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Branding: More Expensive than Ever!

I just flew Frontier Airlines. I hit the highway from Denver at 6am for my 8:30am flight, only to encounter snow plows and traffic jams in white-out conditions. The cell still worked, so I called Frontier Airlines to check on flight status. No delays. Darn. It didn’t make sense to me, but a second call an hour later was the same: no delays. I arrived at the full parking garage at 8:13 am, parked in the snow on the roof, and joined the very long line at check in. Of course I couldn’t use the self check in, because I had missed my flight and needed to re-book. Or did I?

The flight was delayed almost 2 hours. It didn’t leave until after 10am. But I didn’t know that until I discovered it later while waiting for my 2pm flight. It seems Frontier Airlines maintains it’s original check in time even if the flight is delayed. When I checked in, the clerk could have easily sent me to my flight but instead told me I had no option but standby for the 12:50 flight. I state it again: no option but standby.

I later learned that standby is a dynamic process as well. You can’t get a seat assignment until 30 minutes before departure, and prior to that Frontier Airlines can sell the available seats, or give them away to “partner airlines” such as United Airlines, essentially bumping you to the next flight. If that happens you’re on standby again. Frontier Airlines also gives you a chance to buy a standby seat assignment for a $25 fee, but the 200-person-long customer service line is the means to that security. I wonder why the clerk didn’t tell me that when I was re-booked..? I was a Frontier Airlines customer arriving late due to traffic conditions on a blizzard morning when even my own flight was delayed almost 2 hours, but I was treated like an “extra” that “might” be accommodated after everyone else including United Airlines customers.

Anyway when my 12:50 flight was also delayed, I saw plenty of airlines were flying on time and I wanted to buy a new ticket from someone who would actually fly me to Seattle. I pressed the Frontier Airlines clerk to learn all of these details, and she gave me a seat assignment instead of standby (without any fee). My flight eventually left at 2 something. Just prior to departure, I watched as the previously available standby seats were consumed by a combination of factors, including a group of fly-through passengers arriving on my plane but staying to fly through to Seattle with the rest of us. Oops. Another 5 or so seats trimmed from the standby list to accommodate them. I suppose it worked out because there was at least 1 empty seat on the flight (next to me… last row in the back, middle seat, no reclining, back against the lavatory sink wall).

I will never fly Frontier Airlines again. I don’t recommend Frontier Airlines. Fronteir Airlines, as a brand, is tarnished. United Airlines is looking better than Fronteir Airlines, if only for the fact that even Frontier Airlines treats United Airlines customers better than they treat Frontier Airlines customers. Go figure.

As I watched the Direct-TV during the flight, there was a show about Big Luxury Brands. It was all about Gucci and Dolce-Gabanna and other big, expensive brands that sell products at exorbitant prices and suffer world-wide counterfeiting. The producers collected some good counterfeit products, and interviewed people on the street, challenging them to tell a real item from a fake item. Louis Vuitton bags, Tiffany bracelets, Coach wallets. Every clip showed the consumer choosing the fake item as the “real one”. In a classically disappointing segment finale, the commentator added “why are the big branded items so expensive? Because of quality assurance and for your safety”. That’s not a quote, but it’s close.

So Gucci sunglasses cost $400 because they are better quality and safer than $10 sunglasses? I’m not sure I follow that logic, but the point is that big brands have a TON of work to do maintaining those very very high prices (and profits). Is it worth it? As long as it works.

Brand maintenance is a silent partner in the Big Luxury Brand business. It takes a percentage. A percentage of the profits goes to building and maintaining the brand. Better brand = bigger profits. The limiter is consumer acceptance. And that, of course, can be bought via advertising and marketing, up to an upper limit of sales volume — you need to have enough millionaires to buy your $10,000 jeans, right?

I think there can’t be a partial commitment to branding. For the Super Premium brands, branding is almost an all-or-nothing endeavor. The more you spend making and protecting that brand, the more you can charge. The Chinese manufacture sunglasses just-like-the-Gucci-ones for a dollar or so each, in quantity. Gucci sells theirs for upwards of $200. Consumers apparently can’t tell the difference, even when challenged to do so with careful inspection. So you buy a few dozen pair (for $24 total) and hand pick the highest quality one as your “Quality Assurance”. No doubt Gucci spends a considerable portion of their profits keeping those Chinese copies out of circulation.

So how do you protect your brand? Frontier Airlines had quite a mess on their hands in Denver Thursday morning. They had to de-ice the planes, wait for the airport maintenance crews to clear snow, and accommodate thousands(?) of inconvenienced travelers. I gave them a solid 8 hours of “branding opportunity” as a captive audience, watching Mother Nature make a mess of the travel process. Frontier Airlines did an excellent job of destroying their brand in my eyes. How much opportunity do you have to project your brand on line? Do you take advantage of every opportunity?

Frontier Airlines chooses to accommodate United Airlines passengers over Frontier Airline’s own standby passengers. Was that a cost decision? What percentage of profits does Frontier Airlines dedicate to preserving their brand? Tarnishing their brand? They should have admitted to the delays they were experiencing, at the very least. Then perhaps I could still trust them. What about you? Do the post-purchase emails sent by your shopping cart engender trust, or create concern and second doubts? (Dear , thank you for your oder…).

When I search for your brand, do I find a positive branding message at the top of Google, or a page about some Internet geek all pissed off about how he was treated by customer service during a snow storm in Denver? Not sure? Check for yourself. You may decide it’s high time to put a wee bit more of those profits into brand protection by hiring an SEO consultant.

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One Response to “Branding: More Expensive than Ever!”

  1. Dan Abbamont Says:

    This just made my day, misspellings and all ;)