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Jim Joseph Headshot

Branding Lessons from Asiana Airlines

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Until this past Sunday, July 7th, like most people I had never heard of Asiana Airlines, despite having flown to that part of the world several times. But when I saw the first tweet about the plane crash in San Francisco, that became my first interaction with Asiana Airlines from South Korea.

From a business perspective, a plane crash is a pretty hard event to overcome, particularly when people have lost their lives. While not the first thing I thought of, it did cross my mind that this might be the first and last time I ever hear of Asian Airlines.

But the truth also is that a brand lives by both what it offers as well as how it behaves. Most airline brands offer pretty much the same list of attributes. The differences lie, however, in how each of them behaves. I would maintain that little-known Asiana Airlines has behaved like a pro amidst what we all know to be a devastating crisis.

The company is following the golden rule of both branding and crisis management: be completely transparent. The officials jumped ahead of the story and have communicated every thing they know, just as they know it, right from the very beginning. There doesn't appear to be any form of a cover up or scramble at all, just honest and open communication. Even at times that could be detrimental like admitting that the pilot only had 43 hours of flight experience on that particular type of plane and have never flown it to San Francisco. Now that's being honest.

Their spokeswoman, Lee Hyomin has made quick and concise statements at every turn, and has offered their CEO Yoon Young-Doo for open interviews. He is even leaving for San Francisco today to be on site and available. There's no hiding from the story here. In fact, they've gotten ahead of the story, which is the second golden rule.

While I'm not an expert in crisis management, I do understand branding and consumer behavior. Consumers rally around brands that do right by them, particularly in the bad times. It's what builds character, both in people and in brands. I would say by the looks of Asiana Airlines' behavior, they've got a lot of character. Have to give them credit for that, despite the tragedy.

Contrast this with other brands (we can all recall) who during a crisis have avoided public statements, are slow to respond, and then seem to communicate in circles ... leaving consumers thinking that there must be more to the story. It then takes on a life of its own, opening up speculation, which is often far worse than the truth. Consumers have no choice but to question the brand for quite some time, making it nearly impossible for a quick rebound.

I would guess, despite this incident, that Asiana Airlines would rebound quite easily. Not because we will forget the crash, but because we will remember their rapid and very human response.