Delta’s Communications Disservices Brand Equity

As any journalist would, I should make my conflict of interest clear before you read on: I’m an absolute Delta Air Lines fanboy. I’m a Delta Million Miler and Diamond for about seven years running. When Delta is in the headlines, my community comes to me for comment.

Last week was no different when Delta announced the forthcoming changes its bringing to the SkyMiles program. But what is most concerning isn’t that Delta made these changes, it’s the way it fumbled the roll-out.

The dust has settled and here are a few takeaways on what marketers can learn from communicating tough business decisions.

Empathy should not be a disappearing act

In 2020, Delta chief marketing and communications officer Tim Mapes issued the following statement at the ANA Masters of Marketing Conference: “[Delta] is a brand that very much believes in empathy. It believes in humanity. It believes in connecting with people on an emotional basis…”

A noble aspiration. But that empathy, that humanity, was missing when Delta delivered the news that the program would be overhauled. A tangible outcome of Delta’s program changes would be the effective end of elite status for a plethora of loyal Medallions. Knowing that, it was shocking to see the lack of consideration for the way these loyalists would receive this information.

By the simplest definition, empathy means understanding and sharing the feelings of others. The brand held no space for those who would be on the receiving end of this news. Instead, it treated the announcement as a victory for all Delta passengers. But a more empathetic approach would have been as simple as saying, “We know these changes might not be what everyone wants to hear, but in order to keep delivering the premium product and reliable experience you have come to expect from us, we have to make some adjustments.”

Nobody likes radio silence

Sept. 13: Program changes leak across the travel blogosphere.
Sept. 14: Delta issues its official announcement to SkyMiles members.
Sept. 15: Crickets.

When people receive bad news, they have questions. When a doctor tells you that you might need surgery, she doesn’t just leave the room—she stays to answer your questions. When you find out you’re being laid off, the representative across the table from you is there to answer questions (even if you don’t like those answers) and hold space for your responses.

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