United Airlines Commits Brand Suicide

As a marketing professional and teacher, I have always focused on the importance of customer service in my consulting, teaching and as a practitioner. Now there is no question airlines have the reputation for not caring for their customers. On a personal note, there was a time when I really enjoyed flying but now I hate it and do everything to avoid flying unless I really have to.

United Airlines dragging that poor guy off a flight last week, takes the cake. United Airlines has outraged a billion Chinese and Vietnamese along with Canadians, Americans and Europeans.

“Brand genocide.” A “world-class debacle on an epic scale.” A “gruesome, epic-scale fail.” These are a few of the phrases a top crisis manager uses to describe United Airlines’ removal-by-dragging of a passenger on an overbooked flight.

Eric Schiffer, CEO of ReputationManagementConsultants.com, states that United’s new gaffe is even worse than its last PR mess, in which it barred female travelers for wearing leggings.

“It’s a gruesome, epic-scale fail that follows their leggings crash landing. At United, their CEO ( It might be hard to believe, but it’s true: United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz was named PR Week’s Communicator of the Year in March.) is clearly clueless about dealing with the public and the customers, and they are embarking on brand genocide with a brand that was trusted and loved that is now causing people to generate stress hormones when they hear the name,” Schiffer said. “This is everything that you learn as a brander as to what not to do. It’s like they’ve gone to the Donald Trump School of Media Relations.”

“The CEO is absolving himself of anything, “Instead of taking responsibility, he just said there’s an internal investigation that will take place. It’s going to be next to impossible to completely recover from this unless they do something much bolder than their CEO’s announcement. Brand is all about trust, and what you are trusting an airline to do is to get you where you need to go. And the fact that they did this is going to eclipse any sort of advertisement and PR they are trying to do.”http://www.thewrap.com/united-brand-genocide-crisis-expert-says/

As Josh Freed points out in the Gazette in an age of anger, United has  allowed us all to laugh together at a new industry of airline jokes.

United’s new slogan should be:

     United: Putting the Hospital Back in Hospitality

     Board as doctors, leave as patients

     If we cannot beat our competitors, we beat our customers  was one that  came from China

    Full seating? prepare for a beating.

    There are three ways to board at United: pre-boarding, late boarding and water boarding.

The funniest line is actually a new ad by Southwest, a U.S. airline that’s started a PR campaign announcing: “We beat our competition, not our customers.”

Freed points out that United is a reminder that airlines make almost all of us feel powerless and worthless. Not only must we pay extra fees for our food, water, luggage, legroom and miniature seat — but we’re treated like livestock.

Let’s sum up the flying experience: You drive to the airport several hours early as instructed, then line up like cattle in mobbed ticket lines, before heading to security where you’re prodded, probed, X-rayed, interrogated and humiliated. Then you line up another 45 minutes at the gate watching better classes of flier enter before you. The ordeal supposedly ends when you board the plane and collapse with relief into your seat.

Yet even then you aren’t safe, because the ticket you purchased and paid for 5 weeks ago isn’t necessarily yours. It turns out there’s fine print in the contract no one but airline lawyers read that states they can take your seat away anytime, for any reason. About the only possible humiliation left is to kick you off the flight in mid-air — and charge you for the parachute.

Freed `s  description of airlines will be very familiar to travelers. They are the most visible symbol of every arrogant, aggravating service encounter you’ve ever had with companies who don’t care about costumer service, or customers.

United’s president symbolized this with his head literally in the clouds, initially suggesting the bloodied, beaten flier was a “volunteer” who had been re-accommodated. “He reminded us all of the parroting we hear from customer service people who chirp things like: “We are doing our best to rectify and optimize your service experience. “But all our agents are busy with an unusually high volume of calls. Please stay on hold until the next eclipse.”

If airlines want to bump people from their flight because they’ve over-booked — or suddenly need the seat — they should have to pay passengers enough to feel they were treated, not cheated.


Upcoming Events: Centre of Excellence for Public Sector

1. World Social Marketing Conference

The Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing is delighted to be involved with the World Social Marketing Conference, which will take place in Toronto, Canada from April 21-23, 2013.

The conference attracts participants from many countries and you will get the opportunity to meet social marketers from Australia, Africa, Asia, Europe, South and North America. This is a tremendous opportunity to learn from social marketers around the world and most important the opportunity to network with social marketers like yourself.

Note: The Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing will be running a pre-conference 1 day social marketing workshop entitled: Social Marketing Planning: Implementing an Effective Campaign

For more information go to:   http://wsmconference.com/

 3.  MARCOM Professional Development

The dates are set: May 28 & 29, 2013
Mark your calendar and start your training plan!
The location is set: Ottawa Convention Centre

Plan now to attend the only forum of this kind in Canada!


 4. Professional Certificate in Public Sector and Non-Profit Marketing

Feb. 13 – May 23, 2013

7 Course Modules – 8 days over 4 months

 Register Today!

Do you work in the government, a crown      corporation/agency, a non-profit organization or an association?

Are you involved in marketing      products/services, developing partnerships/sponsorships, increasing      membership and revenue generation, social marketing, outreach & public      education, strategic communications and online & digital marketing?

Are you frustrated that most programs offered      in marketing or communications are not designed for the public or      non-profit sectors?

Do you feel that you are falling behind      because you are not up-to-date on the latest marketing communications      technologies and strategies such as web 2.0?

Do you want to gain value-added skills to      improve your expertise in marketing and communications?

Online and web marketing, social media and      digital marketing

The Sprott School of Business – Carleton University Professional Certificate in Public Sector and Non-Profit Marketing offers in-depth, advanced-level training in core areas that are critical for marketers in these sectors to excel in their positions.


February 6, 2013

Delta Barrington Hotel
1875 Barrington Street
Halifax, Nova Scotia
B3J 3L6

(902) 429-7410

Register  clik here



Is Marketing Dead?

“Business has only two basic functions-marketing and innovation.”

Peter Drucker, management consultant and author


A recent controversial article by Bill Lee in the Harvard Business Review proposes that traditional marketing — including advertising, public relations, branding and corporate communications — is dead. Yes dead as a doornail.

Lee states that many people in traditional marketing roles and organizations may not realize they’re operating within a dead paradigm.

His evidence:

  • Buyers are no longer paying much attention. Several studies have confirmed that in the “buyer’s decision journey,” traditional marketing communications just aren’t relevant. Buyers are checking out product and service information in their own way, often through the Internet, and often from sources outside the firm such as word-of-mouth or customer reviews.
  • In a devastating 2011 study of 600 CEOs and decision makers 73% of them said that Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) lack business credibility and the ability to generate sufficient business growth, 72% are tired of being asked for money without explaining how it will generate increased business, and 77% have had it with all the talk about brand equity that can’t be linked to actual firm equity or any other recognized financial metric.
  • In today’s increasingly social media-infused environment, traditional marketing and sales not only doesn’t work so well, but doesn’t make sense. An organization hires people — employees, agencies, consultants, partners — who don’t come from the buyer’s world and whose interests aren’t necessarily aligned with his, and expects them to persuade the buyer to spend his hard-earned money on something. When you try to extend traditional marketing logic into the world of social media, it simply doesn’t work according to Lee.  Source

There’s a lot of speculation about what will replace the “marketing” model. Here is Lee’s take:

1. Restore community marketing. Used properly, social media is accelerating a trend in which buyers can increasingly approximate the experience of buying in their local, physical communities. For instance, when you contemplate a major purchase, such as a flat screen TV, or a good surgeon, you’re not likely to go looking for a salesperson to talk to, or to read through a bunch of corporate website content. Instead, you’ll probably ask neighbors or friends — your peer networks — what or whom they’re using.

2. Companies should position their social media efforts to replicate as much as possible this community-oriented buying experience. For example, a new firm, Zuberance, makes it easy and enjoyable for a firm’s loyal customers to advocate for the firm on their social media platform of choice. At the moment one of these customers identifies himself as a “promoter” on a survey, they immediately see a form inviting them to write a review or recommendation on any of several social media sites. Once they do, the Zuberance platform populates it to the designated sites, and the promoter’s network instantly knows about his experience with the firm.

3. Find your customer influencers. Many firms spend lots of resources pursuing outside influencers who’ve gained a following on the Web and through social media. A better approach is to find and cultivate customer influencers and give them something great to talk about. This requires a new concept of customer value that goes way beyond customer lifetime value, which is based only on purchases.

4. Help them build social capital. Practitioners of this new, community-oriented marketing are also rethinking their customer value proposition for such MVP (“Customer Champion”) customer advocates and influencers. Traditional marketing often tries to encourage customer advocacy with cash rewards, discounts or other untoward inducements. The new marketing helps its advocates and influencers create social capital: it helps them build their affiliation networks, increase their reputation and gives them access to new knowledge.

5. Get your customer advocates involved in the solution you provide. Perhaps the most spectacular example of this comes from the non-profit world (i.e. social marketing). Some years ago, with the number of teen smokers nation-wide rising to alarming levels, the State of Florida thought anew about its decades-long effort to reduce the problem. Using the techniques for building a community of peer influence, Florida solved it. They sought influential teen “customers” such as student leaders, athletes, and “cool kids,” who weren’t smoking or who wanted to quit — and instead of pushing a message at them, they asked for the students’ help and input.

Approached in this new way, some 600 teens attended a summit on teen smoking, where they told officials why anti-smoking efforts in the past hadn’t worked — dire warnings about the health consequences of smoking, or describing the habit as “being gross,” left them unimpressed. On the spot, the teens brainstormed a new approach: they were outraged by documents showing that tobacco company executives were specifically targeting teens to replace older customers who’d died (often from lung cancer).

And so the teens formed a group called SWAT (Students Working Against Tobacco) who organized train tours and workshops, sold T-shirts and other appealing activities to take their message into local communities. The result: despite a vicious counterattack by Big Tobacco lobbying firms, teen smoking in Florida dropped by nearly half between 1998 and 2007 — by far the biggest success in anti-teen-smoking in history. Put another way, Florida won half of the “non-buyers” of its anti-teen-smoking “product” away from its much bigger, much better funded competitor. They did so by tapping the best source of buyer motivation: peer influence. Source

For more information on the Florida Truth campaign go to link.

Lee concludes that traditional marketing may be dead, but the new possibilities of peer influence-based, community-oriented marketing, hold much greater promise for creating sustained growth through authentic customer relationships.

Mitch Joel, President of Twist Image.  responded to the article by arguing; that marketing isn’t dead. Marketing (which encompasses everything from product, price, place and promotion) is not only alive and well… its core to a business’ success. In short marketing isn’t dead. Marketing is everything.

Joel states “In fact, I would tell Mr. Lee, the Harvard Business Review, and anyone else who asks that advertising (as we have known it to date) is not dying. In fact, it’s not on life-support, it’s not sick, and it probably doesn’t even have the sniffles. Does that mean that social media and digital media has not disrupted the model or added new layers and opportunities? Of course it has. Does it mean that newer components like community management, engaging influencers, building social capital with customers, and engaging with consumers in more collaborative ways (the four core pillars that Lee argues have put the death knell on traditional marketing) hasn’t changed the game? Of course it has.” Source

Maggie Fox points out in her blog that Marketing isn’t dead – the big disruption is simply that it’s now everywhere, and everything, that a company does.

Here are some of the other comments on Lee`s article. Note there were close to hundred comments but here are a few I think are relevant from my perspective.

“Traditional” marketing may not have the stand alone effectiveness, and some forms of media may not have the pull or glamour they once did, but many of the “traditional” methods still work as essential elements to creating effective campaigns/brands/plans. Social media is only one part of the puzzle and social media needs good marketing behind it to be at all successful. “

“Marketing as it has been practiced is evolving owing to the changes we witness around us. Some of the tenets of marketing will get questioned, some of them will come to the forefront and assume greater importance, some will become short term fads and dissipate in a few years as the societal evolution will confine them in a dustbin and some of them will pass the test of time with flying colors. Let’s not start writing premature obituaries”.

“Social media and peer-to-peer marketing have a vital place; at the same time, there’s much data to show increased sales, revenue, market share etc. from the use of traditional marketing.

“Technology is a game changer and today a greater percentage of investigation is done online before a prospect ever talks to a sales person. However, saying marketing is dead is just foolish. Marketing and sales both are evolving and the Internet and technology growth on the Internet is having a substantial effect. Marketing will evolve to incorporate new technology and the way buyer research purchases before they move to a purchase mode. “

“Marketing is not dead; it’s just changed to be in the hands of the consumer and businesses, brands, whatever need to get on board with that. The dinosaurs of ‘traditional’ marketing are struggling to grasp that and hence this type of article rears its ugly head. It’s a shame, as this article has some great insight and advice mixed in, especially around advocates.”


Here is my take:

Marketing is clearly not dead, like many disciplines it’s constantly evolving. Is there a lot of money wasted on marketing? Yes there is. Are there people in marketing resistant to change? Of course there is and that is true of every field.

Lee is not telling us anything we don`t know.  Of course you need to use a variety of integrated marketing approaches to reach audience these days. Yes the idea by some marketing practitioners thinking that using one approach to market is “dead” but frankly since the introduction of integrated marketing communications (see my blog ) I would argue it has been dead for at least three decades.  As I have pointed out in over 150 blogs there is good marketing and bad marketing. I have been very critical of the bad marketing observed in my career as a practitioner, academic and consultant.  The secret to successful marketing is to be open to new ideas,  be strategic i.e. develop a marketing strategy before going headlong into tactics and most important  listen to the people you are trying to reach and influence .

Is marketing dead? Hardly!

Let me know what you think.




Participate in an Online Survey about Social Media

Participate in an online study about Web 2.0 and social media conducted on behalf of a PhD student at the Centre for Health Initiatives in the University of Wollongong.  The survey should take about 15 minutes to complete and you will be offered the opportunity to win an Ipad for your participation.

There is no known risk in taking part.  We are specifically looking for participants residing in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom over the age of 18 years. 

Typical questions include: your general use of Web 2.0 (such as whether you have posted comments to a blog), the privacy settings of your social networking profile (if you have one), and if you have ever joined a health-related group on a social networking site.

If you are interested in participating, please visit the following link: http://svy.mk/JqI4H7

Please also feel free to pass this onwards to anyone you feel would find the survey to be of interest.


Workbooks and Webinars On Demand

Now available are CEPSM Workbooks and On Demand Webinars to provide initial insight into key marketing topics and priced to suit your dollar-wise budget.

Check out our Training opportunities

CEPSM offers training in every consulting area. In this section we highlight the various opportunities for training, whether we come to you for Internal Custom Training or whether you come to one of our Public Training Sessions on calendar below.

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Save 10% when you register 30 days prior to any CEPSM-hosted workshop or when you register for more than 1 workshop at a time. Save 20% by doing both!


MARCOM Annual Forum: May 15 & 16, 2012
Ottawa Convention Centre

The premiere educational forum for public and
not-for-profit sector marketers and communicators