Brands have done a wonderful job of stepping in it over the past little while, haven't they?
Usual gaffs and poor advertising judgment aside, brands may have crossed a new line when they are physically accosting and having their paid customers roughed up and out of the brand experience. Not sure a brand wants to be known as the new "Fight Club"... unless they're putting out a sequel to the 1999 blockbuster film. And with that, comes many things: excuses, apologies, adapting policies, legalese, public relations, spin, consumer backlash, social media armchair quarterbacking, memes (oh, the memes), and the general piling-on of traditional media and the late night show crews.
It's enough to make a brand want to curl up in a corner and die... for a little while.
Many pundits point to the stock market as an indicator of just how much value/money a brand pays when they make silly (and super huge stupid) mistakes. The next day's markets are not a true indicator. One needs to look out (about a month) to see if there truly is any lingering impact, or if the corporation lives to tell the tale of another stellar quarter. The bigger the brand (and the bigger the gaff), the less we have (historically) seen any kind of longterm impact. The big behemoths have resilience, don't they? This is a generality (and there are exceptions to the rule, of course), but it's true. One airline's massive public relations and business scandal today is hardly even mentioned on the next quarterly earnings calls. If you're a consumer advocate, that can be a depressing fact. If you're a brand, it gives them carte blanche to make massive mis-steps, correct as they go, and hope that the market's memory is short.
Is this the way that consumer's really want brands to be?
There seems to be common thread throughout many of these mistakes that can easily be summed as: "it is legal?". There are rules and regulations in place. With that, mistakes are human nature so long as they don't cross the rule of law. In the UFC-like clip from the major airline this week, there is that same underlying statement hidden with the brand's apology. This is all legal (unfortunate, but within their legal rights to remove the passenger). Here's a pretty clear and simple rule for a brand that is looking to trascend the ordinary, and move from good to great (as the saying goes):
If all a brand is looking to do is stay within the legal bounds of what is acceptable, it's going to be a tough slog towards greatness.
Oversold, overbooked, or even having a clause that allows a paying customer to removed so that an employee can take their spot is not going to be compared against whether a brand lobbied government or created a loophole to make this a legal practice. Your consumer is not a lawyer or a government official. They are your paying customers. They come first. Always. Period. Just because your industry has a set of laws, legislations, regulations and more, it does not mean that the brand's job is to get as close to the edge of that law as possible without falling into the abyss.
To be a brand that cares... you need to be a brand that is better than the law.
Why not simply ignore those laws, regulations and legislations? Know them. Ensure that your people know them, but let your brand be the one that puts the consumer first. Let your brand be the one that doesn't need those rules or laws, because you would never - as a practice of buisness - get close to what is being considered offside.
Who would not want to be a customer of that brand... today and tomorrow?
Being an airline is a tough business. It's a very sophisticated and complicated and regulated business, where the airline also takes a lot of heat that is unwarranted, due to the many other corporations involved in this business. With that, there is nothing stopping any airline from saying that they don't believe in overbooking/overselling a flight, and that a paying customer always take precedence over their own employees. When instances arrive that put these philosophies into questions, the brand will have to decide what is in the best interest of their business (the customers and the brand experience). It's not easy. What happened this past week is both tragic, sad and not necessary.
Brands can make choices.
A friend recently asked me about how Mirum wins new business. When I explained the pitching process, they marvelled at the fact that agencies actually pitch creative and strategic ideas (the work) in order to win the business. They were in complete disbelief that these brands have the legal right to take and use this work, even if our agency was not chosen to be their partner. My response was simply this: brands have the legal right to do it, but not the ethical right. If they liked the idea enough to use it, they should do it with the agency partner that came up with the idea. Having a legal right does not give a brand the moral right.
It's not just airlines. Brands don't have to follow ethics (just the law). The best brands do create the best customer experiences. That's (still) the (real) opportunity.