American Airlines Close to Revealing Their Brand Purpose to the Rest of Us

Back in April American Airlines Senior Vice President Kurt Stache talked about the carrier clarifying its brand purpose and launching a new marketing campaign around it.

It’s been a long time since we’ve had a real brand purpose and a brand campaign and so the marketing team is well underway on this project and we have interviewed or surveyed over 10,000 team members and customers both analytically, qualitative, quantitative, to get a sense of what is our brand purpose. We’re well underway, we’re now under the creative phase of this.. the goal is to launch something by the end of this year..

At the time I was both excited and skeptical. The airline lacks a mission statement. It’s not clear what they’re trying to be, and I find employees often sense mixed messaging – whether they’re trying to be a premium carrier (thanks to investments in international business class hard product, lounges, and the ConciergeKey program) or an ultra low cost carrier (given the seating in their new domestic product, even the poor first class seats). And that carries through to the service they provide.

  • The effort could be clarifying for the whole company – who are they, whom do they service, what are they trying to accomplish, and how?

  • Or it could be just a new slogan and ad campaign, like the 2016 ‘greatest flyers’ campaign that basically said their customers put up with the misery of flying.

Mission and purpose get set at the top. Surveys can help understand how others perceive you, and what reputational assets a company has. My hope was that the project could become a clear statement about who the carrier is.

  • Clarify what investments the airline should be making
  • Help employees focus on goals that align with those of the business
  • Serve as a tool to beat back bad decisions that are inconsistent with the vision

My fear is it would be just an ad campaign. We don’t actually know yet, and the campaign isn’t launching by end of year as Stache had hoped. However it’s still underway.

In fact the airline has been recruiting employees to appear in their new marketing. Today is the final planned team member casting call at Washington National. Employees are being recruited to tell the airline’s story across ads, social media, and other multimedia. It’s a story the rest of us are excited to learn.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Without a true strategy at the top there is little they can do, other than an ad campaign. I fail to see how you’re excited to see what they come up with when it’s clear it will be the same thing they’ve done in the recent past.

  2. I can’t wait for them to sloganize ‘we copy delta whenever they do something dumb but not when they make improvements’. whoever makes that copy him is the one that should get a raise.

  3. Any reason you always mention the mission statement when putting down AA? I’ve worked at many companies and the ones without mission statements have always been most successful. The one that was bought by private equity was the one that went from being worth billions to bankruptcy in 3 years. What did private equity add? Mission statement and job titles to 2000 people. There is either a good culture or not, mission statements seem more like consultant speak.

  4. @Bri – i am not putting down AA. employees seem genuinely unclear about the product they’re supposed to be delivering. indeed, whether it’s ops or inflight, no one seems to know who their customer is.

  5. You must notice that all US carriers provide a product which is inferior to what many Europeans and Asians achieve. So part of the problem has to be the US business culture, government policies, court decisions, etc.

    The airline’s ecosystem is divided in mutually quarreling groups. The customers, whose money is supporting the whole enterprise, do not even have a seat at the table. Just about employee—the receptionist, the accountant, the janitor—thinks of themselves as a “security official” and treats customers that way.

    Coming to American specifically, the business culture and legal processes basically allowed a decidedly third rate airline (Allegheny) to take over a potentially first rate one (old American). The new company just doesn’t like to compete with anyone in any area—whenever they meet any competition, they basically fold from that country / airport / kind of service. Their favorite way to get people to pay more money is to threaten them with torture if they paid less.

    What can we expect? Why would we even care about any statement which begins by assuming that customers are fools and knowing that the few exceptions to that are helpless?

  6. I find it funny that so many of you think AA copies DL so much. AA has a different strategy (good or bad) then DL or UA. If AA did copy DL, slow wifi , seat back IFE and the absolute worse boarding process in the industry would be their direction, which is not the case. Instead, AA is adding more first class seats, more MCE seating then DL Plus, was first to add premium economy wide body wide (DL and UA are following AA here) and put hi-speed WIFI (and don’t give me the 5 planes without it, if not for the MAX they would have been long gone) on their domestic fleet. Also, AA’s NYC to LAX Transco service is still the best.

    Also, like it or not, the cabins are being standardized, crews are being retrained and the fleet is way more modern than either DL or UA’s hodgepodge of planes. AA Tech Ops and catering needs work, but AA doesn’t follow DL, like it or not, they have their own brand and keeping to it.

    BTW. . .AA will announce free WIFI in 2020 before DL does, my prediction for 2020.

  7. I get frustrated with AA, with whom I travel most frequently; but a couple of recent flights on UA , out of Newark, convinced me it could be worse. Bad airport, bad boarding, poor information about delays (going and coming), and rude desk agents (when they were even there).

    If the airlines would simply decide their mission is to provide pleasant, on-time travel, with a few amenities like Wi-Fi, AND most importantly to me eliminate the ridiculous and change fee structure, I’d be happy.

    I can’t think of any other product which, if you have to return and exchange it, you get charged $200, plus a new, higher price. I always feel dirty after going through one of those transactions.

  8. Their brand purpose is to screw over customers at every opportunity. At that, they’re not just “going for greAAt” they actually succeed

  9. Observation from a lifetime Platinum who hadn’t flown AA much at all in approximately 10 years:
    I moved to SF in 2008 and after the drastic AA flight eliminations @ SFO I switched to UA for as long as I could stand it. Our corp travel manager suggested I try VX and I loved it. Stuck with them until the end and AS after the merger, but I recently moved down to PSP and found AA’s flights the most convenient for where I need to go.

    I’ve made four monthly business trips so far. The first two were fine, but I noticed that the last two felt like I was on a different airline. Everything went perfectly and every interaction I had with AA staff was great (even made me smile a few times). They were genuinely focused on the customers and the service and acted like they were happy to be there. Of course, I might have just been lucky, but it was very noticeable. I haven’t been keeping up with all things AA, but I wonder if they have done some thing(s) lately that might have impacted the crews in such a positive way…maybe in preparation for the this initiative?

  10. Corporate mission statements are just fluff. Corporate culture is what AA needs to improve. That culture or lack of, comes from senior management! Until there is a leadership change at AA, nothing will improve. What everyone describes here as satisfactory service comes from individuals taking ownership of their jobs and doing the right thing for customers. But it doesn’t come from the top!

    So some sr vp spouting about purpose and a mission statement is just useless babble!

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