Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary: the ultimate Brand CEO

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 14.36.29I suggest Ryainair's Michael O'Leary is one of the world's most effective "Brand CEOs", after reading an interview with him in Marketing, here. By Brand CEO, I mean a leader who creates a vision for their brand that energizes the team to drive growth, through actions more than just words.

Now, Ryanir is not everyone's favourite brand; I for one don't enjoy flying it. And the low cost airline's controversial CEO Michael O'Leary wouldn't win many popularity contests. But boy is he successful. Did you know Ryanair's market capitalisation of £5bn is almost 40% more than BA's owner IAG (£3.2bn) and four times that of Air France-KLM (£1.2bn), according to this source?

To give you a flavour of his style, the headline to his Marketing interview as: 

'Short of committing murder, bad publicity sells more seats'

What are some of the learnings from O'Leary and Ryanair?

1. Create a "branded business model"

Ryanair had a clear business model from the start, and they have stuck to it, based on two key things:

– Cutting costs to the bone, to drive down prices

– Rapid turnaround of aircraft, to keep them "in the air"

What is really clever is cutting costs in a way that also helps turn-around time. For example, removing back-seat pockets cut costs, and means there is now rubbish stuffed in them to clean out. Charging extra for hold luggage means encourages people to travel light, which means less bags to handle and again, lower costs and quicker turnaround.

This approach delivers tangible consumer benefits, with industry-leading on-time performance of 90%+, according to these reports

2. Distinctiveness on steroids

Ryainair is one of the most distinctive brands in the world. The key brand benefits of low prices and on-time flights are not that different from other low cost airlines. But the way these benefits are executed is highly distinctive. Some of this communication is through advertising, which is always controversial to generate additional PR coverage, like the one below. However, much of the brand's communication comes from PR stories, with one of the most talked about being the one about Ryainair charging to use on-board toilets. As O'Leary says:

"Charging for toilets continues to be the number one story that resurfaces in the press and it’s the gift that keeps on giving. We’ve never done it, but it keeps coming up on social networks every three or four months, the media picks up on it and then someone writes a story on it."

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 14.36.02
3. The power of presence

"Our task is not nurturing enthusiasm, its overcoming indifference", according to Martin Wiegel of Widen & Kennedy. The key is to get your brand noticed, as much of the time as possible, by as many people as possible. And this is where Ryanair's distinctive branding pays off, as O'Leary explains using an example of a recent new story:

"The complaint from last summer - where the woman on Facebook who was travelling to Alicante without having printed out her five boarding cards got hit for three hundred quid - she ranted about it on social media, got half a million followers and then the newspapers picked it up. Negative publicity generates so much more free publicity that it sells more tickets."

4. Fresh consistency 

Ryainair is a a great example of fresh consistency. All the PR and communication reinforces the key benefit of low cost flights, with each advertising campaign or PR story giving a fresh twist.
In conclusion, you may not like O'Leary and Ryanair, but you have to admire their branded business model.