Everything you do is marketing…just ask United Airlines

What is marketing in 2017? Is it the advertising bought by your company? Your witty social media content (at least…you think it’s witty)? Perhaps your sponsorship package for a local sports team or non profit event? Well, yes…but that’s not near as effective, or counterproductive as how quickly well trained, or poorly trained employees, can impact your brand.

Every single thing that your company does is marketing. Every single interaction with your employees impacts the positive or negative image that consumers have with your brand. And sadly, often times your employees can do more to hurt your brand in a single instant than years of positive marketing and branding efforts.

The latest student of marketing in 2017? United Airlines.

Sunday, on a flight from Chicago to Louisville, a passenger was forcibly removed from a plane that he had already boarded, due to “overbooking” of the flight. However, that’s not the full story, as the flight was not overbooked for passengers, it was simply completely booked with ticketed passengers. United didn’t “overbook” the flight, they just failed to reserve space for four crew members to make it to Louisville in time for a flight they were scheduled to operate.

When the passenger was dragged through the aisle, which was recorded by multiple angles from fellow passengers’ mobile phones, it set off a firestorm instantaneously as the videos and photos were posted on social media.

#UnitedSucks was trending on Twitter. Memes were created and shared to millions upon millions of Americans, including a few of my personal favorites:

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Clever…

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REALLY clever…

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But…this one take the cake.

And while the company took a beating online in the United States, the backlash in China, which United claims to fly the most flights to and from the United States, was even worse, as claims of discrimination began to be the lead overseas.

The battle between a company’s legal counsel in a case like this, which is looking to limit any financial liability, and a company’s public relations advisors, who are looking to protect the brand’s image, typically becomes extremely heated during the damage control decision making. However, it appears that ultimately, legal counsel won out in this case, judging from the painfully bad response from the company’s CEO, Oscar Munoz, on Monday.

“I also emphatially stand behind all of you (United employees), and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right,” Munoz wrote.

Is this guy serious?

United is obviously concerned about admitting any fault and being held liable in a court of law, but you have to believe that the amount of a settlement or lawsuit would likely have been minuscule compared to the company’s loss in market value in less than 24 hours. As United’s stock plummeted following the viral PR nightmare, the company’s market value fell nearly $1 Billion halfway through the day on Tuesday, and was still in a free fall early Monday afternoon.

The lesson for United, and you as a business owner? Just because you’re correct, doesn’t mean it’s right…and being correct, but wrong, can cost you big bucks.

While this example is on an international scale, with a major American company, your business can suffer a similar fate without proper training to avoid these situations altogether, and public relations expertise when negative experiences with your business DO surface on social media.

Is your business ready to handle this kind of publicity?