Quite a few of the talking heads are discussing the latest situation with United Airlines as creating significant damage to their brand. I wonder if they understand that there are multiple dimensions to a brand.
United’s brand, like most brands, is defined by static and dynamic elements. We will examine three dimensions of branding in this blog.
Brand identity for United Airlines has actually increased. It can do almost nothing else, given the amount of publicity it received last week. Many people who have never flown United, young flyers, flyers outside United’s hubs or those that never paid attention to United have heard or read about United’s recent problems. Consequently, United’s brand identity or recognition has improved. Primarily, this is a result of increased name and logo recognition. Which supports the saying 'There's no such thing as bad publicity' often associated with Phineas T. Barnum.
However, brand equity has been damaged. Brand Equity reflects the value of a brand when compared to other products and services. In the case of United, their brand equity allowed them to charge higher fares than discount airlines and to favorably associate their product with other premium brands such as Disney, the NFL or Coke. In United’s case, brand equity has been reduced due to poor exhibition of customer service and fairness. Customers continue to trust United to fly them safely from point A to point B, provide inflight services, and deliver their luggage. These expectations of customers have not changed. However, as a premium brand, brand equity has been eroded given the high value of customer service.
The greatest damage to United Airlines has been in the expectations of customers. “Fly the friendly skies” is United’s brand promise. The tagline, created in 1965 by Leo Burnett, defined United for over thirty years. It was resurrected in 2013 and with a beautiful video accompanied by George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”. After the recent incident on a Chicago to Louisville flight, few people, if any, will refer to the “friendly skies” of United without a snicker or side comment. United will be hard pressed to continue running marketing campaigns with that tagline and brand promise. The tagline may not survive the events of the last week or the lawsuits to come. So, the greatest damage has been to the United brand promise.
So, as far as scoring:
- Brand Identity is up
- Brand Equity is down but retains value
- Brand Promise is down and possibly out
As you think about your brand and how to build it, recognize that branding is more than visibility and recognition. It is also brand equity which reflects the company mission, culture, operations and service. Brand equity adds value and strengt
h to your brand. And it is brand promise, the succinct sentence or phrase that people associate with your business, that is the great and fragile treasure.