February 6, 2018

Are You Listening To Your Customers?

Tuesdays With Coleman

“Our way or the highway”.

“Because we’ve always done it that way”.

“We know what we’re doing”.

When one company takes over another, they often bring their own ideas, processes and people.

When Alaska Airlines bought Virgin America in 2016, and subsequently announced they would get rid of the Virgin America brand, I thought it was a terrible move.

On one hand (and a decent argument for the acquisition), Alaska and Virgin America both have solid reputations as customer-focused airlines.

In the annual Airlines Quality Rating report released last year, Virgin America was ranked the third best U.S. airline. Alaska came in #1 overall.

Airline Quality Report (AQR) rankings

On the other hand, there are some potential brand synergy issues.

Alaska is an old airline –founded in 1932. Virgin America is new school, having begun operations in 2007.

Alaska Airlines was generally not known outside of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest until they started expanding in the 2000s. Virgin America flew to both coasts from the outset.

Virgin America seems like a more logical national brand than Alaska. Where is Alaska, exactly?

In October 2017, Virgin founder Richard Branson let loose on the acquisition, saying Alaska Airlines “castrated” Virgin America.


While Alaska Airlines customers clearly like the company, Virgin America customers often evangelize about it on sites like Trip Advisor and Yelp.

Some of the things they love:

  • The leather seats
  • The ability to order (some pretty tasty) food and drinks from your seat
  • Free TV and movies at every seat
  • That purple mood lighting

Last month, we learned some surprising things about the “new” Alaska Airlines.

They’re installing blue mood lighting in all their planes, as well as music that celebrates its west coast roots (how very hipster).

They’re putting in high-speed Wi-Fi, new seats and carpeting, and you’ll get the free shows and movies. The crew gets new uniforms and they’ll open a new hi-tech lounge in the Seattle airport.

Sounds like Alaska Airlines is becoming a lot like Virgin America.

It would have been very easy for Alaska Airlines to force Virgin to adopt their way of doing business. After all, they’ve been doing it successfully. But by listening to Virgin’s customers and employees, they found ways to adopt what was great about Virgin America to make their product better.

Time will tell if getting rid of the Virgin America brand was the right decision. However, this is an example of why soliciting feedback and staying on the pulse of your current (and potential) customers is so crucial. That includes your employees (your internal customers). Understanding strengths and weaknesses of where you stand in the market can help you make informed strategic decisions to constantly improve your brand. At Coleman Insights, we provide deep research analysis for media clients to help them make those decisions.

Whether you run a radio station, airline or any business, never forget to do one important thing.



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