Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
Most customers will never get to meet the people behind the brand.
Yes, they can occasionally take a look at Tim Cook on video and make a favorable conclusion about Apple.
They can also take a look at Elon Musk through a puff of smoke and think: "Man, that looks like a really crazy place to work."
But when it comes to airlines, most people would surely think they're run by dull men who adore money.
I fear they wouldn't be entirely wrong.
Still, sometimes it's instructive to hear those dull men talk, if only to see how much they reflect one's own impression of the brand.
Last week, two airline executives spoke at the Cowen and Company Global Transportation Conference.
One, Paul Jacobson, is the EVP and CFO of Delta Air Lines. The other is Robert Isom, President of American Airlines.
I spent some time poring over the way they presented their airlines. I like to look at the words they use and whether those words reflect their general approach to the airline business.
I've written elsewhere about how Jacobson describes the Delta culture and how the airline focused itself on making customers feel positive about the brand experience.
This caused the airline's customers to feel good about recommending it to others. Which, oddly, allowed Delta to charge more and make far more money than many of its competitors.
Within the first few sentences in this presentation, Jacobson spoke about the airline's culture and how it contributes to the airline's financial performance.
When passengers are happy because they receive good customer service, they'll pay more and recommend the airline to others.
Isom's tone was different. Very different. His theme was investment.
American, he said, is investing "in people, in facilities, in product and especially in fleet."
Ah, so fleet is more important than people? I fear one or two American Airlines customers might shiver at that notion.
And here's how he described American's aim: "A more efficient, reliable airline."
The heart lifts, doesn't it?
Of course I understand that he was talking to financial types, but they're human too, on occasion.
And what's remarkable is that Isom, unlike Jacobson, had nothing to say about how his airline's culture could make humans feel better and therefore spend more.
He thanked his staff, but didn't suggest that the airline had a strategy at the emotional level.
Instead, Isom crowed about American aiming to have the youngest fleet of the major airlines.
This tends toward the sexy. But that fleet will have more seats stuffed inside each plane, bathrooms only slightly wider than your average fashion model and less legroom not only for Economy Class passengers, but for First Class too.
Will they be happier because they're in a new plane? Or will they be more miserable because they're more uncomfortable?
Isom's whole presentation was crystallized when he admitted that the airline had tried to make its Sub-Cattle Class - Basic Economy to you -- even more painful.
Unlike Delta, American forbade passengers buying its (allegedly) cheapest fares with nasty restrictions from bringing with them a carry-on that could only fit in the overhead bin.
Here's Isom's explanation of why it failed:
The assumptions were that we would be competitive and that ultimately we'll be able to roll it out throughout our network. What we found now is that for competitive reasons and really it's others that are offering the same, they were able to establish an advantage that made us less -- we didn't roll it out as far as we had hoped.
Somehow, American thought it would be competitive by offering the customer less convenience and even more pain?
You mean customers didn't leap at the (allegedly) cheaper price and adore it? Oh, here's where Isom was, as are so many of American's senior executives, blessedly honest:
The premise of basic economy wasn't a price cut, it was really an upsell and establishing a new amenity and content level for the lowest price that we had in position.
A really awful amenity and content level, that is. (And it didn't work. American is now allowing carry-ons with Basic Economy.)
Isom's logic is quite startling. American tried to offer something so awful that people would pay more to avoid it -- but stay with American. Instead, as he confessed:
If you take a look at what's going on the industry today, there's ways that consumers can discriminate based on product. So go to Google Flights today, and a customer can put in a desired request to have a carry-on bag and that is something that, quite frankly, it's meaningful and we saw that there was book away.
American thought that by being entertainingly mean, it could strongarm customers to pay more.
Instead, customers used technology to see they had an actual choice.
Not that Delta is always so alluring when it comes to Google Flights. It's being accused of passing off its Comfort+ seats -- barely better than ordinary Economy Class -- as Premium Economy.
A basic element of customer service is, though -- as Jacobson put it -- to generate loyalty.
American, sadly, seems a little too happy to put lucre first.
But the lucre comes from the loyalty, silly.