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I was reading in the Globe and Mail about the International Air Transport Association (IATA) meeting in Paris this past week....

The attendees were the leaders of many of the world's major airlines. One of the key topics was branding. Here's what Peter Knapp from Landor said to these leaders:
"If an airline wants to build brand loyalty, it must provide quality amenities and services that are uniquely its own. It's sometimes hard to see who's ahead of the pack when you have similar planes flying to similar destinations with similar services. The name of the game is to get as much difference from your competitors as possible."
The article went on to show the brand differentiation among different airlines (many airlines were featured including British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Gulf Air, Harmony Airways of Canada, and Virgin Atlantic). Sadly, not one US carrier was mentioned .... but it's not surprising. It's hard to come up with any clear brand differentiation among them. They are virtually interchangeable commodities. And we all know that commodities compete on price!
I am loyal to American Airlines, but not because of any unique offering or special, branded experience, it's because of my frequent flyer status. Being Executive Platinum (EP) almost forces me to use AA.
Even though I am EP on American, I experience a much higher level of branded service on their OneWorld alliance partners. Cathay Pacific's branded service is exceptional. Every flight attendant comes by to welcome me ("We are delighted to have you on board, Mr. Arruda!") because of my status (AA Exec Platinum is Emerald in OneWorld) .... even if I am flying economy.
When flying to Hong Kong, I take a flight from the JFK to Heathrow and then take Cathay to Hong Kong. I still get my American Airlines miles and I benefit from the highly unique services of Cathay. Of course, I pay more for this .... but it's worth it! I would much rather take an American Airline's flight from JFK to Hong Kong, but the experience would not compare.
Right now, while all of the US airlines are competing in price wars and behaving as a commodity, there's a unique opportunity for one courageous US carrier to emerge as the preferred brand .... one for which people will pay a premium. Personally, I want that brand to be American Airlines. If you are reading this AA, please contact me to discuss. You have an incredible opportunity to take the lead!
BTW, I am writing this from the BA lounge (with dinner service and a full bar) at Milan Linate.

Continue reading "US Airlines: Brands or Commodities?" ... Read the full article

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image of William Arruda

William Arruda is a personal branding pioneer, the founder and CEO of Reach Personal Branding, and the author of Ditch. Dare. Do! 3D Personal Branding for Executives.

Twitter: @williamarruda

LinkedIn: William Arruda