As a fellow South Londoner and marketer, this recent article from The Drum really caught my eye. Over the last couple of years, Southern Rail’s service into London has all but imploded. And they have developed a terrible public image along the way.
Recently, a series of posters appeared at Southern stations with sarcastic, passive-aggressive messages attacking the RMT strikes. Rather than getting the public on their side, it caused a public outcry and the franchise issued an urgent memo for station staff to remove and destroy the posters.
It’s fair to say that some of the issues affecting service are outside of Southern’s control: the renovation of London Bridge and two recent sinkholes under the line.
However, with no clear brand, message or purpose to the franchise, it’s difficult for passengers to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Staff and passengers don’t have a consistent message or tone of voice, which leads to frustration, complete lack of brand and employee loyalty and poorly thought-out public campaigns.
This whole sorry Southern affair should act as a morality tale for other organisations – underlining the importance of a long-term brand purpose to inspire your customers and colleagues alike. With one, a resilient brand can ride the vagaries of crises outside of its control. Without one, the whole fragile project can fall apart. Unfortunately for most businesses, there is no chance that the government will ride in with the cavalry and a spare £20m.