American Airlines, Customer Service Ninjas, and the Power of a True Brand Story
The new American Airlines rebranding has received a lot of attention lately, much of it disproving the old adage that there’s no such thing as bad press. In addition to their new logo – which I, in apparently contrarian mode, happen to like – there is new advertising, which is, to be generous, less than breakthrough (for a pithier appraisal, see Robert Passikoff’s commentary in Forbes).
The airlines press release proclaims “The ads, featuring both customers and employees, illustrate the important linkage between the knowledge American employees possess and how that knowledge aligns with the reasons people fly.”
Good thought, but the run-of-the-mill, introductory ad at least is self-congratulatory and company focused rather than being convincingly customer-centric.
Using Real Humans, But Missing their Real Humanity
While American’s new made up story did nothing to get me to look at them in a new way, an encounter with their true story did. Last night, while scrambling to use American Advantage Miles to take a spring break vacation, a service rep, who asked to be identified only as Thomas F., not only went the extra mile, but seemed willing to make a round-the-world trip to get us what we needed. He spent a generous amount of time on the phone, persisting despite the inherent challenge of our late booking, limited availability, our desire not to pay the exorbinant fees tacked on if flying their “partner” airlines, and our need to get kids back into school on a timely basis. This, mind you, was after my wife and I (OK, really just my wife) had spent countless hours online trying to work it out before ever calling.
To our surprise, American not only let us deal with a real human being, but an absolutely awesome one. About 30 minutes into the adventure, when I could tell that every dead end only made Mr. F. more determined to see us through, I (the inveterate customer-service complainer) actually asked “How do you just keep going?” His reply: “At this point, it becomes a mission with me.”
If your Employees are On A Mission, Let the World Know
This unusally positive experience made me wonder why American had to get so grandiose in their brand positioning and the subsequent campaign. Why could they not tell their own true stories and connect human-to-human rather than corporation-to-public?
The answer, I think, is that big brands and their big agencies are still more comfortable with “story selling” than true story telling. American and the big brand world at large would do well to strip away the self-importance, pretense and even the big production values to simply let their brand truth shine through.
A 3-Step Plan to Get from “Story Selling” to Powerful Brand Storytelling
1) Listen to your customers. Really open up your ears. Brands typically pay for a lot of focus groups, surveys or even one-on-one interviews, but few manage to really hear and understand the feedback. Allow your researchers to tell you what’s really being said, not just what the organization has predetermined it wants to hear. Then tailor your customer experience to that before you ever start worrying about logos or ads.
2) Listen to your own people. Apply the above to your own employees. Continually. And provide them with both the invitation and the means to keep telling you what’s really happening on the front lines. This will improve both your operations and communciations.
3) Tell their story in human terms, not corporate or even ad speak.
“Change is in the air,” and “There’s something new in the air,” accompanied by corporate fantasy images of customers and employees looking longingly, lovingly up at airplanes, is generic advertising at best. If you’re really hearing what employees and customers are saying, you’ll find a true brand voice, a convincing, human voice and a compelling, believable message.
New American Airlines Commercial: