Five Reasons for a Delta/AT&T cobrand

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If you’re a business traveler who spends any appreciable time traveling, you understand the typical challenges: commercial transportation, even in its most streamlined forms, can be a lot of work. Especially if you’ve got a lot of work to do while you travel.

Some commercial carriers now offer wi-fi as a feature of their offerings. In particular, Delta Airlines touts that they proudly offer wi-fi on all flights (with a few restrictions based on the aircraft used on certain legs.)

Unfortunately, the wi-fi offered is painfully slow and doesn’t perform in any manner even remotely resembling acceptable. In some cases, the wi-fi isn’t available at all. This is especially infuriating on longer flights – like New York to Seattle, for instance – when you hope to strike several items from your to-do list, and make those hours productive.

We understand why Delta would offer wi-fi (through a fulfillment partner Gogo Inflight) services. It’s a great way to differentiate from competitors, and it gives the brand another feature to promote to consumers. And not just about targeting business travelers – even today’s average non-business traveler is in need of good wi-fi.

But when Delta can’t deliver on even the most basic version of that promise, they are losing esteem in the minds of their consumers, (this one included,) and thereby damaging their brand in the process.

This is a perfect market condition for a cobranding opportunity. If Delta dumps Gogo and partners with AT&T to deliver on an important and desirable brand feature, everybody wins. Let’s explore how.

Here’s loosely how it works: AT&T wires up all Delta flights with soon-to-be-ubiquitous 5G broadband wireless (serious network capability that’s actually really fast even when everyone is connected,) and now that they own it, AT&T can even deploy their DirecTV service into the flights where there are screens on the seats.  Great way to preview the new network, and better way to innovate (since you’d have to be creative with how to get good-sized beacons into typically tight spaces with the rest of the avionics configuration) on the installation.

What might happen in such an arrangement? The answers are five good reasons Delta and AT&T should cobrand:

  1. Consumers would enjoy a far better, far more productive online experience while flying Delta. If you’ve ever had to deal with slow or spotty wi-fi, you know how frustrating it can be. Smooth and fast connectivity that allows business people to connect to emails or shared docs and enables kids to stream movies would simply make for a stronger overall experience while flying Delta.
  2. Those consumers would form positive brand impressions about both Delta and AT&T. Smooth flights with lots of productive connectivity and streamed entertainment options that are delivered without incident looks good on both brands. This is especially true for AT&T, who is in a near-constant dogfight with Verizon for perceptual wireless network preference.
  3. Delta gets to deliver a category differentiating benefit at no carried or additional operational costs. Without assuming massive operational dollars to implement this arrangement, Delta would leapfrog its competitors with this feature. Sure, JetBlue has in-flight entertainment (ironically delivered by DirecTV,) and sometimes wi-fi, but a fully thought-out super high speed network for everyone to share would help the brand stand apart from its national rivals like United and American in a meaningful – consumers actually desire this feature – and powerful way.
  4. Although AT&T would assume the operational costs of outfitting every Delta jet with their hardware, the brand would receive (basically) free exposure to Delta’s 180 million yearly passengers. Yup I said 180 million. That’s a lot of top-of-the-funnel preference for nearly all of AT&T’s business units built around the network. If they want to beat Verizon’s brains in, getting in front of 180 million passengers and basically making their travel day is a really fine way to start. How about leveraging that exposure with juicy offers to switch to AT&T wireless for your mobile phone service, or similar offers for Sunday Ticket and other DirecTV enticements?  Did I mention 180 million passengers per year?
  5. Both brands would enjoy the benefits of individualized responsibility. Under this arrangement, Delta would only be responsible to its consumers for on-time flight performance and in-cabin service, and NOT the quality or uptime of its wi-fi. When it’s co-branded with a reputable and well-known name, Delta can actually get away with saying the wi-fi is “AT&T’s problem.” With Gogo, (a smaller player with far less brand visibility,) the average passenger assumes it’s Delta’s wi-fi. Conversely, AT&T gets to take all the credit for great wi-fi and entertainment and none of the guff for flight performance or on-time arrivals. A win/win indeed.

While we’re matchmaking, I might also propose that Amtrak and Verizon enter into the same type of arrangement. Have you ever tried to connect using AmtrakConnect? As they say in the business, “oy.”

Now that the business end is settled, all we need is a good tagline. Any ideas?

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Breaking (Bad) news: Marketers LIE!

I know it sounds like heresy, but I’m here to break bad news: marketers lie. Most specifically, they lie in their advertising. They’ll do or say virtually anything to GET YOU TO LOOK OVER HERE! It’s nothing new. They’ve been doing it for decades, from omitting “unnecessary” items on their package labeling, or touting offers that get negated in 30 lines of 5 pt heavily kerned knockout legal copy.

And it’s hard to avoid. Because in many instances, the competitors are lying too. So some awfully nice marketers are often forced to join in the lying spree to make sure YOU LOOK OVER HERE TOO!

Case in point: Century 21, the national real estate broker, recently perpetrated an outright lie to draw attention to their brand. Wanting to capitalize on the enormous popularity of the AMC TV Series Breaking Bad and tie in to the September 29, 2013 series finale, and seeking a solution around the enormous costs associated with advertising on the show, they opted for a more, um, unorthodox solution.

Century 21, and their agency Mullen, ran the below ad in Craigslist, listing fictional character Walter White’s Negra Arroyo lane ranch.

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See the full listing at http://albuquerque.craigslist.org/reb/4098553645.html

Pretty neat, huh? It’s a funny and quirky idea that leverages the popularity of the show. And they make no bones about it: the ad is a farce. It’s laced with Breaking Bad references, and inside jokes about how there’s nearby “RV spots” and a “motivated seller” who must be out by 9/29. Let’s face it. It’s pretty funny stuff.

But it’s also an out and out lie. And here’s the thing – they may have misled some people in the process. I commented on the AdAge article about the stunt and surmised that there may have been 117 people who actually clicked on the ad interested in this home. (Seriously, a 3BR ranch in a nice neighborhood for $150K listed by a reputable broker would MAKE ME LOOK.) And let’s say that 20 or so of those people immediately understand that it’s a Breaking Bad riff, and get a good chuckle out of it. That’s 97 misled people who MAY now have a bad taste in their mouth about the brand.

When you call the telephone number associated with the ad, you’re told “this house isn’t really for sale. But if you’re interested in buying a home, call Century 21.”

It seems odd to me that THAT’S the way you’d like to call attention to your brand. Sure, I get the bulleted list of reasons to do this:

– capitalize on Breaking Bad popularity
– show people in the target 25-44 demographic that Century 21 is a little hipper than you might remember
– get some ink around the #breakingbad and #waltshouseforsale hashtags

But still, if Mullen didn’t issue a press release around this concept, who would know about it? Maybe the extended social networks of those 20 potential buyers who are also Breaking Bad fans. But heck, you may have 97 people crowing to THEIR extended social networks about how they were DUPED by Century 21 in the name of a marketing “stunt.”

Brands have a hard enough time trying to maintain their personalities among competition, economic trends, and other market forces. So it’s ill-advised to pull out the rope-a-dope in the hopes of creating fans.

But as I said earlier, lying is nothing new for marketers. I recently received a promising email from JetBlue touting a two-day sale with “fares starting at $69.” And it happened to be somewhat true, there WAS a fare starting at $69. Just one. From New York to Buffalo. EVERY other flight leaving out of New York was more than $69, with some as high as $249. The promised fare carried restrictions like:

• “travel on Tuesday and Wednesday only” and
• “travel between October 8th and December 18th” and
• “blackout dates of November 22nd through December 2nd” and
• “may not be available on all flights” and
• “does not include fees for optional services” and
• “additional restrictions apply.”

While this is all important legalese, it ultimately dilutes the power and appeal of the original promise. So as a consumer, I’m left holding the bag on a flight I don’t even want to take, on days I don’t want to fly, just to try and save a few bucks? No thanks.

I’ve written many times that brands are very delicate entities that are built over time. Most importantly, one of the primary aspects of a brand is that it is a cumulative phenomenon – the perceptions and overall impressions are built over time into what you ultimately believe about the brand and its promise. And when brands start lying to me about virtually everything, (even as a goof,) those perceptions start to erode. And as a consumer, there are so many “shiny new things” out there, that I’m likely looking for another promising offer within 2 minutes.

Take note Century 21 and JetBlue and any other brand that’s still using snake oil salesman tricks from 100 years ago.

It’s a new age.

It’s a new consumer overloaded with choices.

You can’t just break bad and expect it to keep working.

Empty promises give me the JetBlues

I’m a JetBlue fan.  I like the brand, I like the approach, I like the planes.  Nearly everything about the way they do business has been pretty positive for me, and I fly them when I can, despite having my frequent traveler account with another airline.

This morning, JetBlue sends me an email blast promising fares as low as $49.  So I bite.  I consider taking a quick trip to Buffalo to visit an old friend who just had twins – and heck, maybe I’ll catch a Bills game while I’m there – a great way to spend a Sunday in the early fall.  It sure beats driving for all those hours.  And for $49 each way, it’s a steal!

So I click through on the email. I know I’ve landed on the vanity/landing page because the form fields are pre-populated with my departing and arriving cities, corresponding to the NYC-BUF link I clicked in the email.  (Nice work.)

However, there are NO flights for $49.  In fact, the LOWEST fare I find is $94.  That’s almost double the promised fare.  So, being a good consumer, I blame myself and think about changing my travel dates.  (Notice the ethos there?  As consumers, we always defer to the position of being wrong…it could NEVER be the brand.)

I change the dates to six weeks out.  And still, no fare under $79. It took about three revisions in the six to eight week travel window to find a one-way fare at $49.  Naturally, it included a Saturday night stay (a relic platform of the old travel industry to punish business travelers and/or encourage leisure travel,) and/or traveling at some insane hour (care to leave NYC at 10:40 pm to arrive in Buffalo after midnight?) to get that fare.  There were also very few $49 fares returning to NYC.

Marketers, listen up. When you send an email blast and brag about your new offer, like fares as low as $49, your consumers better find those fares pretty readily when they click through.  When you can’t deliver on basic promises that you prepare for promotions like an email blast, how can you expect your consumers to believe that you’ll deliver on the larger brand promises or the value proposition?

When you SAY you have this great offer, but can’t deliver on it, that’s not making a real promise to your consumers, that’s baiting someone into clicking.  Exactly what people HATE about marketing, and distrust about email marketing in particular. Each time you blow it and can’t deliver, you’re eroding trust in the brand – and that’s way harder to make up than the short term gains you hoped to realize with the promotion in the first place.

So be very careful what you promise.  Especially if you can actually deliver it. Marketing is the one arena (well, maybe politics, too) where you have to DELIVER on your promises, then POINT OUT how you delivered on your promises. The best thing that could have happened in this JetBlue scenario is that I would have clicked through, found a couple of $49 fares, and seen a star or a burst or some sort of acknowledgment that affirmed the email blast – “Here they are, those $49 fares, just as we promised!  Why not take one?”

That’s cheesy, but it’s a heck of a lot better than the letdown of finding nothing even close to the promised offer.