Marketing versus Survival

Trolling the headlines and news releases today I came upon one of those promotions-disguised-as-a-news-release that I see every day on the newswire. The headline to this one was interesting – Airline Study Shows Brands Struggle in Downturn. Really? In other news, Christmas will be on December 25th this year.
From the sublime to the ridiculous. First we have those who would equate airline to utility companies, and now this not so subtly disguised promotional piece touting a study that purports the solution to the current airline dilemma is better brand management. Airlines as The Electric Company, or yogurt.Yogurt1.jpg
The news release provides a link to a “Market Study” on 6 major airlines, which is really simply an analysis of their advertising strategy. In addition to being poorly written, complete with typos and an interesting use of grammar, the content was fairly lame and simplistic. Northwest and Delta were included as separate “studies” with no mention of their merger, nor how the new merged carrier might carry out a new brand management strategy.
Here’s an excerpt from an airline industry blog on the site written by the CEO of the company who wrote the study – “The REAL loser here is you and I (Passengers) and the employees. Earth shattering change is needed and cutting out our pretzels, beverages and the other pittance of amentites (sic) currently offered will never make any of the (sic) successful. It is as if thier (sic) problem can be solved by charging me for my carry-on-bag. That is a sure way to encourage me to prefer them!”
It gets worse, both in terms of content and the recommendations. Absolute drivel. Don’t get me wrong, in a normal business during normal times, brand management is critical. However, this ain’t it.
Trying to rationalize the absolute disparity between article I wrote about a couple of days ago and this one was an interesting exercise. I’ve resisted the idea that the airline business is a commodity business, but the present set of circumstances are unprecedented. It’s survival now, not marketing. It’s like a heavy weight prize fight; sometimes winning is just being the only guy standing when the bell rings.
At any airline, everyday there are thousands, perhaps millions, of transactions that take place. The obvious transactions are between the airline and it’s customers, but there are also transactions between airline employees. Each of those transactions have a plus or minus effect on the day’s results. I think creating an environment where line employees and senior management are on the same team and feel the ups and downs equally with the line worker is part of the answer.
In addition to the self-promoting “news release” about airline brand management I saw today, I also saw a release from Southwest Airlines. I am not sure if there are any airlines out there today who would give a surprise party to a retiring airline president, except Southwest Airlines.