What lessons can airlines learn from Starbucks about branding?

A Starbucks coffee shop in Leeds, United KingdomImage via Wikipedia

It is always good to learn from the best – and when you think of the most memorable brands in the world, Starbucks ranks right at the top. Like Ritz-Carlton, Starbucks can offer key lessons in branding to airlines, many of which often don’t cost a lot to implement and can create great leverage for the brand.

What does the brand stand for?

In his book, A New Brand World, Scott Bedbury – the former Chief Marketing Officer of Starbucks – details how he personally led the creation of the formidable Starbucks brand. This is how he explains the Starbucks core identity.

“The Starbucks brand’s core identity is less about engineering a great cup of coffee than about providing a great coffee experience….the Starbucks brand is about what Abraham Maslow might have called the coffee “gestalt” – the atmospherics.”

Similarly, airlines need to understand that they’re not in the business of just transporting people point A to point B. Even freight companies like Fedex and UPS talk about principles like on-time delivery, rather than transportation. The first thing airlines need to realize is they will only survive in the long term if they deliver a decent pleasant flying experience – after all, passengers can be on-board the plane anywhere from one hour to twenty two hours (I’ve been on one!). As it is, going through security and immigration before getting on the plane is extremely stressful. They need to feel cared for and enjoy the in-flight experience.

Airlines like JetBlue in the US do it well, with their on-board amenities and convey the message across well too, with their “Flying – That’s why we created Jetting” campaign. Just like Starbucks, it talks about delivering an experience, and not so much the basics of transportation. Singapore Airlines talks about bringing back the “romance of flying” – which is indeed becoming a novelty these days. Simply put, these airlines know what their core brand identity is, and work to deliver an experience that is consistent with it.

What’s the brand mantra?

Something else Starbucks has done really well is define its brand mantra – the core product or service a company delivers. Here’s what their mantra is:

Rewarding everyday moments

These three simple words bind the employees together and ensure that every new product or service abides by these words and ensure a consistent experience for the customers. In fact, they don’t even mention the word “coffee”! In the airline world, Southwest is known to do it very well. Every decision is evaluated based on weather it will help lower the ticket cost for the customer. Simple!

An insurance against turbulent times

Having a well defined core brand identity and a brand mantra to communicate it are key to ensuring a consistently high level of customer experience. This need not just apply to lavish customer conveniences like showers on-board the plane but also simple things keeping items that increase costs away from the cabin.

Having both of these in place, and in the minds of the employees as well as the customers as much as possible can in fact as an insurance against turbulent times in the industry too. Delivering a consistent experience builds trust overtime, which then results in brand loyalty.

Starbucks does both of these well, and there is certainly a lot airlines can learn from them.

What do you think? What else can airlines pick up from stellar brands like Starbucks?

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Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam is the CEO of SimpliFlying and a globally sought-after consultant, speaker and thought-leader on airline branding and customer engagement strategy. He is also the youngest winner of the Global Brand Leadership Award and has addressed senior aviation executives globally, from Chile to Canada and from Sydney to San Francisco. Shashank's perspectives have found their way into major media outlets, including CNN Travel, CNBC, MSNBC, Bloomberg UTV, Mashable and in leading publications like Airline Business, ATW, Aviation Week, and others. Shashank studied Information Systems Management and Business Management at Singapore Management University and Carnegie Mellon University. Hailing from India, he splits his time between Singapore and Vancouver, among other cities.
Shashank Nigam
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Showing 3 comments
  • Beth

    Airlines most definately need to understand that they “are” part of an “experience”. Whether it is business or pleasure they are part of the entire package. Rarely do you hear people ever talk about the great experience they had on an airline (unless traveling internationally) but people do talk about the hotel room and the food they ate and the things they say. Part of the problem is the people working for the airlines are so burnt out they just hate their jobs and it is reflected in how they treat their customers. Occationally, there are some really great flight attendants but they are far and few between. There is nothing sexy about a cup of coffee, yet, based on what Starbucks has been able to do they fall into the luxury category, like Mercede’s & Four Season’s. An airliner that costs over a billion dollars should be a luxury experience and for those who are fortunate enough to fly in first class might feel like they had a great experience. However, the mojority of travelers are flying in economy for a 1,000 greater investment than a $4 coffee.

  • Reply

    This is not a lesson that airlines should be learned on Starbucks, but also other businesses from different industries as well.

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