The Boeing 737 Max crisis continues, with the latest news over the weekend that both American Airlines and Southwest Airlines will be canceling all flights that were to be flown on the troubled aircraft through August.

But this morning, President Trump tweeted that he has an easy fix for Boeing on the whole thing--well, easy to articulate, possibly, but harder to put into practice.

In case that doesn't render correctly, the tweet reads:

What do I know about branding, maybe nothing (but I did become President!), but if I were Boeing, I would FIX the Boeing 737 MAX, add some additional great features, & REBRAND the plane with a new name.
No product has suffered like this one. But again, what the hell do I know?

First, fix the plane

Boeing insists that it has a fix for software that has been linked to two deadly crashes on 737 Max aircraft, and that 50 customers from airlines that have the plane in their fleet have tested it on simulators. But when the airplane could be considered "fixed" and return to duty is far from certain.

Last week, Boeing revealed that orders for the 737 Max have slowed almost to a standstill. 

Ten orders for the plane came through in January and February, which was after the first crash--Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia, which crashed on October 29--but before the second crash--Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, which crashed on March 10 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Everybody on both planes died. 

So Trump's suggestion is very interesting. No matter what you think of the president, and I know from my email inbox that Inc.com readers are both passionate and divided, I hope we can agree that he starts from the assumption that Boeing actually has to find a fix before rebranding.

But then, I think there's something missing from the equation.

Just one small catch

Passengers don't fly on Boeing. They fly on American, United, and Southwest Airlines. (Plus Delta Air Lines and smaller carriers--but Delta doesn't have any 737 Max aircraft.)

As my colleague Chris Matyszczyk reported recently, passengers are freaking out--understandably.

Some Southwest Airlines passengers recently took to social media when they boarded Boeing 737-800s, and found that the safety card was used for both that plane and the 737 Max.

Can you imagine what it will take before passengers would be willing to fly on these again?

Trump is right that there are few if any products that have taken a hit like this. It's right up there with the Fisher-Price Rock 'n Play.

And, of course, rebranding is the American Way sometimes--it's why Phillip Morris rebranded to become Altria (slightly more complicated, but you get the gist), and the security company formerly known as Blackwater is now Academi

But there's one small catch to Trump's off-the-cuff advice, and I wonder if it would prevent Boeing from taking it.

It's that we're not just talking about the 737 Max, or even about Boeing.

Instead, we're talking about the airlines that fly it. And I can't help but think that any whiff of this--flying a "rebranded" plane because passengers no longer have confidence in it--could really hurt their brands as well.

Lift and thrust, faith and trust

We've seen this many times before. Some airlines think they're selling seats on an airplane. But that's not right.

What they're really selling is an experience, and a solution. And the No. 1 core part of that experience involves trust. Passengers have to have trust in the airlines, and the pilots, and everything about the experience.

I call this the "life and thrust, and faith and trust" value proposition.

I admit: If there's one thing Trump understands, it's how to build a brand. But in this case, I think there are only two possible solutions for Boeing:

  • Just scrap the entire 737 Max project and start over. This would be almost catastrophic for the company, however.
  • Or else, fix it to the point that passengers have 100 percent faith in it--and own it all from a branding and marketing perspective.

If I were advising Boeing, I'd make a big show of top executives taking a round-the-world trip on a 737 Max after it's fixed, maybe bringing their families along for the ride.

Maybe I'd even ask my competitors to do an independent analysis of the aircraft's safety. I can see the slogan now: "Boeing 737 Max: the aircraft so safe, even Airbus signed off on it."

It would have to be something big like that to restore faith. That's what I'd advise.

But then again, as Trump says: "What the hell do I know?"

Published on: Apr 15, 2019
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