly small airline, so it’s been easy to provide service that one customer described as “a real joy.”

Early on, Winkreative, a branding firm with offices in London, New York and Tokyo, was hired to coordinate the entire affair. They handled everything from naming the company to the interior design of the airplanes, website development and furniture selection in the airline’s lounge.

Rather than splitting it up between three or four firms, it was a well-coordinated effort based on a solid brand premise and a single creative approach. And it’s carried through in every aspect of the operation.

“It was meant to be something fresh, something innovative, something stylish,” Deluce said. “There’s a part of it that’s a throwback to the past… to a time when travel was a bit more fun.”

I love the simplicity of the name. “Porter” conveys how the airline would carry passengers with care and help lighten their load. And the tagline, “flying refined,” sums it up without pouring on the fluff.

Thankfully, the graphic design falls in line perfectly with the idea of refinement. If you say you’re refined, you better look refined!

The sophisticated, subdued color palette and the quirky raccoon character work tremendously well together. Sorta reminds me of Olympic mascots from years past. You can debate the wisdom of using a raccoon, but the design work is fun, distinctive and superbly executed in every medium. No one’s going to forget it once they’ve experienced it.

Porter airlines branding case study airline brandFrom the blog, Design Sponge: “This Canadian boutique airline is the most well-designed airline I’d ever been on and seemingly every detail had been given a lot of thought (including their adorable lunch boxes and chic on-board magazine named Re:Porter).

But the Porter brand is a lot more than just pretty pictures and a fancy in-flight magazine. From what I’ve heard and read, the entire operation is living up to its brand promise and exceeding expectations.

Travelocity says: “From top to bottom, inside and out, Porter Airlines has raised the bar. This new standard in air travel is evident not only in their ultra-modern facilities, but also in the quality of their staff. Each team member has been specially selected and trained to put travelers first with impeccable and innovative service.”

Nine out of ten customer reviews on SkyTrax are overwhelmingly positive.: “It’s exactly what it advertises: flying in style… thanks for bringing back the type of air travel everyone should experience and expect!”

And after scouring the travel blogs, I couldn’t find a single negative review.

From the World Hum travel blog: “I loved flying Porter Airlines… A smooth operation, friendly staff, and free snacks. It was a pleasant reminder that air travel doesn’t have to be a succession of minor inconveniences and discomforts.”

Many people have never known anything but discomfort and inconvenience in air travel. So for them, Porter will be an entirely new experience, somewhat foreign and unexpected. And once they’ve flown Porter, their perception of the other brands will be forever tainted.

For older generations, Porter is a throw-back. An emotional trigger that harkens back to a simpler time when all the airlines did a better job.

I haven’t flown Porter, but I hope to. (It’s almost enough to justify a trip to my grandma’s hometown in Nova Scotia.) I hope they can succeed in a tremendously difficult and competitive industry. I hope they can scale up their operation without sacrificing the heart of the Porter brand. And I hope more airlines follow suit.

But I’m not optimistic. Few airlines are built on such a solid brand premise, and most are just too darn big to change direction in any substantive way. So the opportunity for little carriers like Porter, will still be here for the taking.

If they can just remember those good ‘ol days.

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Leave a Reply 6 comments

Peter Routsis Reply

Hi John,

Having flown Porter numerous times, I can confirm that the brand promise is delivered at every touchpoint. The whole experience feels much more civilized than what passes for air travel today

Ash Rashvand Reply

Hey John,

I know this post is a little old but I thought I comment anyway. Because I love Porter and flying! The first time I travelled with Porter to NYC I thought I had stepped into a lounge area for first class. Their customer service is impeccable – the passenger next to me spilled her tomato juice everywhere. Including me. Less than a few seconds later the flight attendant jumped in front of my face with a Tide-to-Go spot remover.

On a larger scale, Virgin America is right up there in my opinion. They have innovative amenities that would take Porter years to reach; however, there is one thing Porter understands better. Flying doesn’t start up in the air, it starts on the ground. In any case these two brands are astronomically different. I hope Porter grows with time because it really is a universal brand when it comes to the experience. The person who spilled her tomato juice was a retired dean, while I was an aspiring consultant. And we both agreed, Porter rocked. Heck, even the Queen of England used Porter to tour certain parts of Canada. There is so much to be learned from Porter. With time, they would be a great case study for businesses who’ve lost faith in a more “refined way of flying.”

Marie Reply

While I used to be a loyal Porter customer, in the last few months the airline has gone drastically downhill. While it is lovely to have flights that are only half full, I am beginning to wonder if the rumors about the airline going into bankruptcy might be true – Porter has canceled two of my most recent flights at the last minute, leaving me stranded. While the service is top notch, reliability is sadly sub-par – in the future I will be bypassing Porter in favor of more reliable airlines.

sharon Reply

I am currently sitting at the Toronto airport with my husband and four children. Porter is the worst. I am very disappointed because I had heard so many great things about it. The crew in Chicago was nice. From the minute we landed in Toronto however,we have been greeted by misinformation and rude, condescending, impolite ticket agents. DO NOT FLY PORTER out of Toronto. It is not worth the free coffee and water in the lounge.

Lovemarks Campus » Blog Archive » Flying with Mr. Porter Reply

[…] seconds later the flight attendant jumped in front of my face with a Tide-to-Go spot remover,” raves Porter fan Ash […]

Airline Advertising Reply

Interesting perspective. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the subject.

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