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Branding 101: How Will the American Airlines – US Airways Merger Play Out?

The business world has been buzzing since the announcement of a major merger between US Airways and American Airlines earlier this month. As a frequent flyer, I can testify that this story got my attention too!

Obviously, a merger of this scale is enormously complex. And one of the many factors that must be carefully managed is the customer experience that will be provided. This is no small challenge when you’re dealing with businesses of this size—particularly in an industry where customer service is often suspect.

A recent article on Forbes.com previews these challenges and offers some suggested areas of focus for the airlines. I think that many of these principles could be applied to your business, as well. Take a look:

Setting and then keeping new public performance benchmarks. The new airline could establish targets — on-time, satisfaction — and launch new ways to not only narrate its efforts but new incentives for its operations to meet them.

Committing to customer benefits. Do you understand the rules for what an airline does when weather cancels your flight? American could specify the principles for how it treats (and charges) its passengers and thereby change the industry. What differentiates its loyalty programs? What isn’t an extra charge?

Creating communities for real participation. The new airline could forsake Facebook pages and other silly social media marketing stunts, and involve its passengers in real communities to test systems, programs, processes, etc. Make us all co-operators.

Fixing employee relations first and always. American, like any airline, is in the service business, and the biggest (if not only) variable in its delivery are its employees. Making sure they were happy and impassioned would differentiate the brand. Make the commitment to them, and then tell us, too.

Guaranteeing what will never change. Financial circumstances are always changing and can be used to legitimize many corporate behaviors. Which ones will the new American never forsake (leadership on safety is one, of course)? Again, declare them.

I would summarize these ideas as follows:

  1. Set and meet high standards.
  2. Communicate clearly with your customers—and keep your promises.
  3. Engage customers and build community.
  4. Invest into employees so that they in turn invest into customers.
  5. Commit to the core of the brand—i.e., what makes you unique.

In addition to being good advice for airlines, these ideas would benefit most of our businesses as well. At the end of the day, every business owner wants what US Airways and American Airlines want: to build a brand that stands for excellence and an exceptional customer experience. Keep these principles in mind and you’ll be well on your way!