Brand Image and Hospitality – a case study of two British companies

Razzle Dazzle restaurant Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady, representative of Virgin's brand image
The Razzle Dazzle restaurant on board Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady

The idea of a brand having an ‘image’ is ages-old – but the need for image to aid in carving out a position for a brand in a saturated market is more important today than it ever has been. The advancement of globalisation, aided by improvements in connectivity and the ‘internet age’, has created a global market in which every customer has a platform for their voice – pushing the need for high-level customer service from every brand. A big part of this service is ‘image’ – whether it be a brand playing to the ethos of a ‘family-run’ business, or a worldwide corporation acting as a friend to consumers.

The same is true in the cruise industry – and helps the customer differentiate between brands and choose the perfect-fit holiday. Whether it be Oceania Cruises’ localised culinary celebrations or MSC Cruises’ Mediterranean, family-run vibe, cruise lines need to ensure they are making their image stand out in the market – and the way they present their onboard hospitality is a big part of this.

The hospitality industry and brand image are intrinsically linked – being customer-facing by nature, the reputation of a brand and the success of hospitality are dictated by the opinion of the customer. As such, hospitality industry brands such as cruise lines realise that the hospitality choices they make will impact their brand image. Below we look at two competing British brands who have carved unique places for themselves in the cruise market.

Home away from home

British brand P&O Cruises leaned into their British-ness in 2014 with the ‘This is the life’ ad campaign featuring Rob Brydon, with the Union Jack emblazoned on the side of P&O Britannia. When compared to sister brand Cunard, both owned by Carnival Corporation, it is easy to see how the different lines appeal to distinctly different target demographics. Cruise Critic tells us that Cunard is a more international brand, attracting passengers from worldwide to experience its ‘liners’ – whilst P&O is ‘aimed squarely at Britons, with everything you experience on board geared to British tastes’.

The brand is aware that this image starts with the ship design, with Alison Clixby making the point during the Pillars of Design debate at CSI Barcelona that P&O focus on what makes areas warm, homely and familiar to a British demographic in order to continue attracting their primarily British customer base. Working with London-based design firm Richmond International, Britannia was designed to be a ‘cruise liner for the new generation’. Artist Johnny Bull was commissioned to design a key piece of artwork for the ship. The concept of the artwork was decided by P&O cruises and the content for the piece was put to the British public to decide. The end result features figures and objects considered central to British iconography – such as Queen Elizabeth II, red buses and other features. This artwork features in the ‘Best of British’ art collection on board the vessel, curated by Tempest Radford.

Having recently returned from its first refit, Britannia carries ~3,600 passengers. In terms of cuisine, the ship features several British-themed dining areas, including ‘Brodies’, an establishment styled as a classic British pub featuring a range of British beers and ciders, and a cooking school featuring lessons from famous British chef Marco Pierre White. With only 14 eateries on board in total (7 free, 7 requiring an up-front fee), Britannia’s 3,600 passengers are getting a focused dining experience – concentrating on cuisine familiar to the British consumer. P&O say that the main dining room, Meridian, features ingredients sustainably sourced from the UK, and is ‘an opportunity to celebrate all things British’ – with Cruise Critic telling us that the starters, mains and desserts reflect British heritage.

From its very name, through the design, to the entertainment offerings, Britannia offers a distilled version of ‘Britishness’ to its mostly British customer base. Identifying that their passengers are looking for a home away from home, P&O have combined comfort and style to create a familiar yet elevated British brand.

Live like a rockstar

Taking a different approach for the design of their inaugural ship Scarlet Lady, new players in the cruise game Virgin Voyages have taken brand image pointers from sister companies Virgin Media and Virgin Holidays, with personalised, adrenaline-fuelled and entertaining marketing campaigns such as ‘It Smells Like Ship’ – a Virgin Voyages-themed perfume.

From a hospitality perspective, extensive thought has gone into the brand’s image from all perspectives. Bright colours, wacky design and ‘instagrammable’ experiences clearly targets the millennial demographic, and communicates the infamous brand image of being ‘playful’, ‘modern’ and ‘energetic’. The wide range of culinary experiences on board is representative of this – from ‘Razzle Dazzle’, a brightly coloured, vegetarian-based restaurant, to ‘Dock House’, ‘part Ibiza cabana, part rustic-chic resort’, the oft-pun-based cuisine (‘Lick me till Ice Cream’, ‘Extra Virgin’, ‘Well Bread’) demonstrates a willingness to experiment – something that the brand is famous for.

This range also reflects dining characteristics of Virgin Voyages’ target market. A recent study from commercial contractors ASF on millennial dining experience tells us that, as well as preferring to spend money on experiences than products, millennials love to have options – be it exciting new interiors, the ability to customise meals, or a choice in seating arrangement. Virgin Voyages have hit this nail on the head – with over 20 eateries on board the 2,770 capacity Scarlet Lady, cruisers will be spoilt for choice.

Moving into the living areas, experiments and innovation continue, with the PearsonLloyd-designed transformable bed. While flexible spaces are not a new idea in the home or workplace, they have recently been more widely embraced, in part due to the increase in popularity of remote working. Hospitality trendwatchers will also have noted the increasing prominence of flexible spaces in hotel design. This is, however, a first for the cruise industry, and facilitates the cabin – a room known for being short on space – as an adaptable, adjustable area. This flexibility will be familiar to Virgin Voyages’ target market – immersed as they are in the world of cutting-edge pop-up restaurants, Airbnbs, and the gig economy.

As a result of these design choices, British brand Virgin Voyages have created an international ship. Influenced by a target market shaped by globalisation, the brand realised the need to dissolve the borders of its demographical target market to focus instead on a wider generational audience – and have successfully created a guest experience representative of their brand ideals.

Best of British

Comparing the two, it is impressive to see how two homegrown British brands use design and marketing to communicate such varied brand images and ideas. Where P&O respond to the wants and needs of their target market by celebrating British cuisine, Virgin Voyages provide the range of culinary options desired by theirs. Where P&O provide British-themed art and design in traditional installations such as the Star Burst chandelier, Virgin Voyages instead provide ‘built-in’ entertainment, with restaurants and bars serving a second purpose as aesthetically-pleasing photo opportunities.

P&O and Virgin Voyages have both demonstrated how it is possible to shape your guest experience in order to define your brand. From the eyes of the customer, brand image is first conveyed through marketing and promotion – once on board, the cruise line needs to ensure their guests’ expectations are met through sharp hospitality design.

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