In my June 2019 Newsmax column
, I explained that a name is not a brand — because a brand is intangible, an emotional connection between customer and vendor.
“When a name becomes so unredeemably toxic, so hated and reviled, it turns into a permanent liability. Neither Boeing nor 737 MAX has plummeted to that nadir at this point [June 2019]. But, if this saga lingers too long, that could change.”
It has changed. This 737 MAX saga now has lingered too long, and Boeing must jettison its MAX nameplate.
To wit: Steven Udvar-Hazy, chairman of aircraft-leasing firm Air Lease, which has 150 of Boeing’s grounded 737 MAX jets on order, urged Boeing on Monday, January 20, 2020, to drop the “damaged” MAX label to avoid further destroying the plane’s value.
At the current Airline Economics aviation-finance conference, in Dublin, Ireland, Udvar-Hazy shared this news:
“We’ve asked Boeing to get rid of that word MAX. I think that word MAX should go down in the history books as a bad name for an aircraft.”
Once customers publicly hate your product’s name, it’s dead. Bury it.
Because of hubris, branding has not been a priority at Boeing, as I opined in my article last year:
“Had branding been Dennis Muilenburg’s top priority all along — safety, comfort, economy, speed — and ingrained corporatewide, engineers wouldn’t and couldn’t have hidden MCAS’s [MAX’s anti-stall system] flaws. And, today, trained pilots would be flying the 737 MAX, not reading about its possible demise.”
Internal emails and text messages from employees, recently delivered to FAA and congressional investigators, reveal a culture that blatantly disregards human life:
“This airplane is designed by clowns, who are in turn supervised by monkeys,” one Boeing employee wrote in a 2017 instant message exchange apparently bashing fellow colleagues at the company.
“Would you put your family on a Max simulator trained aircraft? I wouldn’t,” another employee asked a coworker in a 2018 conversation before the first crash. “No,” the person responded.
“I still haven’t been forgiven by God for the covering up I did last year,” one employee wrote in 2018, referencing interactions with the FAA.
Culture emanates from the C-suite. A branding-oriented company puts customers first. A revenue-oriented company like Boeing does not.
Boeing has suffered multiple financial losses. Two highlights:
- Its stock has dropped from $440.62 on March 1, 2019, to $306 on January 21, 2020 (after regulators said they couldn’t approve the plane until July 2020)
- In July 2019, it recorded its largest quarterly loss ($2.9B) in its history.
Consequently, Boeing’s board fired CEO Dennis Muilenburg, in December 2019, and replaced him with Dave Calhoun, who was serving as the company’s board chairman.
For his colossal failure in management, Dennis Muilenburg left Boeing, where he had worked his whole career, with a $62M parting gift.
Now, America’s largest aircraft manufacturer is seeking to borrow around $10B to compensate for its lost revenues.
There is a cost to snickering at branding, and Boeing is paying an inordinate one. Mr. Calhoun, as the leader of the shovel brigade, has his hands full.
But, America is also paying an inordinate cost, and this is unfair to us.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin predicts that the Boeing debacle, because of how it affects the whole airline industry, could knock a half-percent off our GDP.
Remember what former CEO Muilenburg said about branding, as I quoted in my previous article:
“I don’t see a need to change the name of the airplane. To me, this is not a marketing or branding exercise. I know that’s important — certainly it impacts the public view — but the most important thing is safety.”
Shame on Mr. Muilenburg. Safety is a huge component of the brand, especially when lives are literally at stake, because it affects the emotional connection customers have with the vendor.
Now, because of the cumulative effect of Dennis Muilenburg’s mismanagement, there is a need to change the name of the airplane.
Bottom line: How much are you costing your shareholders by giving short shrift to branding?
Marc Rudov is a branding advisor to CEOs, speaker, media commentator, and author of "Brand Is Destiny: The Ultimate Bottom Line" and "Be Unique or Be Ignored: The CEO’s Guide to Branding." Find him at MarcRudov.com. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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