The brand and the Chef

Brand expectations

In our international work, we have had the enormous luck to work in a country as fascinating as Turkey: crossroad of civilisations, growing geopolitical superpower, a thriving economy supported by a passionate entrepreneurial spirit and now also the epicentre of the commercial aviation industry. With the world shifting gradually from West to East, Turkey has found itself to be in the ideal geographical location to transport and connect global travellers from the Americas and Europe to Asia and beyond.

The clear winner of this development has been Turkey’s flagship carrier Turkish Airlines. Growing at double digits in passenger numbers and boasting impressive financial results, Europe’s already second largest airline has set its eyes on becoming the largest and the most premium airline in the world.

Obviously, brand plays a big role in this endeavour. Apart from executing a solid global brand identity, Turkish Airlines is always working on improving the customer experience. Among the many initiatives, it has introduced on every flight a “cook”, or at least someone who seems to be one; fully dressed as a professional “Chef” wearing a “toque blanche”, a white double-breasted jacket and pants.

This lady or gentleman greets you warmly (independently of if you are flying Business or Economy) when boarding the aircraft, creating an immediate expectation that the catering service must at least be “good” or comparably better than the airlines without such a proudly visible “flying Chef”.

Once the catering service starts in Economy, you look out for the “Chef” – you’ve inevitably built up the expectation that their presence means yummy food. The reality hits in. The Chef never shows up. Disappointment. It turns out that their “services” are exclusively for Business Class. The disappointment becomes even bigger when the food tray is in front of you. Not only is it far away from the glossy Chef’s image, but, debatably, worse than some of the catering you encounter on other airlines.

If you sit in Business class then fair enough, you have the “Chef” catering you, but even there the actual experience is far off from the expectation of having a full fledge “Chef” on board. Needless to say, no cooking onboard.

The learning from this anecdote? It’s critical for a brand to deliver on the expectations it sets. Turkish Airlines had the original idea to enhance its brand experience with the “flying Chef”, but did not properly think through the how it could be delivered through the experience. If everyone boarding the plane is greeted by this person, everyone expects to be part of it, be it in Economy or Business class. If you have a dedicated cabin crew member for the catering and, on top, you visually reinforce it through the chef’s attire, then you are creating the promise that the food quality and the catering service must be amazing. If, as it finally turns out, the reality is quite mediocre, not only does it not enhance your brand, it damages it.

In sum, a great brand is a promise delivered. Whatever the promise you are making to your customers, make obsessively sure you will be able to deliver upon it. Otherwise, don’t even try.