Archive for the ‘Customer Service’ Category

This is FIOS… This is BIG!???

June 2, 2010

Summary:

1. The Situation
• The Curse of the Anti-Brand Continued
• Field of Dreams Marketing: Build It and They Will Come?
• Oh Really!

2. Positioning 101
• The Ultimate Choice in Marketing: Make It Easier to Sell… or to Buy
• Customers Know “This is Big,” is Bad and Act Accordingly

3. Recommendations/How to Fix It
• The Power of One Word
• See The Difference

4. Conclusion

• Getting the Positioning Right Means Success. Getting it wrong…

This is Bad!
We have explored anti-brand/worst practice marketing before, notably in the airline industry. We explored the disintegration of the legacy carrier brands (United, Delta, American and the like), and how this has created openings for the quote unquote discount carriers such as Southwest, Jet Blue and Virgin to add value to in a variety of ways and in doing so develop true and sustainable brand connections with customers.

Another industry that traditionally seems to take this anti-brand/anti-customer approach is the telecom sector – phone, cell phone, cable and broadband providers again and again seem to go out of their way to make it as complex as possible to purchase and service these vital products that are so much a part of our daily lives today…. plans, contracts, service agreement periods, rebates, data services, VoIP, bundles and variable pricing, locked phones, unlocked phones, smart phones, dumb phones… figuring this all out is a daunting task!

And it is not to say these anti-brands don’t spend money on marketing. They do. And lots! It’s just that from a marketing and positioning perspective, many of these companies have attempted to make their product easier to sell, not easier to buy. This is a subtle yet often profound distinction which has often led customers to such a confusing array of product and bundled offerings and “deals” that get in the way of achieving the desired outcome, ironically of maximizing sales.

The result…

A Better Product Alone Does Not Mean Success
Last week, after a 2-year wait, we finally had Verizon’s FIOS installed in our home, and the promise of fiber optic digital broadband bundled with HD and voice over internet IP phone service was a reality for me and my family. We are all delighted to be freed from the shackles of our former broadband, cable TV provider for reasons noted above. We met our contract obligations years ago and costs continued to rise to unacceptable levels for what amounted to basic TV and Internet service without recourse.

When at last the day arrived, we were lucky enough to have a savvy, seasoned installer handle the actual installation process. It was in talking with him, that the results of anti-brand thinking, relative to positioning became very clear to both of us.

Just like the Nexus One discussion in an earlier posting, FIOS to me is a clearly superior product. Fiber optics is a much more efficient networking technology over say, cable and copper wire. Plus fiber is 21st century technology, copper wire represents the past.

On one level what this means is that FIOS’ speeds are faster, and do not slow down if say others on the same line are also connected at the same time as they do with cable or DSL. All things being equal, we found that FIOS is cheaper than the cable offering available to us with many more TV channels, and unlimited long distance to boot.

Sounds like a recipe for competitive advantage and market share domination, right!

This is where the conversation with installer got interesting.

Misplaced Positioning Can Doom Even the Best Products
Superior product and a massive TV buy not withstanding, he told me that FIOS apparently only wins only a small portion of the business where it competes against cable, and has not meet expectations for quite some time. It does apparently carve into the cable business some, but it does not dominate, not even close, at least in the markets covered buy our installer.

That was a surprise, especially since FIOS can make the case of being superior and cheaper! And then there have been news reports lately that FIOS’ planned expansion program in other markets has been postponed, affirming lackluster results so far.

What could be the problem? Could it be loyalty? Is there a deep brand connection to cable providers?

Nothing in any research I have seen over the years indicates consumer love for cable companies. Many are anti-brands with a clear take it or leave it attitude. Customer-centric service? Forget it.

In fact from what I see, on the TV side in particular, customers really resent cable providers. Many dislike bundled programming offerings in particular, and often feel gouged with ever higher prices and the inability to pay a la carte for just the channels they want.

And then without prompting, the installer and I both blurted out at the same time, obviously in harmony with an “aha” moment… “This is FIOS, This is Big!”

Verizon has spent untold $ millions to embed this unforgettable slogan in our minds. But what does it say from a positioning point of view?

Slogans are often what we remember, what we pass along, what we act on… or don’t.

Slogans that get the positioning down and answer questions, connect dots, and give us that “compelling reason to buy” message right on the spot are the ones that deliver results. Slogans that don’t, memorable though they may be, can’t do the job, no matter how much cash is thrown at it.

Unfortunately this is where Verizon missed the boat.

It Comes Down to One Word…
Let’s take this slogan apart for a minute. We know from an overarching perspective this is a Verizon product, and Verizon is the network, isn’t it? But what is FIOS anyway?

I will guess it has to do with FIber Optic System or something like that. It could be called ACME or ALPO for that matter. The name can be important, but all of us have seen meaningless names such as Accenture, Altria, and Exxon that have been created for very successful companies.

No, the problem word here is not FIOS, it is the word BIG. This is the key word and it does not tell us as customers what’s in it for us. To be effective, this word has to be clear, direct and mean something. It has to answer questions, not beg them.

In this case, BIG addresses the latter. I am sure Verizon loves the technology… they invested $ billions to bring it to us. But BIG. What does BIG do for you and I? We don’t know. We… have to think about it.

This is a problem because actually, in today’s busy world, we tend not to think about things like this. When left to our own devices and unintended questions arise in our minds, usually these questions support inertia and inaction.

For example, isn’t changing providers is a hassle?, and why change now?, immediately come to my mind. Customers, typical mainstream customers facing such a rhetorical quandary without a clear reason to switch, will typically say to themselves “I will happily stay where I am” and act accordingly.

This puts the “connecting of the dots” in the hands of market forces outside of Verizon’s control, which in terms of grabbing market share, is deadly! And Needless!

All of this is wrapped up in one, in this case, one misplaced 3-letter word.

BIG or BETTER Internet Service. What Do You Prefer?
As a marketer I have learned over the years that if you are going to critique someone else’s work, you should also offer up an alternative. This is only fair after all. So in this spirit, I offer up the word… BETTER.

The altered slogan would then read:

This is FIOS, This is Better!

I am not saying it is perfect or pretty or elegant, but now we as readers of the message have something to grab on to, that we can understand. Leadership is reflected in qualitative advantage… something that differentiates FIOS from the cable product and says there may be something in it for me as well.

Imagine now the conversation I might have had with the installer if the take away message we all remember is… This is FIOS, This is Better.

In the one instant a series of questions posed by the word BIG are replaced by a declaration of superiority over the competition… the Better that is Fiber Optical TV/Phone/Internet connections over copper wire/cable. Customers would almost feel like they are acting foolishly not to get a better product and better deal, no matter what.

Our minds would be embedded with Better than… cable positioning, so taking the buy action is natural and something already clearly mapped out. This is what effective positioning is all about and one example of creating a compelling reason to buy with a positioning core.

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Marketing Misfire. Nexus One… Looks Like a Great Phone to Me! The Real Battle Was Positioning and Google Missed It.

May 13, 2010

Summary:

1. The Situation

  • What’s at Stake
  • Product Features
  • Current Positioning

2. Analysis

  • What’s Right?
  • What’s Wrong

3. Recommendations

  • Connecting the Marketing Dots
  • A 5-Step Plan: What can Google do about it.

Introduction

Recently, before the (in)famous lost iPhone debacle, Apple indirectly made another announcement of perhaps greater import relative to this already proven game changing device, the iPhone. It appears that at long last, Apple is making the big move to create a version capable of running on other carriers, in this case industry-leading Verizon.

As earlier postings on marketing to win attest, Apple needed to make this move or else risk having the product marginalized to niche status if they stayed on ATT exclusively. The risk is magnified especially since Google’s robust mobile, open source  operating system Android in tandem with other devices, notably manufactured by NHT, opens up the market above and beyond any one carrier.

And to make matters worse, it appeared that Google along with manufacturer NHT would be the tools of this destruction with the much heralded launch of it’s Google-branded Nexus One smartphone. Nexus One was designed to be platform-agnostic and besides featuring Android, it exploded the existing sales channel model traditionally controlled by the carriers, and sold direct to customers online through Google itself.

And if that wasn’t enough, customers were also offered both locked and unlocked versions of the device. If you wanted to purchase a subsidized version with a two-year contract, there was a T-Mobile version ready to rock for under $200, and a Verizon-ready model was going to roll this spring as well. Radical indeed.

Before we dive into what was wrong marketing-wise, remember there is much at stake for Google and perhaps NHT as well.

The smartphone is in fact a mobile computing platform and apps that run on these devices are, if I read the tea leaves correctly, potentially disruptive to Google’s online search-based ad model, especially as these platforms take off. I mean who needs search if in fact the app chosen already defines a clear area of interest as defined by the user?

This means that it is well worth Google’s time, talent, management attention and dollars to get in the game and win a real piece of the action, no matter what it takes. Otherwise others (re: Apple) will be in the driver’s seat. Android is one piece. An “iPhone killer” device, a Nexus One… another.

The Good: Feature by Feature… Nexus One Looked Like a Winner!

And what Google/NHT have done on the product level looks real good to me. The more you look at the features of Nexus One next to an iPhone, the better it looks.

It boasts a variety of powerful features including:

  • megapixel camera with a flash, versus the megapixel without flash on the iPhone 3GS,
  • the battery is removable and replaceable, iPhone’s is not,
  • there is a micro SD slot to add up to 32-gigabytes of memory, where with the iPhone, what you buy is what you get
  • apps run simultaneously on Nexus One which the iPhone is famously unable to do at this time
  • and we all know about iPhone’s inability to run applications developed on Adobe’s ubiquitous Flash platform, Nexus One of course runs Flash apps.

Plus Nexus One is the only smartphone to boast the Google nameplate, which is one of the world’s most recognized brands known for leadership in innovation. Add it all up on the product front, this is the good stuff!

The Bad: Positioning Is Where Google Falls Down

Alas, where this all is falling short is in the marketing and positioning arena, which is so essential for success in products of this class.

If there is one lesson we all need to remember and it seems we always forget, it is that product features do not a mainstream marketing strategy make!!!! We were taught this by Geoffrey Moore in his landmark book Crossing the Chasm.

Product features are great for early adopters but are not and don’t work as selling points to mainstream audiences who buy based on herd-like behavior criteria of peer adoption and market leadership.

When going mainstream, it is essential that customers get to feel that others just like them have and love the product, and then that they get to see and feel it for themselves, in order to win them over.

As far as I can tell, this is the whole deal right here on the Nexus One e-commerce and info page, the one that comes up when doing a Google or other search. Based on comments above, the positioning is off base, way off base.

From an e-commerce perspective alone, the presentation itself is simple and clean, just what we’d expect from Google.

From a positioning point of view however, what we see is a product message that by definition is focused on early adopters, not mainstream buyers. OOPS.

You can see it right away by Google tagging the device Web Meets Phone. Product features anyone? This tells us what it is, and if there was no iPhone, this may be necessary… but in an already established, hot product category, no way! Our response is so what?, isn’t that what a smartphone does? Nothing compelling there.

When we look at the rest of the Nexus One page we see the following sections, which also supports the product-focused positioning:

  • Demo
  • News
  • Already a Customer (Customer Service?)
  • Closer Look (including You Tube Channel)
  • And of course, a Buy Now button.

The question is why put the impediment of a Chasm crossing, first winning over early adopters and then mainstream buyers, in front of you when you don’t have to?

Getting the Right Message to the Right Audience

Google is a household name making a play to exploit Apple’s weaknesses and grab a piece of the mobile market. Since this is a competitive land grab type, early adopters are irrelevant here. This is a mainstream marketing move.

The criteria these consumers really care about here are leadership and referenceability. It has always been so. In other words, is the product a leader?, and do my peers have it, and love it?

Google as a brand is a leader, so customers can make the leap of faith to leadership on this level. The question is then, what do our peers think about it? Does it deliver? Is it (the product) “baked”?

Here is where the marketing for this product breaks down.

It is most likely that many potential customers don’t know anyone who has one, and what’s more, if they are interested, they can’t see it for themselves, let alone play with it and internalize the benefits of its many features. This appears to be a result of the Google-facing distribution channel. Because of this radical departure away from carriers, T-Mobile stores, the current existing carrier, don’t have them.

Re-Positioning: Connect the Dots and Take it to the Streets!

Assuming that this won’t or can’t be changed, what then? How can we get this product to the people?

How about testing then deploying some temporary pop-up stores and displays in key markets, key malls, key events, even key warehouse stores like Costco? Consumers can drop by and see, and ask the questions as well as buy… Plus such a temporary approach creates time sensitivity and urgency and also lends itself to deadline driven promotions to induce immediate buy decisions.

Segmentation

Also, so many students today use G-Mail and Google docs. What about more targeted programs, in this case engaging campus reps and offering sales incentives and scholarship-based promotions for sales results? Here is where you could play early adopter card… the rebel, be different card to build traction and gain market share.

Testimonials

One other avenue is to retool the YouTube Channel. Currently the Nexus One channel is all about product info and demos. Keep this content if you must, but also focus on customer testimonials instead. And this can be done strategically, and by that I mean seed it with some key persona or consumer types. Create some promotional incentives to drive submissions, then let it go.

There are plenty of consumer videos out there on the phone, but they are all over the place and you have to dive in to find them. They need to be connected back to the Nexus One page. And content kept on point as much as possible. This is where the incentives and promotions come in. These are necessary to create that peer support that is so essential.

Service?

Lastly, part of the fear factor that holds mainstream buyers back is service. They want and expect a tested service function. They don’t want or accept beta testing done on them. They want a fully baked whole product in place, operational and working. If not, they hold back and do what comes naturally.

They wait.

On the product/marketing side one big issue that can’t be , what happens if I am having issues? Who do I call? Where do I go? Since what is radical here is the “untethered” sales model, we have to know there is a clearly marked place we can go if we need help. Right now I have to figure it out and I don’t have a person to talk to or place to go.

Positioning is all about connecting ALL the dots and at no time is this more important than when mounting an incursion into mainstream markets with an entrenched and powerful leader.

Summary: A 5-Step Plan

To boil things down then, here is a 5-step plan to reposition the Nexus One into a viable competitor to the iPhone (note: there is still time!!!):

1. Re-position the product: Web Meets Phone positioning tag has to go. How about something like Nexus One by Google: The Smarter Phone or something like that.

  • Google. We need Google mentioned for leadership, making the phone not THE but A leading product,
  • “Smarter.” This way you create a qualitative showcase for the features to shine, but talk in the leader/market talk needed in mainstream communications

2. Narrow down to some tighter target segments,
3. Create incentives to drive and organize testimonials,
4. Take the product to the streets so customers can see, touch and buy the product from a person,
5. Re-communicate that Google is there for you relative service

Add it all up, now you have the marketing foundation to communicate a very competitive offering that can grab some market share. Now Google can add a link on the main search page for starters and they can realistically capture a portion of a % of that number to take Nexus One from failed iPhone Killer to a monster hit, with all the benefits of same!

Apple is safe. Or is it? NHT had fantastic earnings for its smartphone offerings through carriers on a global scale. NHT also has the ability to draw upon Google’s Android mobile operating system and Windows too, which will be releasing its new OS momentarily. So as Sherlock Holmes said, “Watson the game’s still afoot” but the battle for mobile superiority may be played out on another field.

Note: As I post this (May 13, 2010) Google/Android/Verizon announced sales in excess of iPhone for the first time. Stay tuned!

HULU Contemplates a Lulu

December 6, 2009

OK. This harkens back to those internet “go-go” days of the late 90s – get first-mover advantage and scale and the money will follow. Sounds like the script for the movie Field of Dreams… “build a better product and the customers will come,” which as a marketer often working in the tech sector, is a line I hear all too often.

If what I just read in Business Week (“HULU’s Tough Choices”, Dec. 7, 2009) is any indication, HULU, the very popular free video streaming site with 40 million downloads per month (second only to You Tube) has run up a $35 million annual loss and is suffering just such a fate as the web bubble did.

HULU is not just an ordinary site. Funded in part by NBC, Fox and ABC, HULU was the film/video industry’s response to the technological disruption of FREE that had obliterated the music industry and with the prevalence of cheap bandwidth and storage, was heading it’s way. They saw how the music industry not only lost control of the new now dominant digital distribution channels but also found itself rendered obsolete, and did not wish to suffer the same fate.

One of the experiments put forward was HULU and lo and behold, I can get yesterday’s episode of 30 Rock and all sorts of video and film content on demand (1,700 titles) playable on my computer any time I want. And with WiFi-enabled LCD flat screens upon us, let alone the ever easier ability to integrate TVs into our home networks, this free content on your HiDef TV is nearly a reality. Or is it?

If the Business Week article is to be believed, the era of premium content at HULU is upon us. In other words, content we will have to pay for. And what is to be the price for this content? Your premium cable service!

Wow! Let me see if I have this right. Here comes this disruptive force of free streaming video content sponsored by the broadcast and film industry. It’s ad supported model is not really sustainable, at least right now. So yes, those happy days of free content appear to be coming to an end. And now the industry in its wisdom is telling us we may have to pay, and the way we will pay is in support of the what were soon to be disintermediated cable TV interests!

I mean after all, do we need cable anymore if a thriving online channel is delivering this content through our medium of choice through our server, versus the cable box? I guess the cable industry saw the handwriting on the wall too and isn’t about to go quietly into the night.

We could spend all day trying to figure this out. Is the Comcast acquisition of Universal (and NBC) from GE a factor in this equation? I will leave this to others to decipher.

My beat is marketing, and the question on the marketing side is, is this the best you can do, HULU? You have built a brand, you have scale, you have content and now you want to punt, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory while the experiment is in process? What a waste for you and the viewers who love you, and if my students are any indication, many do.

We all know that it is one thing to point out problems, another to pose solutions. Marketing is all about solutions, so let’s see what we can come up to get HULU out of this mess, knowing their ad model as currently in play isn’t sustainable.

Recommendation #1.
Up the value of the advertising.

How so?

As I see it from the outside, HULU has been a pioneer of offering choice to visitors? Watch the long ad and see the show uninterrupted… or choose the shorter ads sprinkled throughout. This is a great start.

How about going further and offer viewers even more choice? Offer a menu of ads by type and even product. Let the viewer self-select their ads of interest.

You can be high or low tech about it too. Low tech… base the ad offerings by the show, or if you want to be more slick, apply behavioral information to narrow down the choices based on each visitor’s clicking habits.

How does this improve value?

  1. You are empowering your viewers with more, not less control
  2. Ads are more relevant as a result
  3. And in doing so, viewers actually act and “raise their hands,” which direct marketers know is the most costly and difficult part of the customer acquisition process

What this means is that response and conversion rates should be higher and I will argue in the absence of evidence either way, at least worthy of testing. And should indeed response/conversion rates improve, the value of the advertising will go up and command a higher premium.

And one other point. Advertisers could be charged based on actual visitor selection and or performance. If viewers don’t click, they don’t pay. And when visitors do engage, they pay more. Integrate some interactive promotions and calls to action for those that do select and powerful interactions can take place.

Recommendation #2:
HULU Ju Jitsu

I see HULU as more than a platform for streaming video… free streaming video on demand. I call it a Network of One. It is our own personal Video network, programmed by us just the way we want it, with the content we love, when we want it and hopefully soon, where we want it too.

The motor that has driven it’s success to date as the second most visited source of streaming video content is the fact that it is free. Don’t kill it! Use it! Since Fox, NBC and ABC are principals, create premium content that bring fans closer to the shows, films and actors they love with interviews, webcasts, blogs, tweets, contests, and even closer interactions and behind the scenes access. Create opportunities and other reasons to join fan clubs and other communities and pay for the privilege based on the degree of proximity and interaction.

Peel off some percentage of 40 million for tiered service and subscription packages that supplement the free streaming content, and some interesting numbers come into play. 1% of 40 million is 400,000 prospective customers. Find reasons to get them to pay up to say $100 per year for something special above the free content… well you get the idea.

For one thing, HULU is no longer operating at a deficit. Up the percentages… every .1% is 40,000 customers afterall, and the return can be even more radical. Personally, I would love the opportunity to win a lunch with Tina Fey, a comedic genius if there ever was one.

The “Bucks” Ends Here…

June 10, 2008

One of the core principles of our 5 Laws at Marketing 2.0 Win is the Law of Process = Chaos. What this principle says is in simple terms is that process in the service of strategy is a good thing, however if it is the driver or central organizing principle of a company’s marketing or in this case public face, take care, take very good care.

We can see this playing out on a grande scale right in front of our eyes with coffee giant Starbucks. After an incredible run of phenomenal growth on a global scale, we see the symptoms… declining stock price and unhappy investors clamoring for relief, bringing visionary Howard Schultz back into the CEO role at the company. His self proclaimed goal… to help the company get back to its core… the coffee/community experience that in today’s Starbucks’ corporatized environment seems lost.

How? Howard himself gave us a couple of examples… of this disconnection: fresh-locked packaging, where you can’t smell the product anymore. And “goof proof” espresso machines. Machines that make it simple and fast to “build” a specialty drink, while put a wall between the customer and barrista and taking the artistry out of the drink making process.

I agree with that these are customer disconnects. But do they disconnect with the brand that Starbucks is?, enough so, so as to flatten sales in existing stores, like we have seen with Wal Mart, Dell and others?

In this case I am going to argue the answer is NO. The issue is not a brand conflict here.

Yes, these changes matter to some degree… but they are fixable and incremental issues, touch points that need to be aligned, indeed, but not a commodity-busting strategy that they really need to fix the problem.

You can see this in action in the Got a Great Idea/Tell Us, community function that now is front and center on their web site. I love the concept. Surrender control and open up the floor for your customers to offer their insights and then respond back, with action.

Some popular customer generated ideas… Free WiFi, a Loyalty card (buy 10/get one free) and others are incremental ideas… and sound hardly new or radical. My advice… implement them. However, don’t expect they will turn the tide.

The real issue is that the Starbucks concept is now approaching the mature phase of the product lifecycle, as these ideas so clearly demonstrate. The reality is that the Starbuck’s concept is now a commodity, which in fact the company with its “goof proof” drink making process helped bring about. This means that price, lower price and greater non-differentiated competition are the business drivers.

Look at it this way. MacDonald’s is now rolling out espresso/specialty drinks. Dunkin Donuts, one of the big winners in the Starbuck’s phenomenon, has been offering these lower cost specialty drinks for the past couple of years. Soon enough it seems every fast food chain will offer them. So now what?

Let’s take a closer look at Dunkin Donuts, because here is where the solution lay. At the outset, I admit it, I am a Starbuck’s regular. It is not my favorite, but with locations it seems at every corner nationwide, Starbucks delivers a consistent and premium product that meets my expectations almost every time.

Last week I offered to make the office coffee run, and one of my colleagues ordered not a Starbuck’s but a Dunkin Donuts coffee, medium vanilla. It was then that my mind was blown.

We know that Dunkin is not a premium coffee but a more everyday product, a blend I am told of Arabica and other less expensive coffees. It is a lower wholesale cost, more generic product. But when I saw the price for the cup at Dunkin which was $1.79 or in essence $.10 less that a similar size Starbuck’s, I was floored… generic product at a premium price! The folks at Dunkin must be smiling all the way to the bank! Thank you Starbuck’s!!!

So Starbuck’s is in an interesting position… its premium product is being attacked by generic products and commoditized… forced to concede on price or lose customers, because as we know, you can get a specialty drink anywhere… for less!

What is Starbucks to do?

Howard Schultz, if you read this… incremental, process-oriented activities focused on your existing customers are good but in fact cannibalizing, because these kinds of activities are pulling revenues from your existing audience. I will argue that the way forward in this case is to reposition Starbucks and counterattack to build market share.

In other words, Loyalty is important, but it comes at a cost and won’t drive growth. Look at it this way, “free WiFi” and “buy 10 get one free” are tactics and I will argue not nearly enough. Nor is “watch the barrista” or “smell the coffee.” Although appropriate, these tactics do not a growth strategy make.

Just as Dunkin and others offer what we can argue is an inferior product at a better price thanks to you, Starbucks now needs to execute a jujitsu strategy and show consumers in simple and clear terms the added value of their premium product over the competition. This is a classic re-positioning strategy.

So… ladies and gentlemen, the drum roll please… time for the Pepsi… ooops, the Starbuck’s challenge. Put your product up against the competition in “blind” tastings and build a campaign around it… Wow! This really is better!

As it stands, an espresso is an espresso is an espresso, and it will stay that way until Starbucks does something about it. That time, I will argue, especially if I was an investor and I am not, is NOW. And by doing so, the company can carve out MacD’s and Dunkin customers who in fact are ready to appreciate the difference premium makes. The key is to connect the dots positioning wise and make it clear to them what this difference is where the rubber meets the road, and for Starbucks that is in what is a better tasting cup of coffee every time.

The Case for the Negative Brand?

April 11, 2008

What a week in the airline industry! We all know the airlines are suffering. High fuel costs have decimated profits and now it appears many carriers as well. Just today Frontier went into bankruptcy in attempt to reorganize, and Aloha and a number of others out of business entirely.

Now add to it the FAA and the “inspection crisis” plaguing American Airlines in particular and their MD80 airplane which makes up more than half of their fleet. For the last couple of days, this fleet has been grounded for apparently long overdue wiring inspections in the wheel wells of each plan, causing thousands of flights to be cancelled and over a quarter million customers inconvenienced at best, often stranded in locations they didn’t intend for hours and even days.

Passengers by law can be compensated for hotels should they be stranded overnight, and of course American will rebook passengers on any carrier and will even issue vouchers for cancelled flights as long as you initiate your next flight by April 17.

And if you go to their web site at http://www.aa.com/index_us.jhtml, you can see crisis control marketing in action… notably an “ADVISORY: AIRCRAFT INSPECTIONS AFFECT SOME AA TRAVELon the home page and special jump page at dedicated just for this at http://www.aa.com/aa/pubcontent/en_US/urls/md80.jsp.

If you look carefully you will see that American is terribly sorry, its not our fault, safety is concern #1 and please e-mail us if you are stranded overnight. It appears to be written by a team of lawyers to mitigate liability, nothing else.

Are you kidding!!!

E-Mail us with your travel info and we will get back to you… it doesn’t appear that effected passengers are buying it either. Phone lines are jammed, and customers have been know to try to get through for hours on end with no luck. And ticket lines at airports are no better. Passengers are waiting for 4 and even more hours just to talk to an agent!

What a mess! I will argue, especially in light of the inspections, our trust is shaken, passengers are having vacations ruined, businesses are being disrupted, and all American can do is offer an apology and tell us to e-mail them. The only thing that’s even more surprising to me is the apparent lack of outrage by the public and government officials.

Now let’s go back to Valentine’s Day 2006. A snow storm hits the east coast of the US, shutting down JFK in NY, hub to another airline, in this case a brand that is beloved by its customers. This disrupts Jet Blue to its core. Thousands of passengers are stranded again, some for days. In other cases, they are actually stranded on planes on the tarmac, without electricity, running water and other amenities for hours, in one case up to 14 hours. Not good.

On top of that, their phone systems went down, planes and crews that could have been mobilized to take up some slack, were not utilized and sat idle. There was no apparent recourse and outraged customers went ballistic.

The media also took up the charge. Business Week, which was getting ready to announce their Top 25 Customer Service Champs, had just enough time to publically eliminate Jet Blue, who was ranked #4 overall, from their list entirely. And the talk shows went crazy, with Leno and Letterman all over it.

In this particular case, here was a darling brand in trouble, and Jet Blue rose to the challenge. CEO David Neeleman responded authentically and quickly to the challenge as you can see in this You Tube video produced in response that you can see at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-r_PIg7EAUw.

First you can see Mr. Neeleman is tieless and clearly upset. He is not rehearsed or smooth at all. It looks and feels authentic. He apologized, of course, immediately, and then takes responsibility… and potential liability as well. Then he announced 3 steps they were taking to attack the problem immediately and to top it all off, announced their new, groundbreaking Customer Bill of Rights to ensure better performance in the future.

Talk about getting ahead of a crisis!

Contrast that with American. JetBlue messes up and creates outrage, the far bigger American messes up on an even grander scale, they blame the government, seek to minimize liability and we just yawn and thank the powers above that it wasn’t us on one of those flights.

The difference from our Marketing 2.0 perspective… is brand. American’s brand along with the other once platinum carrier brands is tarnished, almost an anti-brand. When we think of major carriers today, we think delays, inconvenience, lousy service, and with all this FAA stuff going on, minimal trust at BEST.

So a problem like this comes up for American, and from a brand point of view, its business as usual. We expect it. Yikes! No brand conflict here, clearly.

Jet Blue on the other hand was another story. People love flying on it for a number of reasons and have a strong brand connection. That was why when they stumbled back in 2006, the brand was in conflict and we were outraged.

I will argue that in the long term, JetBlue understood that they had to act, and that action, pro-active action would have a cost and a short term negative financial impact on the business. I will argue that these kind of issues can be considered a marketing issue and fixing it marketing spend, which as we now see has strengthened customer loyalty and is likely keeping the business healthier in these times.

American has no brand, nothing to protect. Their quote unquote marketing is all about damage control at best and placing the blame on others. This is not a good indicator of American’s marketing prowess, and long term health of that and other similar airlines.