The crash that helped an airline

February 11, 2010

After US Airways ditched flight 1549 and the 155 people onboard into the Hudson River in January 2009, how is it possible that the airline’s Brand Power turned upward?

Concerns about safety can drag down an airline’s reputation and do serious damage to its brand. Whenever a carrier suffers a plane crash, “disaster” becomes the first thing most people remember about the brand for a pretty long time.

So how is it possible, when US Airways ditched flight 1549 and the 155 people onboard into the Hudson River in January 2009, that the airline’s Brand Power turned upward?

When CoreBrand examined our Brand Power data for US Airways over the two-year period before and after the accident, the numbers we saw were interesting. In 2Q 2009, the US Airways Brand Power score grew from 29.1 to 31.7, a difference of 2.6 points. (Any movement of more then 2.25 points is statistically significant.) The change was driven by an increase in familiarity of 0.9 points and an increase in favorability of 2.9 points. Among the individual favorability attributes, overall reputation grew by 3.0 points, perception of management grew by 3.4 points and investment potential grew by 2.5 points.

Call it the Sully effect.

“Heroic.” “Amazing.” “Masterful.” What company wouldn’t want to have these attributes associated with their brand in the minds of their customers? Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger became a national sensation when his cool-headedness under pressure allowed him to successfully land his stricken airliner on the water with no loss of life. He was given the hero treatment on 60 Minutes, published a memoir and attended the Obama presidential inauguration as a guest of the president. He was ranked second in TIME Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential Heroes and Icons of 2009 and when he returned to a US Airways cockpit in October, it was a media event.

The grace with which Capt. Sullenberger received all the attention and the way he gave credit for the miracle landing and evacuation to the entire flight crew had a knock-on effect on the airline’s reputation. Even though the airline’s Brand Power gave back the gains in subsequent quarters, the incident shows that the way a company reacts in a crisis can say a lot about what their brand really stands for.

CoreBrand maintains the world’s largest continuous brand benchmark & tracking system. Tracking corporate brands since 1990, we have proprietary analytic tools that measure the impact that brand has on business, including the effectiveness of branding campaigns and their impact on financial performance. Brand Power is the compilation of a company’s score for familiarity and favorability (favorability is a measure of overall reputation, perception of management and investment potential) among a senior U.S. business leader audience.

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