Why Airline Branding Is So Difficult (Plus Tips)

Maintaining the soundness of a brand is a mission that doesn’t get easier with time, especially for an airline. In fact in airline branding, it gets tougher.

Here are three reasons why.

1) Air travel gets compared to other B2C experiences

Air travel occupies the same space in the customer’s mind, who can’t help but carry over the same expectations they have had from other B2C experiences. In fact, he/she may expect even more since air travel costs more.

Examples of comments I often hear:

“Most hotels allow me to change the booking to another guest’s name without any fuss or penalty. Why can’t airlines do the same?”

“At restaurants, I can always return bad food to the kitchen. Why do I have to put up with the crappy food on the airplanes?”

“When my food delivery arrives much later than promised, Deliveroo quickly compensates me with credits I can use towards future purchases. Airline customer service takes forever to get back…”

Most customers are not aware about the complexities involving in running airline operations or the red types from the several regulatories, and they don’t really care.

That said, the reality — that customers expectations will only continue to elevate especially with the rise of other B2C services with massive market reach, such as Airbnb in hospitality and Uber in transport — will not go away.

To thrive in a constantly changing environment, companies need to review their practices regularly, identify outdated ones that they must unlearn and re-learn new best practices. Innovation is key to survival and this rule applies to airlines just as much.

When was the last time your airline had a thorough review of the business from a branding perspective? Consider our proprietary 6X airline branding model featured in SOAR. You can download a free chapter here.


2. More touchpoints are being added, creating larger margin for error

Many little things can influence a brand’s image or appeal these days. The more customer touch points that are involved, the larger the margin for error.

For example, an advertisement in the local papers, the ease of navigating online booking, the tone of the customer service agent on the phone, the poise of the cabin crew, the taste of inflight food, the delivery of baggage at destination airports… these don’t even make up 10% of all the touchpoints involved when a customer interacts with an airline brand.

Every time an outlet or a communication channel is offered, a new touch point gets added to the mix e.g. Facebook brand page, twitter customer service etc.

The same advice above applies here. Review the touchpoints and see what consumer behavior has changed in the recent years and which touchpoints can be eliminated, replaced or combined. For example, shifting focus from call centre customer service to social media customer service.

It is not about following what other airlines are doing but rather, taking cues from them and checking against your own data to see if it is relevant to you.


3. That “externality” facet that directly affects customers

In our proprietary 6X airline branding model, we identified several elements crucial to airline’s “remarkability” and its ability to build strong bonds with its customers. Several of these branding elements are applicable to many other industries but there is one that is especially true to airlines. And it comes with a heavy burden.

“Externality: a consequence of an activity experienced by third parties (e.g. bad weather or ineffective airport control that causes aircraft delays that in turn affects passengers’ arrival time to its destination)”

Airlines are especially vulnerable to externalities on a day-to-day basis because of the huge amount of and high frequency of exposure to external factors such as weather, each airport’s ability to facilitate incoming aircraft.

Unlike logistical companies that move packages, airlines move people. Any lapse in service or product quality such as flight delay or broken seat is immediately felt by the customers and the impact compounded when they are held captive for hours. This goes on to dramatically affect their judgement of the airline brand.

While as an airline you cannot control the externalities, you can control how you respond to the situation. When a crisis does hit, it hits big.

Crisis management and communications is a crucial part of airline branding. In fact, it is one of the most important steps we ask all our airline clients to prioritise first. Social media has become a key channel in crisis communications in the past three years, in some cases replacing even press releases.


Li Guen

Li Guen

Former Head of Communications and Marketing at SimpliFlying
Li Guen was the Marketing Communication Lead and Project Manager at SimpliFlying from May 2012 to May 2017. Prior to this, Li Guen was at Weber Shandwick working with clients including Rolls-Royce, Changi Airport Group and P&G. In her free time, Li Guen likes trekking mountains in Asia.
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