Boeing’s B2B Brand is Maxed


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Why the Global Aerospace Co. and Manufacturer of the 737 MAX
Must Think More Like a Consumer Brand

Photo Credit: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

You don’t need to be a frequent flyer to know Boeing is in trouble. In the last six months, not one, but two new Boeing 737 MAX jets have crashed killing 346 people. Although nothing is final on the exact causes, initial reports seem to indicate similarities in both cases with an anti-stall safety feature – the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). Boeing is hard at work to fix the software on the MCAS to ensure that the 737 MAX is airworthy, and recently Boeing CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, personally took a test flight.

The two 737 MAX crashes are like nothing seen in modern aviation. You would have to go back 40-50 years to see anything remotely close to this, if ever. Making matters worse is the same technology that helps an aircraft fly, also empowers modern consumers with a smartphone to share their displeasure.

This begs the question – Once the software on the 737 MAX is fixed – How does Boeing convince the public that the plane is actually safe? Can they ever overcome this brand challenge?

Historically, other than a few aviation enthusiasts, no one really paid much attention to what type of aircraft they were flying except to maybe view seat configuration on an upcoming trip. But with daily news headlines on not one, but two 737 MAX crashes, there’s been a seismic shift in consumer awareness of the type of aircraft they’re flying. And, this isn’t just impacting Boeing.

Airlines around the world with the 737 Max in its fleet are now on the front lines of communication with passengers. One only needs to scroll through social media to see concerned passengers tweeting at Southwest Airlines over aircraft confusion or see American Airlines’ cancellation woes mount.

This shift may impact the industry forever. Previously, Boeing, a B2B manufacturer, went largely unnoticed, but now the brand has come to the forefront of consumers minds. That alone requires Boeing to shift in big ways. They have to behave more like a consumer brand than a B2B manufacturer or aerospace brand.

In the past, Boeing built its brand from the inside out relying on company-wide research with employees and the executive leadership team, but they missed an important part – the end customer.

Just recently, Boeing brought together about 200 pilots, technical leaders, and government leaders to demonstrate the proposed 737 MAX MCAS software update, but again, didn’t include flying customers.

Boeing continues to direct followers on social media to learn more about updates with the 737 MAX on a corporate communications page that is so confusing for customers, it includes a definition section.

If Boeing continues to exclude the flying customer, one must wonder how the company can convince that same customer the 737 MAX is safe to fly in the future? According to a recent poll conducted by Business Insider, 53% of American Adults say they don’t want to fly on a 737 MAX. This is a big problem as nearly 5,000 of these aircraft have been ordered and several airlines were planning on the 737 MAX to expand or update their fleet.

While it is understandable that Boeing needs to be prudent in determining exactly what caused the two crashes and how they are fixing any problems – the company needs to communicate in a way that the flying customer will understand.

This shift from a business-to-business brand to a consumer-centric brand won’t be easy, but it has become a necessity for the iconic American company. For guidance, Boeing can look to other complex industries which are experiencing a rise in consumerism, like healthcare. However, if Boeing continues to think, behave, and communicate like a B2B brand, that may not fly with today’s consumer.

Brian Walker, CEO
Brian Walker is the Chief Executive Officer of AE Marketing Group and host of the award-winning Brand Lab Series™ Podcast with today’s most innovative brands, including Bosch, Deloitte, IBM, RXBAR®, Accenture, and P&G.Recognized by Inc., Forbes, Branding Magazine, Ad Age, The American Marketing Association. Modern Healthcare, and more, Brian helps executives build brands beyond traditional advertising to improve customer experience, product development, and revenue.


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