WestJet and the High Cost of Ownership

[Cache #191]

By Andris Pone
President, Coin Branding

It is the Holy Grail of brand positioning:  for your target audience to instantly, unanimously associate you with one or perhaps two positive words.

Exceedingly few brands – whether organization, product, service or personal – will ever drink from the cup.  Subway is one, for owning fresh or healthy.  Head and Shoulders is another, for owning dandruff.  Volvo is slipping, for while many people still say safety, a growing number say boxy, or simply point out that the brand has been struggling financially and in terms of market share.  Similarly Maytag, for owning reliable or dependable, a position so strong as to endure product quality that has been diminishing for a decade, and that consumers are highly aware of.

Time is running out for these latter two brands to correct their course.  Another – WestJet – has such commanding ownership of caring or owners that it has plenty of time, probably, to nip in the bud the kind of complacency witnessed this week on one of their flights.

Over the long haul, it is normal and expected that some employees, no matter whom they work for and even if they own a piece of the company, will lose sight of their brand and do something that clearly conflicts with it.  The WestJet brand is based on the idea that employees care because they are owners.  Surely there is no more crucial function of caring than ensuring passengers are safe.  The airlines have told us forever that the safety instructions delivered prior to taking flight are essential listening and even reading, although it has to be admitted that hardly anyone pays attention.

But what if you are a nervous flyer, or a senior citizen, or actually want to be reminded to look behind you for an exit?  Or one of the many people with hearing issues, who would find reassurance in the fact that WestJet cared enough to actually articulate the verbal safety instructions in a manner you could actually hear and understand?

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

This week, on at least one flight, you would have been out of luck, because the flight attendant had obviously recited the safety instructions a thousand times, and could therefore do them in her sleep, and did in fact blur through them in a slur that made a presentation of two minutes sound like a single, continuous, only partially comprehensible word.

I can’t recall if Air Canada or Porter do the same on their flights, but they definitely do so in the terminal.  Safety is not implicated in those situations, but it still speaks clearly to a lack of caring, which not many people expect from Air Canada and a shrinking cohort expects from Porter, but which absolutely everyone expects from WestJet.

They are just words, one or two of them.  But for those fortunate enough to have earned them, they are a priceless asset, requiring constant care and ownership.

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