Post-merger messaging: Delta vs. United
Ask most frequent flyers about the impact of an airline merger and you can see the anxiety on their faces. Most don’t expect the experience to be a good one. They might get access to more destinations, but they expect to lose benefits, deal with more hassles, and less service. They expect the lowest common denominator of the two airlines. Put simply, when airlines merge, customers are skeptical that the result will be a better airline.
With this in mind, the airline can take two approaches to communicating about its post-merger self.
First, it can acknowledge the skepticism, take a humble approach to the touting the benefits of the merger, and make an effort to communicate how it will exceed these skeptical expectations. Or, it can ignore the skepticism, ask customers to suspend their disbelief, and focus on communication about how good the combined airline will be.
To me, the right strategy is a no-brainer. Airlines must acknowledge the worldview of their frequent flyers. I see this in all the work I do: if you don’t acknowledge how your customers feel, you shouldn’t be surprised when they reject your message. On the other hand, when you meet your customers where they are, acknowledge their skepticism, and build from there, you are much better able to build trust and successfully communicate your message.
These different approaches struck me the other day when I saw United’s new campaign following their recent merger with Continental. United doesn’t have TV ads out yet, but they have started their out-of-home and print campaign. At the same time, Delta has spent a fair bit of money on their Keep Climbing campaign launched after completing their merger with Northwest.
The two approaches are totally different.
United takes a pure benefit-oriented approach. Most of the ads actually ignore the merger entirely, choosing instead to emphasize the space in Economy Plus, their 370 destinations, and access to DirecTV on certain flights. In one ad, they say: “Not just a new look, a new outlook.” Really? My experience on a handful of delayed flights would lead me to believe that new outlook is not a positive one. Instead of talking to me like a skeptical consumer, United is trying to talk at me. I am not buying it.
Delta on the other hand has launched a much more approachable campaign. Though I can quibble with some of the executions, their two most recent do a great job of meeting customers where they are. The first openly acknowledges the challenges airlines face in general as well as Delta’s challenge in particular, to live up to the expectations of its customers. The second encourages customers to start asking airlines, “what have you done for me lately?”
I can’t say I trust either of these airlines to really improve their businesses post-merger. I can say that based on communication alone, I am more likely to believe that Delta understands their challenge than does United. Next time I have to choose between those two airlines, I know where I will fly.