Merged airlines must take customer-centric approach

The proposed merger of Continental Airlines and United Airlines will only benefit passengers if the new airline can deliver a “great brand experience”.

United and Continental Airlines
United and Continental Airlines

The airlines are to join forces, subject to shareholder and regulatory approval, and fly under the name of United Airlines.

The marketing brand will be a combination of both companies’ brands. Aircraft will have the Continental livery, logo and colours alongside the United name, and the planned launch campaign slogan will be “Let’s Fly Together”.

However, Gary Jacobs, chief executive of specialist travel and airline advertising agency Fox Kalomaski, says that for most airline passengers, brand loyalty is secondary to knowing if they will arrive on time, at the right destination and at the right price.

Jacobs says first class passengers are still brand loyal, depending on the benefits and individual membership schemes that airlines offer, but that air travel is mainly a commoditised market.

“Loyalty is generally engendered from getting the right level of service. These two airlines have a long history and well-established identities but success depends on what they mean to the customer and the individual experience they may have had with the airlines.”

Ash Gupta, of The Gupta Partnership, says: “Scale is vital in today’s market, but a step back towards the customer-centric attitude of Singapore Airlines or BA in its heyday is equally important.

“Customers have been treated like disposable pawns despite marketing promises, and if this new scale can be used to promote customer happiness and loyalty this could set a benchmark for the industry.”

Peter Knapp, executive creative director, Europe and Middle East for branding agency Landor, says that the challenge of this merger will be that the bigger the airline becomes the blander the brand will become.

He adds: “The priority should be focused on adding customer value…not focusing on making the fleet look consistent. There are already numerous versions of the United livery in the sky and the brand remains poorly considered by many. Another one isn’t going to suddenly change peoples opinion, however if the merged brand could start deliver on some basics it might help the new airline be reconsidered in a far more favourable way.

Consolidation has long been expected in the airline industry, which has been hit by the global economic downturn, rising fuel costs and the fall-out from the Icelandic volcano crisis.

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