Bath Travel, Cosmos and Virgin Holidays owners have taken a gamble, says Giles Hawke, executive director of MSC Cruises

Imagine you’ve got 100 marketing experts and you’ve locked them in a room. No, you haven’t stumbled across the Giles Hawke self-help guide to a simpler business life. What I need you to do is ask them that killer question: what makes a brilliant brand?

In a connected world, the things companies do well or badly can spread far beyond their traditional sphere of influence in a matter of minutes, and can make people brand zealots or brand terrorists just as quickly.

Brands – and the trust we place in them – have been in the news recently. The Volkswagen emissions scandal has undone years of brilliant work by Germany’s leading car maker, while Facebook’s “morally dubious” approach to tax planning has made us all wonder whether it really is a social media if it doesn’t contribute to society financially.

The name game

Great branding always starts with the name. Volkswagen is the people’s car; Facebook is a directory of the faces you know. Rumour has it Jeff Bezos even picked the name Amazon because he was thinking BIG.

Modern thinking has it that ?successful companies concentrate on the brands with the most cut-through. Procter & Gamble is to axe up to 100 household products to focus on its biggest multinational names. It’s a concept that travel has always been ahead of the curve on.

In her editorial last week, Travel Weekly editor-in-chief Lucy Huxley highlighted the loss of favourites such as Lunn Poly and Britannia. Did it really “turn out OK” as she suggested? Who knows, given that what they were replaced with were supported by huge promotional spend.

Bye bye Cosmos and Bath Travel

There is a lot to be said for the Cosmos and Bath Travel brands.

Cosmos, a name forged in the 1960s, evokes the excitement of exploration in vogue at the time, but it could be argued that the idea has had its day.

Bath Travel wins on two fronts. Its longevity engenders loyalty because it is so entrenched in the southwest and many people know of the Bath family, who were so visible to customers, while the name itself sounds like it was founded in a nearby town.

Hays Travel founder John Hays is a brilliant entrepreneur and has no doubt given the Bath-to-Hays name change some serious thought.

Suppliers will be looking closely to see how the shops perform with their new signage and I’m sure John will be working, and investing, to make it work.

Meanwhile, I’m watching to see how retailers react to the lack of trust Virgin has shown in them by taking Virgin Holidays direct. There is not a cruise line in the world that would think of going without agents, so I wonder what the bosses at Virgin Cruises thought about the move by their sister brand?

Virgin works as a brand because people think “new” and “innovation”. How many in the trade will now think it means “uses our expertise to get established, then cuts us loose”?

One thing is for sure: it’ll certainly be innovative trying to fill new ships with no retailers – and I wouldn’t like to be the marketer who gets let out of the locked room to make that happen!