What’s really in a name? Brand loyalty, that's what

 - May 6, 2008, 9:17 AM

Among all the factors that influence a buyer’s decision to purchase one business jet over another, brand loyalty is well recognized as one of the strongest. Citation owners, looking to replace or add another steed to their stables, usually buy another Citation. Falcon owners, for the most part, buy another Falcon. And Gulfstream owners generally buy Gulfstreams.

Bombardier Business Aircraft, in a move to strengthen its brand, announced last month that henceforth its soon-to-be-certified, super-midsize Continental business jet will be known as the Challenger 300.

According to Andrew Farrant, Bombardier Business Aircraft general manager of marketing communications and sales support, the change in nomenclature resulted from a “brand audit” that Bombardier conducted over the past year to determine the evolution of awareness and perceptions of Bombardier Business Aircraft and competitive products. The study included a survey of 200 chief pilots and directors of flight operations, a series of in-depth interviews and focus groups with pilots, principals and product management. “We wanted to identify the underlying personalities of Bombardier’s products,” Farrant said.

“We’ve had the point of view for quite a while that the industry has traditionally sold its products based on functional benefits, such as speed and range,” he explained to AIN. “But our customers, I think, are no different from any other consumers. They’re touched by emotional issues. Business aircraft have values and emotive benefits that drive people to the particular product line, not unlike the car industry. So we tried to get to the bottom of this.” Farrant said he thinks brand loyalty also goes beyond the functional benefits of sticking with one OEM’s products. “I think there’s an emotional connection between the company and the individual and the product. We wanted to get to the bottom of this, too.”

Bombardier’s market research confirmed, for the most part, what it already knew or had suspected about the Bombardier Business Aircraft product line, except for one thing. It had expected four distinct personalities to emerge along the company’s four product groups: Learjet, Challenger, Continental and Global. As expected, Learjet’s and Global’s personalities were distinct: the small but fast Learjets emote feelings of performance, excitement and heritage, while the stately, long-leg Global Express and 5000 show prestige and the highest level of technology. The large-cabin Challengers also elicited expected perceptions of value, proven technology and reliability. Somewhat unexpectedly, the super-midsize Continental exhibited these same characteristics.

A related brand issue, also investigated, was the image of Bombardier Business Aircraft (BBA), which, along with Regional Aircraft and Amphibious Aircraft, is an administrative entity within Bombardier Aerospace. The studies showed that neither Bombardier Business Aircraft nor BBA was particularly well recognized, certainly not as well as simply “Bombardier” by itself. “So, you won’t see us going to market trying to create a brand for Bombardier Business Aircraft,” Farrant said.

Thus, according to the market research, three clear nameplates–Learjet, Challenger and Global–emerged along with the one main brand, Bombardier. As a result, the company’s business aviation products are being promoted under the banners of Bombardier Learjet, Bombardier Challenger and Bombardier Global.

Model nomenclature was already defined for the in-production Learjet series (31A, 40, 45 and 60) and Global series (5000 and Express). “Making the assumption that we one day might come out with a bigger and better Global Express, we could potentially replace the word ‘Express’ with a numerical value, such as 7000 or 8000,” said Farrant, “but we’re not ready to announce that yet.”

The Challenger line included the 604, the SE/Corporate Jetliner and now the Continental. Sticking with the three-digit numbers, the Continental became the Challenger 300 (because it is “a lower price/capability point than the 604”) and the SE/Corporate Jetliner SE became the Challenger 800. This numeric language is designed to facilitate market understanding of the price/ capability points within the model nameplates. “Think BMW three series and five series. It’s not so much that one is better, it’s that you pay more for a five series and you get more,” said Farrant.

Finally, the marketers decided they needed a way to show small, incremental improvements in a model, upgrades that would not warrant a change in number. They hit on adding suffixes. Thus, the enhanced Learjet 45 announced at the Farnborough Air Show in July is the Learjet 45XR. Challengers will get “DX” suffixes and Globals “XR.” These suffixes mean nothing more or less than “plus,” according to Bombardier.

Bombardier marketers recognize that “the Continental does not share complete DNA with the Challenger,” said Farrant, “but you’d be surprised if you sat down with engineers how much Challenger thinking went into the design of the Continental and the commonality
of many of the subsystems. From a technical perspective, you could argue that the Continental is a hybrid of a Learjet and a Challenger. But if you look at the size of the aircraft, you’d have a hard time getting the community to think of Learjets as big airplanes. So you have that kind of baggage to deal with.

But if you go back to the original value proposition of the Continental,” he continued, “the aircraft wasn’t going to do anything best in class, it was going to do everything really well in class; it was going to create a balanced value proposition, all at the right price. And that’s exactly what Challenger is all about, too.”