There are many levels of branding in terms of change, depending on the situation with a brand (is business slowing, flat, declining or in a death spiral?). Or, there is “new news, innovation or product improvement and last: have your primary competitors de-positioned you with a fresh bold look (making your brand look old) or someone entered your category in a block buster way that disrupted the ENTIRE category and in one fell swoop wrecked every other brand in the category. Not the case here.
That said aviation brand/branding fundamentals are the same regardless: (ALL brands from Coke vs Pepsi, to M&Ms vs Reese’s Pieces, Mercedes vs BMW, United vs Delta & AA)- at the most fundamental levels, they are all BRANDS, all decent brands represent a promise to a consumer: McDonalds will be MaDonalds: whether it’s the one near where you live in New Jersey, or São Paulo or Budapest. At a higher level, a Park Hyatt, or Four Seasons in San Francisco or booking either someplace you’ve never been before will provide you with a promise of a certain level of consistency and comfort, luxury etc in knowing what your getting when you reserve a room in Hanoi (I don’t know if there is a Four Seasons or Park Hyatt in Hanoi) I just wanted to choose a less obvious city. PanAm created the Intercontinental Hotel, because they wanted to be sure in 1971 that if you flew PanAm to Teheran, or Kenya their American passengers would have the guarantee of a a hotel with American cultural
Again: No, I’m not in love with the new United livery, I personally as a Creative Director would have done a few things differently. But even if the one I created was selected- it would be loved, disappoint or be hated. IT IS UNAVOIDABLE.
The REAL and improving United brand is based solely on how the entire 3600 UA experience is changing. Not because of graphical changes. United is doing well now because so much has improved. (Yet still a few years away from reaching its fullest potential)
Polaris and new check-in process and look, new airport experiences, better gates and seating, on the premium level both the new UC & Polaris Lounges and Premium seats are far better, happier and friendly customer service is improving, the renovated ac plus NEW aircraft are beautiful (more steady and positive PR like their stellar equality programs - what they are doing for women and PRIDE month is making headlines as is are all the new exciting routes and more.) Better record in lost luggage etc, etc. Providing consistently across such a large and complex and expensive category as a major airline is NOT easy!
The new livery doesn’t do much more than signal a freshness, a new refreshed United brand. They were not in a death spiral, but were indeed ranked last. That had to change, and finally they are and the new livery says that enough. (Although I’m a bit surprised about PriestmanGoode as 1: they are not really a branding agency in this way, 2 they skew more upscale, so I’d have assumed the livery would’ve been more premium looking.
I will say this: at the very LEAST, United does look very different than all its closest competitors. United, love or hate the livery, in no way does it look similar to another airline. Differentiation is basically a good thing
I am curious, what is your opinion on the brand impact of the gutting of Polaris. It is basically PMUA biz class with a CO sundae cart at this point
I have flown Polaris a lot from the early days of 77W’s doing transcontinental testing to international. Then the 763 and a few 787-10s.
It’s clear that United was overzealous at the start. It was almost TOO MUCH! Then there was a reasonable pull back so there was less fanfare and more peace and quiet. It was supposed to be the sky warrior’s dream, dial down the luxuries and create a better work/sleep space. Then the Polaris Lounges came and knocked everyone’s socks off. They are great: Especially EWR and LAX.
But as a hardcore United Polaris flier, and a branding professional who at heart is a designer, I really do notice every tiny bit that goes away. While nothing BIG has gotten pulled yet- I do fear it. If they decided to save 3 cents per amenity kit by telling the “socks suppler” to remove the rubber printed threads form the foot of the socks, and change the decent UNITED branded pen to a 3 inch, single use disposable pen and remove the old CO comb, and reduce the toothpaste tube so it is barely big enough for Ken and Barbie...it’s tantamount to COGS reduction of probably 50 cents a kit, for a $6000 to $14000 seat, that is an early warning sign. I know folks DO NOT SELECT AN AIRLINE OVER AN AMENITY KIT! Not consciously anyway. The beautiful Priestman Goode Polaris bulkhead branding is now gone.
I would say that fliers paying around $8k to $15k for Polaris might not be able to put their finger on it exactly, but on a subconscious level get the “feeling” of a diluted experience, it will open up mind space for those premium fliers to consider Cathay or Lufthansa or Delta.
This ZZB budgeting (Zero Based Budgeting) that’s a practice that’s migrated from Private Equity to publicly traded companies, causes short term gain thinking. It’s up to Oscar and the Board not to be seduced by the cost cutters. Many CFO’s (not all) don’t understand the power of a brand. It’s amorphous to them, and virtually impossible to place an asset value on a brand.
Let’s face it, the name “UNITED AIRLINES” was seriously tarnished, however the name POLARIS has been growing in value, and helping polish the UNITED brand.
It really cannot be calculated with great accuracy, but ask Fred Smith how much money would it take for him to SELL the name and identity for FedEx?
The name UNITED AIRLINES may actually be worth a lot more today than 8/9 years ago, but if they don’t cave in and save $3 million here and $20 million there by removing premium pax stuff, but INSTEAD add $23 million - the ROI will come. (BTW: I just made up those numbers) But the ROI is often not fast enough for the next Quarterly call.
Time will tell. 10 years from now will UNITED maintain its vision, ethos and innovative, or backslide in cheapo land 2 ply nylon eyeshades, and serve diner food at a tatty looking Polaris Lounge? But give out more miles per trip instead?