Why it is essential to know your brand's business

By Tom Dougherty

Three warning signs of confusing the business of your business with the brand’s business.

And why it is essential to know your brand’s business.

what is the brand's businessMy wife and I just returned from a hiking trip in Scotland. We hiked the Rob Roy Way through the Scottish Highlands.

I learned a lot about life on this trip. First, there is nothing to compare with exploring a destination on foot. Secondly, I can easily hike 12 miles daily when a single malt is waiting for me at the trail’s end. Thirdly, most companies and businesses have no idea about their brand’s business.

Airlines are brand-blind

the difference between brand's business and the companyHere is a prime example of brand blindness. They have no idea of their brand’s business. Traveling is not nearly as pleasurable as it was years ago. Flying is not the “everything was better back in the day” sentiment.

This is an easily recognizable change. All I will say is arriving at an airport three hours before departure. Queuing up in long lines at check-in and security and waiting hours for connecting flights is the new normal. It wasn’t always so.

But, you can’t avoid some inconveniences. Security checks are where we all live. We all have gotten used to it.

17 hours of travel

Delays and long layovers belong securely in the laps of the airlines. After cutting back on staff during the lockdown, they are having issues rehiring. To compensate, they have reduced flight schedules. The result for the passenger is longer layovers and fewer options—more about that in a moment.

only the brand's businessOur scheduled flight left Edinburgh at 9:45 AM, so we left our hotel at 6:00 AM. The beginning of a long travel day that clocked in at well over 17 hours door to door.

Aside from the usual inconveniences, we experienced a couple of hiccups. The flight was oversold and crowded. We were about eight rows behind the lavatory, and the never-ending line seemed to snake past our row the entire flight.

On this flight, there were three lavatories serving 78 passengers. And, I’m guessing no one looked backward to find their nearest toilet.

I was so distracted by the winding queue that I began recognizing faces. I swear some were in line 4 times during the ten-and-a-half-hour flight. Some larger folks had to enter the door sideways just to squeeze in.

The lavatory of the future

The thought entered my mind that it must be a fantastic lavatory to generate such popularity. I decided to see for myself.

Brand's business meaningWhen the queue disappeared for a moment, I took the plunge.

I never get motion sickness but entering that lavatory made me wish to vomit. Urine covered the floor and toilet seat. The floor was


sticky, and the holding tank of human waste overflowed.

More like a pit toilet than a modern bathroom.

Thank God I’m a male and did not have to sit in that filth.

The good news from this debased water closet is that I lost my appetite. So I can’t complain about the food the harried and unfriendly flight attendants throw at you.

Process-driven customs

Customs amazes me. Airlines check your bags through to your final destination. But you must reclaim the bags at your arrival airport. Fill out a form on your smartphone and then walk your bags a few hundred yards to place them back onto a luggage belt putting your luggage back in the airline’s care.

At Newark Airport, you no longer pass by custom officials choosing nothing to declare or things to declare. You enter passport control, claim your bags, and recheck the luggage.


This part of reentry has improved and become easier. But the process has not quite caught up to the automation. But, back to my story.

Our bags arrived in Newark, and we rechecked my wife’s two small bags and my one suitcase.

We passed the five-hour layover in the airline club. And United Airlines has done a great job of upgrading its clubs. But, no tremendous single malts. I realized I had returned to the home of bourbon.

Another hiccup in the brand’s business

branding problems

We headed to the baggage claim and my suitcase (with a worthless tag by United that says “priority”). My wife’s bags were both MIA.

The United App said her bags were on a different flight.

We made our way to the lost baggage desk. The gal behind the desk was in training and seemed out of her depth. She said United had not located her bags. She opened a missing bag claim and told my wife to call the toll-free number when we got home to get updates.

Customer Service is every brand’s business

When we got home, we checked the United website with her claim number, which told us no such claim existed.

We called the toll-free customer care number for lost bags. Don’t you hate smartphones? They keep track of how long you’re on hold. Fifty-four minutes later, she spoke to a human being.

Can you imagine the life of the poor customer service rep? Everyone calling is reporting lost luggage. Most are angry before they pick up the phone and dial. And they are on hold for pretty much an hour.

A new lost luggage claim

The beleaguered employee opened a new lost luggage claim and proceeded to search for the bags. The conversation lasted 45 minutes or so.

lost luggage is a fault of the brand's business

He said her bags were in Newark and should arrive on the next flight— due to arrive at midnight. She could drive back to the airport after 8:15 AM and reclaim her bags.

We are not novice travelers, and she had two requests. She demanded they deliver the bags and said the airline owed her some compensation.

She almost got one of her requests.

United credited her $200 towards future flights and told her that (if the bags arrived on the later flight) they could deliver her bags the next day within an eight-hour window.

Consider this. One of my wife’s bags was a designer tote worth more than $200. Plus, she had plans the next day, which waiting around for eight hours would dash. She hung up the phone and drove to the airport the following day, and her bags were indeed there.

Here’s the rub

The airline has no idea about its brand’s business. They believe they are an airline. A transportation company. And that is indeed the business of the business. Not their brand’s business. They never learned the importance of branding in marketing

But their brand— well, that is a customer service business. A promise to the customer that when they fly on that airline, they are smart, cared for, and exploring. Everything the brand does and says should reflect that promise. It’s the brand’s business.

Instead, they are akin to a bus company. They are shuttling people around and serving processes that support their business efficiency.

brand's businessEverything they do is for their benefit. Self-service check-in pretends to make the process simpler. Instead, it saves the airline money. Culling flights create a higher demand for seats and longer layovers.

They invest few resources in customer service. To brand-blind airlines, customer service is a cost, not a means to loyalty and brand stickiness.

An about-turn

No one should have to wait an hour on hold to speak to a brand representative. No one should be forced to call the airline to report missing bags when reported missing at the airport.

the business of the brandNo one should have to use facilities covered in excrement.

Can you imagine how many passengers would purchase a ticket on an airline that put you on hold for an hour when ordering the ticket? Can you imagine how many passengers would choose an airline that asked you to call a toll-free number rather than completing your purchase online?

I think you understand the problem here. There is more to a brand than Rhapsody in Blue. Loyalty does not come because of frequent flyer handcuffs. Customers should choose a carrier because they want to, not because they must. It should reflect the brand’s business.

And consider this: I am an elite member of this airline’s frequent flyer program.

This is not a rant about airlines

Even though it sounds like it is a rant, this reflects a marketing world that does not understand branding. A myopic world where brand managers confuse the business of business with the business of the brand.

It is too easy to fall under the spell of Kool-Aid. Brand stewardship needs to take a contrarian view of marketing. Their job is to represent the customer, not the company.

That responsibility comes with obligations. Determine the brand’s promise (how the customer self-defines when using or buying the brand) and then find ways to turn those promises into profit centers.

Develop the metrics to understand the REAL value of a brand’s promise. It is vital in product sales and essential in services.

brand's business has warnings

The three warning signs


So what are the three warning signs? 1) Failing to recognize your brand’s business is ALWAYS customer service. 2) Brand managers believe they are marketers. 3)Internal processes always place the business needs above the customer’s needs.

See more posts in the following related categories: Airlines Brand meaning Branding Customer Service Customer service issues persuasion rebranding