In a recent collaboration with the Schulich Executive School of Business and Southwest Jiaotong University, I had the great privilege of speaking at several high-speed rail forums on building global brands this past week (as I write this post, I’m traveling in comfort by high speed rail between Chengdu and Beijing, whisking along at 310 kmh).
At the University I saw emerging rail technology that will soon see trains traveling at 1000 kmh… the same speed of the 777 jet I took to fly to China. Furthermore, the hyperloop that they are currently prototyping will travel at 2000 kmh and one day up to 4000 kmh, so they claim. A far cry from the Via Rail I recently took from a trip Montreal to Toronto.
Two things struck me at the conference:
1. How far behind we are in North America when it comes to high speed rail, in a country of vast distances built on rail travel
2. Our LEVEL5 point of view that great brands truly are the ‘value of a promise consistently kept’ travels across categories and continents
This fantastic rail technology is traveling around the world. But it, too, is a highly competitive category, with German, French, Japanese and others competing with the Chinese for market access and market share. The functional benefits delivered by high speed rail are impressive, moving people at incredible speeds and distances, reducing pollution, and driving economic prosperity to name a few. But they all do that.
To succeed, these rail companies will need to build brands, brands that make more than a promise of speed and on time performance. As one of the most successful travel brands in the world, Cathay Pacific promises a ‘life well traveled’. They delight with a brand experience built on insight and long on quality. They have established a deep emotional connection with their customers by driving quality into every corner of their organization. They command a price premium over other airlines.
High speed rail will transform travel and with it the lives of billions. What a glorious opportunity to build an inspiring brand just as Steve Jobs did ten years ago with the introduction of the first iPhone. The first job for these brands is to understand what really drives value in the markets they plan to enter. Uncover and quantify the most powerful drivers of purchase behaviour that will get consumers out of their cars to take the train. They must then make a compelling promise to their customers, strategic partners and communities they impact, and rally their organizations to consistently keep that promise as Cathay Pacific did. That’s what great brands do.
Smart brands also understand the cost of making a mistake if they misread a market prior to entry.
Within 10 years we’ll see these brands in North America… which one will be the Apple or Cathay Pacific of high speed rail travel?