This week's commentary by TravelPage.com's European Cruise Editor, Malcolm Oliver takes a look at NCL's current brand identity program.
For the first time in 10 years, NCL Corporation Ltd. ("NCL") unveiled a new, all-encompassing brand identity program last week that was created expressly to "capture and articulate the company's Freestyle Cruising approach."
One way the brand is characterized is with a graphic treatment featuring a white fish swimming against the direction of a school of blue fish, depicting NCL's innovative spirit in the cruise industry, as well as the type of guest that NCL is looking to attract, one who is a "non-conformist".
I've commented a few times about the 'Norwegian Cruise Line' over the past six months, simply because they do tend to garb the maritime headlines. I can only applaud them for now regularly 'thinking outside the box'. However, this latest re-branding program must be costing a small fortune.
Now I'm no marketing guru, but I do wonder if the general cruising public will take much notice of the new logo (featuring a white fish swimming against a school of blue fish) let alone understand the meaning of it. I'm not sure I would understand the meaning of the new logo either, if I had not read NCL's explanation of it. I suppose lecturers and students of philosophy might, but how many of those take NCL cruises? Can you imagine NCL passengers filling out their customer feedback cards at the end of a cruise and adding "Great logo"? Maybe it works on a subconscious level? However, I must say the 'fish' do add a fun element to the updated and improved NCL web site.
As for attracting the 'non-conformist', I'm not sure such a person would really want to share a vacation, on a cruise ship, aimed at the mass-market, with 2000-plus other passengers - even if they can dine 'Freestyle'! (Some other lines are starting to adopt similar dining systems, although Carnival and RCI are still committed to the 'one large main dining room' concept, with the 'wow' factor that this brings.)
Personally I directly associate a 'brand' with what it delivers and how much the product costs. The logo is just a visual identifier and I do not have a problem with the existing NCL one. I do hope that a similar amount of money and effort to that being spent on re-branding NCL will be spent ensuring that their onboard experience is of the highest standard, within the constraints of their market segment.
Although I had a very good experience onboard the SS Norway in 2001, it's been a while since I have traveled with NCL. In general though, the NCL-brand product seems to have matured quite dramatically in recent years. Websites such at Travelpage.com (namely the 'CuiseTalk'forum) have become powerful sources of cruise information and a sounding board for both satisfied and dissatisfied customers. In fact I read much initial criticism of 'NCL America's' Hawaiian operation, from dissatisfied passengers, in terms of food, service and cleanliness. Hopefully these matters have already been resolved, if the criticisms were founded. (Lets not forget that issues about the quality of food and service etc. are particular subjective, anyway.)
NCL now certainly have some excellent 'hardware' in terms of many new state-of-the-art ships, with three dedicated to Hawaii and two mega-ships on the drawing board for 2009/10.
In the future, I think it will be the 'software' (food, service and entertainment) choices and quality, which will help differentiate the major cruise lines. This will be especially true, as all the ships within the major fleets increasingly become more 'mind blowing' in size and design. After all, ships under 90,000 gt are already starting to look small.
By the end of the decade Cunard, RCI, NCL, MSC (Mediterranean Shipping Company) and possibly Carnival will all be offering ships at around the 130,000 gt range or bigger. Those older ships at around 30,000 gt still in service will look like row boats, by comparison. I suspect we will also be witnessing a lot more re-branding with new logos as the marketing war between the major players, heats up.
After writing about cruise 'Loyalty Schemes' a few weeks ago, I received a comment that they are definitely NOT all equal, which I may have implied. I appreciate the feedback. What I actually meant is that most (all?) Loyalty Schemes tend to all operate in a similar way; after a set number of cruises you progress up the various grades of membership and the perks get better. I was also informed that The Royal Caribbean 'Crown and Anchor' program has many unadvertised benefits for the upper level members. I'm now really intrigued to know what these are? As I tend to try different cruise lines, I'm not really past the free 'Bum Bag' (Fanny Pack') stage yet, with many lines. I guess I will just have to wait until I have completed 24 RCI cruises to find out what's to come. Maybe there really is a 'golden rivet', after all?