If you saw my recent post on the possibility of Delta dropping Coke for Pepsi, then you probably noticed that it got a lot of comments.
People, it seems, are pretty darn passionate about their soda pop!
And you have to wonder – why? I know I’ll sound like a heretic here, but face it: Coke and Pepsi look the same, they cost the same and some folks think they taste the same (or pretty close). So what’s the difference? Plenty, say many of you.
Okay, now let’s look at the airlines: these days, there are fewer and fewer differences. For one thing, even the legacy carriers are firing out sales as well as matching the airfares of the low cost discounters. And service isn’t so different, either: most have gone the “bag-fee” route.
The head of US Airways might as well have been speaking for all airlines when he told SmarterTravel that there’s been “very little consumer pushback” to the fees (even though comments on the blog would suggest otherwise), and that includes the beverage fee US Airways introduced – and dropped – because nobody else matched it (and because it was turning the airline into a joke).
It can’t be mere marketing or branding – both Coke and Pepsi have had award winning ad campaigns over the years – but so have the airlines (think of all those gorgeous United ads).
So – what’s left in terms of airline loyalty? Keep reading…
Maybe the CEO of Spirit Airlines was correct. Nearly two years ago, in a rather embarrassing episode, one of his internal emails was made public, in which he slammed a man who dared to complain about the airline and was not going to fly with them again. According to the emailing CEO, that man would return to the airline “when we save him a penny.”
Was he right? Is the rock-bottom-line all that matters?
Well – that is the question. I think it does to an extent and here’s why. Coke and Pepsi have separate and sometimes frenzied followers – because the two products, though similar, are both always consistent – and always perceived as “good” products.
And the airlines, though similar, are not consistent (with some exceptions) and are generally perceived as “mediocre” products. So marketing and branding can’t do much beyond the proverbial lipstick on a pig.
Case in point: Slate highlights a new Comcast ad that’s really something – really hypnotic. One woman said she stops in her tracks the moment it comes on, but added – “I still hate Comcast.”
So the airlines, the “product” – must improve. I know, it’s not all your fault – we have an aviation industry that needs fixing – and I’m talking about everything from air traffic control and ancient tarmac to oil prices that zoom to crazy prices at times. But there are no stimulus packages for the airlines, so – what can be done?
Well, as painful as it might seem, it is really about getting back to the basics (the ones my father taught me as a young boy) including excellent customer experience and service — day in and day out. When fit hits the shan, step up and address it head on – and mean it.
Maybe it’s time for all the airlines to figure out what are the things they get right – and concentrate on delivering that special something in a consistent manner. And build ad campaigns and merchandize products that customers can believe in.
Yes, the bottom line will always be important – maybe most important – but with imagination and focus, meaningful and valuable differences can emerge. And maybe the airlines will find their customers singing about (and purchasing tickets for) “the real thing”.