I learned to love Continental Airlines although it was hard at times – particularly when I was forced to cab it to LaGuardia to avoid their monopoly pricing on certain routes, but all in all the experience of travelling via Continental airlines has grown comfortable and predictable over the years. Perhaps I have modified my expectations but as any frequent traveller will tell you flying is not at all a glamorous experience. It has probably never been for any who started flying in the early 1990s. I’ve never been much of a United Airlines customer and I wonder how the merger of Continental and United might negatively impact my travel experience.
Gaining trust and ‘comfort’ with a brand represents a complicated dynamic and in their plans for integration, there’s no doubt significant time has been spent on allying all manner of fears their customers will have over the merger. The combined airline will be named United but will use the Continental livery – the color pallet, fonts and the Continental tail fin image. In this effort, which reflects I think their entire approach to the merger, management has taken the worst of all possible alternatives. Firstly, the word “Continental” connotes a far more expressive and international travel image than the word “United”. This is not because I am biased but “Continental” is aspirational, it reflects a big picture view of travel. “United” on the other hand has more to do what they are doing – uniting two transport companies – than to what they are offering customers. I can image the two management teams sitting in a big conference room agreeing to use “United” to make them all feel like a team. Sadly, nothing to do with what the customer may feel about the new airline.
The same is true of the “new” corporate strip. The Continental logo looked old and dated ten years ago. Oddly, while bland, the new United strip that they were in the process of rolling out prior to the merger looked more up to date. But that’s been cast aside in process as has brand strategy.
The combination of the two branding efforts has created a new corporate image which is jarring to anyone familiar with either company. It neither takes the best of each, nor inspires existing customers to expect a new and improved experience from the combination. The merger team has missed an opportunity, in a very basic way, to excite their customers (me) and, I fear this lack of inspiration will color the entire United/Continental merger effort.