give me 6 months

I don’t mean to keep hatin’ on ’em, but it’s just such easy pickings. From AdAge, about blog coverage of American’s $15 bag PR fiasco,

Mr. Flanagan, who felt media coverage of the announcement and on some blogs was very fair, said American injected itself into conversations online only when inaccuracies were being reported. He said American hopes to have its own corporate blog operational within the next two quarters.

6 months?!?! The corporate blogging question I ask you is: are they 6 months too late or are they 3 or 4 years too late? This is one of the many reasons that you should have a corporate blog strategy NOW. It will take months/years to build a dedicated blog audience. It’s not something you can build to deal with a PR meltdown.

eliminating the last olive

There’s been some minor buzz about the customer service atrocity of hidden fees. But as with most things in our society, it’s quickly forgotten with the next thing that snaps the masses’ head another direction.

There’s hidden fee news today that may stick. American Airlines will start charging $15 for your first checked bag. Not extra luggage. Not heavy luggage. Just your one basic container with supplies that make sure you’re clothed and clean when you get wherever you’re going.

Minor nickel and diming by the airlines has been happening for a while. I flew American a few weeks ago and rolled my eyes at the ridiculous $3 charge for a bag of nuts. I understand the age of the “freebie” is over. And I can see charging a dollar. Maybe a buck and a half. But $3 is an insult to common sense. And I chose not to “ensure” the fact I would have a seat for a standby flight for $35. Also — I held it and didn’t drink the $3 bottled water instead of paying $5 for a trip to the airplane lavatory. (Don’t laugh. It may happen.)

I had said in my post about my flight during American’s last PR disaster, that the airlines have beat their customers into accepting any level of bad service. American is trying to lower the bar again. While I understand that these are rough times for the airlines, there are other ways to cut costs and increase efficiency. When times get rough (in any business), don’t cut costs where it touches the customer. Or if you really do need the extra $15 to get my underwear there with me, just raise the price of the ticket. Don’t try to hamstring me with a fee.

Fortunately for me, 95% of my flights are one-nighters where I go the night before and fly back immediately after my speaking engagement. I’ve become a semi-master at the art of packing a suit and toiletries in my laptop bag. For 2-day stays, I have to take another bag, but it’s a small one and I check it at the gate.

And that’s one of the ripple effects that this American move will have. More people trying to do just carry-ons. That means longer delays getting on/off the plane. Less room in the overheads. And longer lines at security. (Government Propaganda Tip — 3-1-1!)

I predict there will be one of two reactions to this move by American.

  1. Consumers will balk and American will back down.
  2. All other airlines will follow their lead and baggage will be extra for everyone.

I hope it’s #1. It will probably be #2.

Clarification: In case you’re not familiar with the useless trivia behind the title of this post.

accidental branding

David Vinjamuri recently sent me a copy of his new book, Accidental Branding which is excellent.
Long time readers of this blog know that I declare that brand strategy is always deliberate, but that brand image is ultimately created by the end consumer. There are no accidents in branding — only incidents of companies not cultivating the brand and helping their customers develop it.

David’s book title comes from the fact that all the companies he profiles are strongly associated with an individual. These individuals have seen their brands develop over time and have a personal journey with the brand that is intertwined with their lives.

What David tries to show is that all these brands have developed a (sometimes small) group of dedicated followers who stuck with the brand even through rough times. Since the brand/business is so personal to the owners he profiled, there is an innate sense of quality and pride that leaks out and the brand authenticity is built in.

The companies that he profiles are all brands that you’ve heard of like Columbia Sportswear and Baby Einstein as well as lesser known but popular brands like Clif Bar and the Art of Shaving. My favorite chapters of the book were his discussions with Craig Newmark of Craigslist, Roxanne Quimby of Burt’s Bees (he also talked to Burt), and my fellow Kentuckian – John Peterman of J. Peterman.

The book is not a typical business book (see changethis manifesto). It consists of several good stories that are enjoyable even if people don’t care about branding. David doesn’t preach mantra in the stories. He just lays them out well and lets you learn what is obvious to you. He does begin and end the book with some of his own gleanings from his visits. Another great thing about the book is that you don’t have to read sequentially (I didn’t), but just take the stories and ingest them one at a time.

If you’re beginning to build a brand or stepping back to take a new look at a current brand, this would be a good book to start reading.

DISCLAIMER: David provided me a free copy of the book.