How some brands redefine their Niche

Its said between fast, cheap and quality you can have any two but never all three.

Air Asia bills itself as a Low Cost Carrier (LCC). Its tickets are, if you book them early enough, discounted bargains. Air India is not a low cost carrier. Its a nationalized government owned airlines and usually offering the lowest fares among its competitors. Its a subtle difference. Say you want to fly Delhi to London and back. Go on and feed in this. The choices would most likely have BA/Jet/Virgin offering fares higher than Air India. When you are on a budget Air India is your go to airlines. Ditto for Air Asia for the routes it flies.

But what a contrast.

If you ever flew both these airlines the difference could not be starker. Air Asia aircraft look and smell new, well maintained and its crew is top notch. It wasn’t the plastic smiles or the cool colors that convinced me though. On a recent trip I saw the smokin hot crew members discreetly check on the toilets some 5 times on a 5 hour flight. Enter,scan,flush, air fresher and out. Damn sure wasn’t the best part of their jobs but done assiduously. I got the distinct impression Air Asia must take its training function very seriously indeed.

I had the ‘good’ fortune flying Air India a while ago. Its aircraft look old, smell funny and everything looks well past its prime. Esp the crew. Oh Boy. Every request is treated as a inconvenience. The stewardesses look surly on a good day. Safety is the in-flight comedy. I saw one loudly admonish a mom for not being able to get her kid from wailing. Really. En route when I wanted some water and no one had answered the call button I walked into the galley and found the crew sitting on overturned crates and playing cards. One gruffly asked me to help myself to water.

The Maharaja would have been proud.

The only airlines that could possibly compete would be BA.

So a LCC Air India is not. A carrier whose only shtick is that its the lowest in ticket cost bills itself as anything but a LCC. But it is. Air Asia is a LCC but behaves like it only on the one area it matters to you and me as a customer : Ticket Prices.


Being confined to a niche or segment shouldn’t mean you take the accepted definition of the niche and use it exclusively to define and confine you. Take the best of it and junk the rest of it. Cheap tickets. Yes! Cheaply trained staff. Hell No! They way they are aggressively expanding routes I do hope it is scalable. We are rooting for you!

A classic line by Frank Costello from the must watch movie ‘The Departed’ nails it – “I don’t want to be a product of my environment; I want the environment to be a product of me”.



India Files : On Cheap Airfare

I was in Bangkok a few days ago with friends of mine and had the good judgment (helped by insistent tips from other friends) to stay at the western traveler mecca that is Khao San Road. We did multiple laps of the nearby streets in our short stay there.

Actually anything less than a month should be under that category for the gorgeous city that is Bangkok and the country that is Thailand)

@Bangkok with mates

The streets bustled with services and potable trinkets on sale, which make sense since you cant get travelers facing onerous luggage restrictions from buying the best selling local furniture hit of the year. From slick clocks to swiss army knives to paintings to CDs to the latest trendy shoes and iphone covers. If it was potable it was there. At throwaway prices if you had a modicum of bargaining skills. Luckily since we were from the right country for THAT, THAT was not a problem.

Now I need to add that I was in SE Asia thanks to cheap tickets on Air Asia and walking through the market browsing and occasionally buying stuff on sale I could not help wondering : If the internet allowed us to now transcend geography and buy/consume the best ideas out there, be it a magazine article in the NYT over the crud on or a HBS Blog post over something in ET on corporate strategy, can cheap air fares over the long run ensure even the market for physical items went to the best out there ?

Why buy the overpriced BlackBerry or Laptop at the showroom here when you can for a deep discount at your next short weekend break. A decade ago laughable as a concept. Now, thanks to upstarts like Air Asia, who knows.

the next threat to your business model may be getting ready to take off.

If the SVP for Strategy is mapping out market threats using Porter’s 5 competitive forces framework maybe she should add ‘dead cheap air travel tickets‘ in the Power Of Buyers section. And as a threat to their fat margins.

Cheap air fares could do for some industries what the internet did for others.

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