Delta Air Lines: The “Least Respected Brand”?

One tour of the Operations Control Center at the world headquarters of Delta Air Lines might convince you that Delta Air Lines does not deserve the designation of “least-respected brand.” Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

A discussion posted on FlyerTalk suggests that Delta Air Lines is the least-respected brand in the United States.
I found that somewhat difficult to believe, so I did a little research.
First, a report was published by a company named CoreBrand, which reviewed the top 100 companies considered to be the most well-known from the greater than 1,000 companies which they track. This is the brand respect report of 2012, which is available in .pdf format — although you might have to subscribe to obtain a copy of the report, which is free of charge.
Second — of the 1,025 companies tracked by CoreBrand in 2012 — Delta Air Lines ranked 215, which is hardly the “worst” company. Sure, Delta Air Lines slipped from a rank of 181 in 2011 — but that is not exactly a precipitous drop…
…which leads to third: CoreBrand itself states that “quite a few of the less respected companies are on the rise (such as Delta and Best Buy) showing that branding efforts are starting to pay off.”
More specifically, this is what CoreBrand states in their report on brand respect for 2012 pertaining to Delta Air Lines:

“Delta came in as having the lowest Favorability score of all 100 brands we closely examined. However, both Best Buy and Delta both seem to working at closing the gap between Familiarity and Favorability after clear brand crises (when Familiarity rises while Favorability falls – typically due to negative press). The progress has been slow, but they are showing some results from their rebranding efforts and have been gaining traction. Familiarity and Favorability are rising for both companies. There is still quite some ground to cover before they will move out of the bottom positions on this list.”

The methodology of BrandPower by CoreBrand is a measure of the following two factors which are combined into a single BrandPower score:
This chart illustrates the significant gap between Familiarity and Favorability of Delta Air Lines. This gap was the largest of all 100 companies reviewed by CoreBrand, which supposedly suggests that Delta Air Lines is the least-respected brand. This chart is courtesy of CoreBrand. Click on the chart to access the official Internet web site of CoreBrand.

Familiarity, or Size
A weighted percentage of survey respondents who are familiar with the brand being evaluated. Familiarity is rated on a five point scale, respondents are considered to be familiar with a brand if they state that they know more than the company name only.

Favorability, or Quality
Those familiar with a corporation are then asked favorability dimensions, overall reputation, perception of management, and investment potential. Favorability attributes are evaluated on a 4-point scale.

Although I have experience with branding, I am not certain what all of that specifically means — and with all due respect to CoreBrand, I am not sure I even care.
A quick perusal of the airline forums on FlyerTalk generally suggests that “the grass tends to be greener” elsewhere. Sure, some FlyerTalk members have threatened to never step foot on an airplane operated by Delta Air Lines ever again. Other FlyerTalk members have also threatened to never step foot on an airplane operated by United Airlines ever again. The same ultimatums have been posted about Air Canada, American Airlines, Air France — and many of the other airlines — on FlyerTalk. So what? I have read those ultimatums year after year after year on FlyerTalk. There are only so many commercial airlines to which one can run.
Furthermore, respect for a company can be fragmented. While there has been some sharp criticism — and perhaps deservedly so — pertaining to the SkyMiles frequent flier loyalty program and the Delta Sky Club concept in general in recent months due to what are perceived to be devaluations to those two entities of Delta Air Lines, one factor which seems to garner consistent praise on FlyerTalk is the service from the front-line employees such as flight attendants, reservations agents and those employees of Delta Air Lines who interact with customers via social media channels…
…and with that last point, I must concur. While I have generally not had bad experiences as a customer with other commercial airlines, the service by the front-line employees at Delta Air Lines in general has mostly been favorable to me — and that certainly does not qualify it to be the “least-respected brand”, in my opinion. I can think of many other brands off the top of my head which are less deserving of my respect than Delta Air Lines.
What do you think? Does Delta Air Lines really deserve to be considered the “least-respected brand”?

  1. It would seem to me that anyone who thinks that Delta is the least-respected airline brand in the United States has completely forgotten that Sprit is out there. (Or else they conveniently only considered “major” airlines, but some definition of “major” that included Delta but did not include Spirit.)

  2. Considering that there are only 1,025 companies in the survey, many smaller airlines are left out because they are not broadly known nationally. The 1,025 companies are probably all “household name” retail businesses or services. There are a lot of people that are not familiar with Spirit, Virgin America, or even Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines in part of the country.

  3. Among FFs, I don’t think that Delta is necessarily less respected as a brand. As you mention, UA elites have gripes with UA staff and treatment, and the same is true with Delta.
    The bigger issue I would pinpoint is that Delta has in recent months shown time and time again that it is willing to cut benefits to elites without notice and expect no change in loyalty. The MQD switch, SDC changes, and partner award chart gutting (I consider the increase in redemption amounts for business more minor), while continuing to make it extremely difficult to book Skymiles awards at reasonable rates. If these practices continue, I believe they really will see a shift in their customer base.

    1. While I generally agree with you, m8ttk, some may argue that that shift to which you refer will really only be amongst frequent fliers, which comprise of only a small portion of the overall customer base.

  4. Yeah, I used to be one of giving ultimatums every year since Delta bought NWA. I had enough finally. No dinero for Delta as of 1/1/13. Free agent. And I am very content. Just dropped off wife and daughter to fly to Paris on Lufthansa Business Class. Yeah, up yours Delta:-)
    My main beef is the Skypesos program, what else?

  5. One problem with this study is many of the practices that airlines get away with would sink any other business. Charging more for a one way ticket than a round trip ticket, complex and variable pricing on an item where every person on a plane could have paid a different price for their ticket. It is also an industry that has created such difficult to understand rules in order to squeeze every last buck out of its customers. Combine this with the lack of training and broad interpretation of the rules by the front line personnel and you have a nasty combination. It is odd that the public accepts involuntary overbooking on airlines, but would not put up with finding out that they had lost their seat to a sporting event because they had not arrived 10 minutes prior to the start of the game.
    Airlines, with their regional jet partners do not offer a standard product to all of its customers. If you live in a larger city and only fly to other larger cities your impression of Delta will be much different than someone who lives or travels to smaller markets. One person thinks a CRJ-200 is the plane Delta always flies, while someone in NYC is used to full sized jets and probably has a higher opinion of the airline.
    There are countless business that can offer a standard product nationwide, restaurants, hotels, rental cars, even grocery stores. Airlines, not so much and this is the problem. When you alienate your biggest customers in changes in the program then you have even bigger problems. When the program you put into place to foster loyalty creates animosity than you really have problems.
    Even though deregulation has been with us for a lot of years, I think there are many airline executives that would be a lot happier with a fully regulated environment. Perhaps the plan was a hope that at the end of all the mergers we would end up with maybe three or four major carriers where the airlines could operate more like the cellular phone carriers, much like in the era of regulation.

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