As I write this, Canada’s largest airline, Air Canada, has managed to avoid one strike but is apparently facing the possibility of another strike by an entirely different group of employees. The public reaction is the same as it always is to airline strikes; a collective throwing of hands in the air, groaning, and steaming panic among those who have flights planned in the next few weeks.
Few service industries are more universally loathed by their customers than airlines… and yet by any rational measure this shouldn’t be the case. Airlines offer a type of travel that is vastly superior to most alternatives, have a remarkable safety record, offer a wide range of pricing options, and treat repeat customers like gold.
Air Canada in particular is one of the highest rated carriers in North America in almost every study and survey. But it remains distrusted by many, and negative stories always stick to it like glue. The positives (such as their remarkable safety record) are never noticed.
Air Canada faces a difficult challenge in that no matter how they manage their brand, it’s an airline’s brand, and customer tend to react negatively to it not because they’re Air Canada, but because they are an airline. Airlines that have had unusual branding success are airlines that have taken the deliberate step of painting themselves as outsiders to their own industry (as in Southwest or Westjet) or portraying themselves as so radically different that the normal rules don’t apply (Porter.)
Your customers’ brand perception isn’t just of your company – it’s of the industry your company is a part of, and your branding strategy needs to take that into account, whether it’s for better or for worse!