Eleven Ways to End the Undifferentiated Airline Brand

GreyhoundHow did Greyhound get to be more interesting a brand than Delta?

Certainly, both have been through bankruptcy. And now, to travel a distance, both can be about the same price. But with the new designs and service of Greyhound, the line is on its way to being a far more interesting, and useful, brand experience than Delta.

In this morning’s Financial Times, columnist and magazine guru Tyler Brule remarked upon the “undifferentiated” service of the business class of the legacy air carriers in Europe. That description also describes American legacy carriers like Delta, even more than carriers like BA, which he happened to be flying.

The situation is less inspiring in the U.S. On a recent Delta trip, I could well have been on a bus, except for Delta logo printed on a napkin and Delta logos painted on the outside of the plane. The crew was nice, the flight on time, the luggage in its place. Even the price was right. I even had a cozy spot in the back of my MD-88, just to the right of the service area. But the experience was bland, sterile.

That is compared to Greyhound, which has done a 180 with its image. In April, Greyhound began unveiling its fleet of new buses, which it will eventually completely replace the entire fleet.The first of the 102 re-designed buses debuted on the company’s New York to Montreal and New York to Toronto routes, with additional buses slated to begin appearing on the New York to Boston route by mid-April.

“More than an updated paint job, our new buses offer a truly upgraded experience for customers and anew way to sit back and experience the open road,” said Dave Leach, president and chief executive officer, Greyhound Lines, Inc., in a company press release.

The new buses sport a revamped and slightly retro logo. Inside, there is extra legroom, free Wi-Fi access, power outlets and three-point seat belts. The buses are Prevost X3-45 buses and they seat 50 passengers. The image was developed by the San Francisco Bay Area-based firm Butler, Shine, Stern and Partners.Delta

In the press release, the company said the inspiration for the new bus design started with a look back at Greyhound’s “rich and recognizable design heritage from the early and mid-20th century, when the brand’s signature colors and running dog were first introduced to underscore the adventure, luxury and efficiency of leisure bus travel.

I am sure that the average Delta plane and Delta waiting area would be more pleasing than the average Greyhound waiting area and Greyhound bus, but that’s not saying much. What could Delta do to improve its brand? It’s not about large amounts of money. It’s about spirit. The below are not prescriptive, but instead are intended to show ideas that could be considered.

  1. Pilots should visit the cabin before flights and walk the aisle. That shows confidence and control of plane, and the age and experience of the pilots will help differentiate Delta’s full-line service.
  2. The pilots and flight crew should be named on the flight. While this does not need to happen each time, knowing the names of staff helps the passengers see them as people, indeed professionals.
  3. Look to Publix. How does a grocery chain “brand” a simple and utilitarian thing like a grocery chain? It does so in myriad ways.
  4. Flight attendants should have a tray of freebies for guests. With the price of importing items like playing cards and such from China, having a few around to give out to waiting guests would go a long way to selling the brand of Delta.
  5. What happened to freebie kits for kids? McDonald’s can afford them for a $2.99 Happy Meal. Why can’t the airlines?
  6. The meal has to be better. Simple sandwiches could be heated with presses to go along with a pre-wrapped lunch. I am sure most of us would pay $10 for this.
  7. Not sure what’s up with the uniforms. I’m just askin’.
  8. Northwest as a brand should be not eliminated, but instead incorporated into Delta. Said this too many times, but needs to be said again.
  9. Delta ought to give out things in the waiting room. What happened to airline brochures for vacations? Why not give those out to encourage other travel. And why not give out Sky in the waiting area? It’s always missing from the plane anyway, and if it is there it is a nasty copy where the crossword is already done. Ick. Taking them off the plane and into the lounge would save weight, too.
  10. Delta ought to sell its routes and service on the plane. Passengers love the details of what the airline is doing. Instead of selling credit cards, staff could talk to passengers about new routes, technical aspects of the plane, etc.
  11. What happened to airline jingles?


  • Garland Pollard

    J. Garland Pollard IV is editor/publisher of BrandlandUSA. Since 2006, the website BrandlandUSA.com has chronicled the history and business of America’s great brands.

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