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November 2007

Microsoft Tries to Zune Again

After reading David Pogue's article in today's New York Times Microsoft challenges the IPOD again, you just have to scratch your head and say why.  The people at Microsoft just aren't getting it.

No don't get me wrong.  The new Zune is a well made, well designed device (the 3 song listen and destruct clause when you beam a song to another person that has a Zune has to go, but that aside).  It's priced to be at least equal to or competitive with the IPOD with a feature set that is equal to or just above the IPOD.

And that is the problem.  It isn't revolutionary in terms of reinventing the category.  It's another player, from a number 2 or 3 company in the segment, that promises a certain set of features from a company known more for software than hardware.   The iPhone reinvented what a next generation phone should look like.  In fact, it heavily borrowed on thinking that is brought to life in Microsoft's own Surface product where the first line of the promotional video says it all...."There is a new way to live in the digital world."  It's astounding that the Zune didn't go to school on this lesson. 

All I know is that for the holidays' my daughter wanted an IPOD.  Parody doesn't win.  Category Disruption does.

Wendy's Marketing Challeng

Maybe I've been too critical when it comes to the Wendy's advertising campaign where a man appears with a Wendy's wig in an attempt to challenge the burger status quo.  The latest commercial in the campaign features "Wendy" promoting some kind of cholesterol killer hamburger with bacon.  What struck me was that the commercial seemed right at home during today's Giants/Vikings football game.  Guys in wigs, burgers with fat, crushing tackles.  It all seems to go together.

Campaigns often need a chance to grow and develop.  I think the folks at Wendy's are starting to figure it out.

USAir May Care

I used to travel on USAir shuttle from New York to Washington, DC all the time.  I'd pay something like $600 - $800 round trip for the privilege.  Even at those fares, when a flight was canceled due to mechanical problems they would hussle us off the plane without the obvious accommodation of automatically booking us on the next flight (the shuttle leaves every hour so rebooking is obvious).    After this incident I started to avoid US Airways at all cost, even changing planes on Southwest multiple times to avoid the disappointment of USAir.

In the midst of this disappointment I received this email from USAir.  It's smart and sounds like a real person wrote it.  It doesn't attempt to gloss over bad service records or experience.  The email tells it like it is.  This a great example of a customer email.  I appreciate the candor and may just even fly USAir again because of it.  H. Travis Christ is my kind of marketer.


From: US Airways - Dividend Miles [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Thursday, November 15, 2007 3:14 AM
To: Grill, Jeff
Subject: Dividend Miles Update


Please add [email protected] to your personal address book to ensure delivery. Please do not reply to this email.

Welcome to the Dividend Miles Update, formerly known as the Merger Update, where we'll give you the straight story on US Airways and our Dividend Miles program. No corporate double-speak, just quick, inside-baseball facts on issues important to you, our frequent flyers.

We've changed the name because on September 26th we officially handed over the America West operating certificate to the FAA and formally merged into one airline. Yes, there really was a handover ceremony, and for a few weeks we couldn't find the original America West certificate. Turns out it was in use as part of a company heritage display. No certificate, no merger. Wouldn't that have been embarrassing?

Read on for our hot topics – I hope they're helpful to you.

Operational reliability

All airlines, and US Airways in particular, had a rough summer. Late and canceled flights wreaked havoc during peak season and we've poured on the overtime to get the operation back in shape. If you've flown lately, you probably know these efforts are paying off. Here's a quick snapshot of what we've done:

  • Hired an experienced Chief Operating Officer to oversee and implement operational changes.
  • Hired 1,000 new co-workers across the system, particularly in the hubs.
  • Installed 373 new kiosks to date, with nearly 600 targeted for year-end and a total of 782 by April 2008.
  • Spread out flights across the day, which really means we added more time between flights so there's more breathing room to catch up.

Not surprisingly, a late-running operation is the source of almost all other problems that airlines and travelers run into (like lost luggage and bad attitudes) and we know we have to run a reliable airline or risk turning away our best customers (you) who will tolerate nothing less.

Results so far? The official DOT statistics for September won't be out until later this month, but here's a sneak preview. We ran 80% on time, an excellent result, which we think will put us in the top half of carriers. And compared to July's 66%, it's a remarkable improvement. Thanks for your patience as we worked to make that better.

Product enhancements

As promised this past spring, we're beginning to launch our product improvements and I think you'll be pleased with them:

  • On October 1, we introduced an all-new In-flight Café menu with upgraded, fresh sandwiches and salads and replaced the SkyFun Box with a new, improved Snack Box. (If you considered "fun" mixing Nestle Buncha Crunch, chips and salsa and a 12-inch bread stick then you'll be disappointed.) Look for different menu options every two months.
  • Last month, we tested the sale of premium wines by the glass and non-alcoholic beverages in Coach on select flights out of Charlotte and Phoenix. We're running the numbers now to see what you liked best.
  • We're currently overhauling our First Class menus to launch before the end of the year, and we’ll refresh the menus every two months.
  • We'll begin installing new, near lie-flat Envoy seats on the 767 beginning in January.

Also, a $50 million project to renovate the interiors of most of our mainline aircraft has just begun, with the first work already underway. We'll replace many of the worn materials that you see today, in addition to giving all aircraft a common interior look. You'll see a dramatic improvement in overall aircraft appearance and cleanliness. Will it take a while? You bet your assigned seat it will, since it involves nearly 300 aircraft and will take several years to complete.

And that's not all. We have lots of additional product improvements just around the corner, like upgraded Envoy menu selections, improvements in the Clubs and new meals in transatlantic Economy Class.

Pittsburgh schedule reductions

Unfortunately we’ve had to further reduce our Pittsburgh schedule from 108 daily flights to 68. We simply haven't been able to generate enough business traffic in PIT to make it viable at $80/barrel oil ($90?). We'll keep the US Airways Club, our new and permanent Operations Control Center in PIT, and will continue to be the largest full-service airline in town. Of course everyone loves the new Steelers plane, except the Eagles fans. How about a Cowboys plane for our president, Scott Kirby? I don’t think so.

New flight crew

A bit of a milestone: For the first time in many years we’re hiring new pilots for our mainline operation. A momentous occasion after not bringing new crew members aboard for many years.

A little help, here?

You’ve probably read press reports about our antiquated gridlocked air traffic system that makes the LA freeway system look like the Autobahn. If you haven’t done so, please take a moment to help us lobby for a modernized air traffic control system. Believe it or not these emails from you really do matter.


Speaking of modernizing, here’s an article that summarizes where we are on our website redesign, due for completion sometime next summer. Here are some highlights:

  • from your mobile device is up and running, and it’s great for checking your connecting gate and time upon landing.
  • No web on your phone? Send us your flight number via text to TEXTUS (839887) and we'll text your flight and gate information to your phone within seconds.
  • Many domestic United® flights will be available for sale on in November.
  • Additional compatibility fixes are being added for Firefox users.

Now let’s all get back to the quarry

Enough blah, blah, blah, from me, but thank you again for your support of our airline. It's a tough business out here but we enjoy it greatly and a big part of that is meeting and hearing from so many of our most important customers. I hope you're noticing the improvements so far; we're excited about the great work that's well underway.

With warm regards,
Travis Christ
H. Travis Christ
Vice President, Sales and Marketing


A Star Alliance Member
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Going Country

I used to hate country music.  To someone that grew up on Long Island "country" was that music sung by people with funny hats, odd accents and instruments that aren't found in the school marching band.  Of all the radio stations in town the one with the country format was sure to be the one that would be announcing a format change in 6 months.

Recently something changed.  The songs that used to sound odd, now sound mainstream and the artists that dominate "pop" just appear odd.  With Britney Spears antics and the failure of rap to evolve, Top 20 Radio just doesn't seem to make sense.  As for country, it's not the country of 20 years ago.  It seems as if country music and my listening tastes met somewhere in the middle.   Somehow Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift are just more interesting than Courtney Love.  (you have to love Taylor Swift when she accepted her Country Music Association Award with the statement - "This is definitely the highlight of my Sr Year - she's in high school).  While pop looks like it is trying too hard to retain its appeal Country is just getting started.  Anyone watching the Country Music Awards couldn't help but feel the invitation to join the club.

Brands need to adapt to the changing environment.   Contexts continually shift as the customer looks for new best fit compromises to their complex set of needs.  It's what we are trying to do with  The co-creation of  a dynamic brand that reflects that values and needs of our customers.  Now excuse as I'm suddenly hungry for some grits.

NBC killed Green

Every brand, notion and idea has a surrounding subculture.  "Green" is a great example of a cultural movement of individuals that share a passion for the environment.  The sub culture within this culture is as passionate about the topic as are people that hang out in an Apple store.

Now impose your brand into that culture without making a meaningful contribution.  That's what happened to NBC.  They forced their way into the Green culture instead of being invited in.  Their intention might of been pure, but the execution was over the top.  I mean come on, a "Green" episode of the show Las Vegas with some preachy babble about using environmentally sound cleaning products in the hotel.  Not exactly what I come to Las Vegas for.  I wanted to beg them to stop interrupting the show.  What's next, an episode on literacy (it's what killed Knot's Landing for those old enough to remember or more correctly stated when it "jumped the shark").

Instead of invading someone Green culture, NBC should create a culture of its own.  They were off to a great start this year with the introduction of Hulu.

And yes I said I'd only blog weekly, but had to get this one off my mind.  The net effect of the NBC effort is going to be an inability for other advertisers to talk "Green" without the consumer having a negative reaction.  Consumers own green culture.  We as marketers should wait for the invitation.

Thoughts on the Week in Advertising and Marketing

I've been trying to fall into some type of routine for blogging.  Instead of creating individual entries, I thought for this week I'd provide some thoughts I've collected over the past week.

Google - A week doesn't go by without Google announcing new inroads into achieving their goal of creating access to information and seamless integration between consumer/advertiser.

OpenSocial: Social networks continue to be in the news with the battle between MySpace, Beebo, Facebook, People Aggregator and Ning.   The crux of the battle is between social networks that are closed....where all user information is contained within the network..and those that are open like People Aggregator where information is freely shared between platforms.  Google's strategy is to take share from the market leading Facebook by providing a common open platform where other social networks can exchange information.  Since information ultimately is in the hand of the consumer, the thought is that they will be attracted to platforms that allow for the greatest amount of flexibility.  In turn developers will seek those platforms that help enhance the capability of their offerings.

The Google OpenSocial network has unique appeal to business since it has as partners some of the leading business platforms including Linked In, and Oracle.  The New York Times has a good summary written by Miguel Heft and Brad Stone on the announcement.  As a B to B marketing I'm particularly excited about seamless B to B and B to C integration.

Google Mobile: With the announcement of Google Android, the Googlites made a major move to dominate mobile devices in the same way they dominate the PC universe.  The goal of the wireless carriers is to gate their platforms.  If you have Verizon you are limited to what Verizon wants you to access on their phones.  The Google move promises to change this paradigm.   Google will seek to adapt their learning from desktops and PCs to mobile devices.  What's great about the Google approach is that like their desktop services, they are not forcing themselves on the consumer through monopolistic practices.  Since  the online printing platform competes in part with local retailers, the Google platform will give us new opportunities to demonstrate why our centralized web centric model is superior to the distributed model of our competitors.

There is a world of marketing beyond Google.  I don't know about you, but I think good ole fashioned general advertising is on an upswing and is getting creatively better.  I particularly like new television work via Leo Burnett  from McDonald's featuring the young boy eating apple dippers to rap music.  Great spot that reinforces the McDonalds "I'm Lovin It" theme.  I also like new work from McCann Erickson for MasterCard.  "Favorite Things" is not only a great commercial, but beautiful craft. 

I'm trying to like the Wendy's campaign.  They have a great offer in the marketplace, but I can't eat at a place where a man badly dressed as Wendy, but I'll try real hard to get over it.