Do airlines with local names have a branding problem?
I was just reading "Positioning: the battle for your mind" by Al Ries and marketing über-guru Phillip Kotler and I came across a chapter where it deals with branding and positioning in the airline industry.
This book was written in the mid-eighties, so the examples the authors use might sound a bit dated to the readers of today, but was wondering whether the underlying concept remains valid. Kotler's point is that airlines that have a somehow "restrictive" geographical name, have a positioning problem.
I have seen this point being made in other industries, such as e-commerce, where it is said that names that don't "categorize" you too narrowly might be superior to those that do...think "Amazon" vs. Books.com or CDnow.com.
Kotler mentions Eastern Airlines as an example of an airline with a name problem...and compares them unfavourably to United Airlines and American Airlines.
According to Kotler, despite being, in its time, one of the largest airlines in the US, "Eastern has a regional name that puts it in a different category in the prospect's mind than big nationwide names like United and American (...) the name puts Eastern in the same category as Piedmont, Ozark and Southern"
I remain unconvinced about this argument, since we have seen the difficulties that United and American have gone through and also how Southwest Airlines has been able to build a solid network outside the Southwestern United States.
However, I still think Kotler has a point here...Air Berlin and Norwegian are nowhere the brand recognition levels of Easyjet and Ryanair, despite them having already outgrown their home markets some time ago and having now bases all over Europe.
Actually, I was recently looking for flights to a city where both Air Berlin and Norwegian have a presence but they were actually the latest names that came to my mind when searching, I am wondering how many potential travelers booked their flights without even checking these options, totally unaware of their existence in that market.
Same for China: can you guess where does Hainan Airlines fly to in addition to the island it takes its name from? How many people are aware Hainan Airlines connects Europe to some of China's main hubs? Compare that to the powerful-sounding "Air China". Which one is likely to ressonate more with the customer?
Of course there are flight search engines and other distribution channels, so you don't need to memorize each airline's route network, but I still think brand recall is important and here these airlines that have names that are too local might be at a disadvantage.
What do you think? Do airlines with local names have a branding problem?