Category — Loyalty

United Airlines… It Could Have Been Me or You.

When a brand has a problem, and all brands do at some point or another, people process the nature of the flaw differently. If it touches them… they react very personally. Key media platforms, like YouTube, feed this beast and all of a sudden a brand has a real problem.

Brands that have critical “flaws” that don’t directly touch us are not quickly damaged. For example, when VW misled us about their reporting incorrect MPG information, we read it as a corporate flaw. This was viewed as more distant, it remotely touched each of us, and then we moved on. Most people didn’t attach any fundamental connection to the issue, so they tuned out. Sure, the situation has been an on-going nightmare for VW causing management firings and re-alignments, but from an immediacy standpoint, it is perceived to be a somewhat distant issue. So the brand damage has been significantly less than if the issue had touched us directly.

But security personnel dragging a passenger off a United plane in Chicago is different. It touches us because it could have been us. For those of us who fly a lot, on planes that are generally full, the idea of having to give up a seat and take another flight becomes a personal decision. Most business people are on very tight schedules, and don’t have the time or patience to wait. Add to that the motive was United’s business, not the passengers, and we become outraged for good reason. The United brand has been damaged.

What if you were told your seat was not available? That alone would be a problem. But take it to the extreme, what if you were dragged off a flight (not politely asked and escorted)? Now that touches me on a very personal level. We can imagine ourselves in that circumstance.

From a brand management standpoint, these types of flaws must be addressed differently. When an issue touches consumers as individuals, it becomes critical to step up and address the public head-on and immediately. Delays in communicating only signal that the corporation (brand) is not prioritizing us, but focused on protecting itself. Today, consumers are very sensitized to these cues.

Oscar Munoz, United’s CEO, lost sight of this. His first instincts ignored the critical relationship the United brand has to its passengers. It took him a day or two to recover. But a lot of damage has been done.

The good news is that he did, relatively quickly, recognize what was at stake. Let’s hope passengers and the media cut him some slack. He finally “embraced” how his consumers felt about his brand. In our opinion, he stemmed what could have been an even worse situation. Now he must build back the positive brand equity that was lost. This requires; fixing the problem, communicating to all of us how will never happen again, and then speaking to us with conviction that he (the United brand) understands us. His tone better be empathetic and not corporate, or we will put United even further down our list of preferred airlines.

April 14, 2017   Comments Off on United Airlines… It Could Have Been Me or You.

Apple’s Refusal to Unlock it’s iPhone is “On-Brand”

This past week has been a flurry of activity between Apple and the U.S. Justice Department about unlocking an iPhone used in the San Bernadino terrorist attack. It is a profound question, and not a new one. Apple’s response so far has been consistent with the brand bond it has with its loyalists… that the relationship with consumers takes precedence.

apple logoIn the New York Times, Eric Lichtblau and Matt Apuzzo cite that Apple’s refusal “appears to be based on its concern for its business model and public brand marketing strategy” rather than a legal rationale. They are partially correct. Apple knows that it is in the “relationship” business… and will, at all costs, defend that relationship with its consumers.

In a recent post, we focused on “Why Authenticity Matters”. As we wrote, “Authentic brands do what they say. Their behavior is consistent with their promises”. Apple is being true and authentic to its very reason for being. In the face of the immediacy of a legal challenge, it has deferred to its brand before compromising.

coke bottle olderThere is no question that this issue is complex. From a technical and legal standpoint, opening up the code could set a significant precedent that could have broad impact across many companies with strong intellectual property as a basis for their differentiation. Imagine some people being poisoned by drinking Coca-Cola and the company being asked by the Justice Department to reveal it’s 130 year-old, secret formula for the purposes of helping in a criminal investigation. This example isn’t as emotionally loaded as dealing with a terrorist situation, but the precedent is similar.

On the other hand, any way the authorities can gather information to thwart terrorist activities is a good thing to do. So this becomes a thorny problem.

There is no question that Apple needs to find a way to help the Justice Department without compromising its bond with consumers. Reading between the lines, both Apple and the Justice Department have essentially acknowledged this. The question is how to provide this information while protecting the Apple brand. I am confident, once the bluster dies down, this will be accomplished.

February 22, 2016   Comments Off on Apple’s Refusal to Unlock it’s iPhone is “On-Brand”

Using Sustainability to Build Brands

17lbs. That’s the weight of the 2014 Restoration Hardware shrink-wrapped collection of catalogs – 12 catalogs to be exact – that arrived at my house, unsolicited, via UPS. My first reaction was disgust. Utter disgust at the waste of paper and ink and use of fossil fuels required to ship it to my house. As a diehard proponent of sustainability I am horrified, but as a branding consultant, I started to think about why so many brands are reluctant to challenge the way they have always conducted business in order to become more sustainable.

RH Catalog

Does Restoration Hardware really have to send out 17lbs of catalogs to sustain their business? Isn’t there a better, alternative way to market their products? Why is it so difficult for them to think outside the box and challenge the status quo? We live in a virtual world, a digital age where so much business is now conducted online and on mobile devices – you’d think that they would embrace online catalogs, finding new creative and innovative ways to showcase their products in a virtual world. Perhaps it’s inertia? Or fear of losing business. Or maybe they just have their heads in the sand?

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May 21, 2014   6 Comments

Caution: What will happen to my Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whiskeys?

The acquisition of Beam Inc. by Suntory Holdings of Japan, has created a storm of concern about whether the heartland American brands, Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark will change. With enormous heritage, both brands have very loyal franchises and passionate consumers.


And despite the fact that they have been around for a long time – Jim Beam was founded in 1795 and Maker’s Mark in 1958 – these brands continue to enjoy organic growth, and are benefitting, possibly even contributing to, a resurgence in the popularity of bourbons and whiskeys globally. [Read more →]

January 17, 2014   1 Comment

“Cheesepocalypse” and the Importance of the Velveeta Brand

Ad Age reported that Velveeta inventory is running low, just as Superbowl parties are only a few weeks away. This has created yet another media feeding frenzy. The Chicago Tribune calls it “Cheesepocalypse”. But the underlying reason is quite deep. Velveeta has earned our trust as a brand that hasn’t changed, and in the confusing world we live in, anchor brands are very important. Moreover, anchor brands like Velveeta often become part of a national tradition, a cultural touchstone that has meaning and value beyond the functionality of the product.

Velveeta was invented in Monroe, NY in 1908 at the Monroe Cheese Company. By 1923, it was spun off into the Velveeta Cheese Company and subsequently sold to Kraft Foods. In the early 1950’s, the product was reformulated into a cheese spread, and has not wavered since. Used as a base for dips, and in sandwiches and macaroni and cheese, it has been a staple in homes in North America and Canada. It is also an ingredient in dips at Superbowl parties everywhere. [Read more →]

January 10, 2014   Comments Off on “Cheesepocalypse” and the Importance of the Velveeta Brand

Why David Brooks Almost has it Right about Brands

David Brooks, an Op-Ed Columnist at the New York Times writes a very interesting article about the differences between the use of and understanding of brands between the Americans and the Chinese. His premise is that the Chinese are not good at building brands that connect with consumers in the West despite the fact that they have the largest economy in the world. This will hinder their achievement of global economic dominance. He is right.


However, one of his notions is only partly correct and flies in the face of what great brands work hard at every day. Brooks believes that “People who create great brands are usually seeking some inner longing of their own…”. In this he is thinking about romantic notions of founder-led brands like Nike or Ralph Laruen.

What he is missing is that great business leaders spend a great deal of time and energy to understand their customers and their needs, and then address them in a way that builds an enduring relationship that can last a long time. In most cases it is the diligence and hard work requiredto build stronger relationships with consumers than competitors in every category that leads to sustainable market leadership.

Much of what Brooks writes about is very true, and he is astute to recognize as much as he does. Where he misses the mark is realizing that there is a process and method to establishing and building a strong brand that connects with key audiences that works on it’s own and is not necessarily founder led. Just look at a few minor brands like IBM, General Electric, BMW, New York Yankees, Mayo Clinic, etc. Sure each was founded by great thinkers and leaders, but they have evolved into very strong brands generations past founder longing.


Congrats to Brooks for recognizing how brand have become an engine of the Western economic growth. His basic premise is more than correct.

May 31, 2013   Comments Off on Why David Brooks Almost has it Right about Brands

Doing the Right Thing is Good for Business

The past decade or more has seen a rise in environmental and social consciousness and with it, a desire by big business to ‘give back’.

Much of this is driven by necessity.  Motivated by a wider understanding of the human impact on the environment, there is growing expectation in the market for brands to make it easier for their customers to make better choices.  A market that has become increasingly brand literate and now, empowered by the open forums of social media, has a platform. Putting profit before people and the planet, is no longer good for business.

But it’s also driven by savvy marketing and good business sense.  A brand that finds a purpose beyond their product, inspires loyalty in their customers who feel proud of their association with the cause.  This connection with the brand goes beyond any need for the product and builds a far more sustainable relationship.

However, intention must be met with action.  If the brand wishes to be taken seriously, change cannot only be made on the outside – on billboards, or in PR releases – change must be seen to be happening on the inside too.


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April 9, 2013   Comments Off on Doing the Right Thing is Good for Business

Brands can be the Comfort Food for the Soul

For those living through the “Perfect Storm” of October 2012 that hit the East coast of the U.S., we all, collectively, had our senses heightened out of need. Many had no electricity, the coast had severe flooding, wind damage was everywhere and there were all manner of challenges in the days following the storm. What I found interesting is how some well-known “brands” comforted my soul as the winds howled and the storm raged on.

For example, we heated up Campbell’s Chicken Noodle and Tomato soup in the evenings over a propane stove. More than the warmth of the soup, the Campbell’s brand enveloped us with a smile and a comforting feeling that all would be OK. It was like a grandmother’s hug.

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November 12, 2012   Comments Off on Brands can be the Comfort Food for the Soul

Salvaging Yahoo!… it’s all about Culture.

The press about Marissa Mayer, the new Yahoo! CEO, has focused on whether she is up to the task of reviving the company and the difficulties she will face with a declining business and less than ideal resources. While this may be true, the real challenge is whether Ms. Mayer can recapture the original, organic, innovative culture that made Yahoo! so popular in the first place. This is the engine of brand success today.

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August 9, 2012   Comments Off on Salvaging Yahoo!… it’s all about Culture.

How Citibank has Lost my Loyalty

I have been a loyal Citigold customer for 20 years. But last Friday they really put a chink in my loyalty. Citigold is the “premium banking” part of Citi, a step above the masses. It has been very convenient for all these years. Here’s how they violated my affection.

First, they called me at home to market something. I guess there should be nothing wrong with that, but then again, I expect better than retail treatment as a Citigold member. Perhaps they were calling about a fraud issue, or an observation about how I could manage my account better. But they weren’t. [Read more →]

June 21, 2012   Comments Off on How Citibank has Lost my Loyalty