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October 28, 2005

Song. Gone.

NOTE: updated links (10.29.05)


A few weeks ago I shared some Starbucks Tribal Knowledge. One of the nuggets I shared was how Starbucks never intended to build a brand. Starbucks was too busy building a profitable and viable business to worry about branding. The lesson I learned from working inside Starbucks was you cannot create a brand before you create a business. The business creates a brand. The brand should never create the business.

Hmm … the brand should never create the business … hmm.

That’s exactly what I thought today when I heard the news Delta was shutting down Song Airlines -- Song was all brand and no business.

Song was too busy creating a brand to think about being a business. Song was too busy crafting a brand ethos to think about being a business. Song was too busy prescribing feelings than to think about being a business. Song was too busy designing signature cocktails and installing boutique Song stores in SoHo (NYC) to think about being a business. And because Song was busy working on and working in its brand, they built a brand, of which, the by-product was the creation of a weak business.

Should this really surprise us? Song, after all, was built by marketers so it’s only natural the branding elements would come before the business elements.

I’ll throw this out to you … what will Song’s legacy be?

  • The Persuaders (documentary)| Frontline (PBS) | stream parts 1 & 2 of this way worthy documentary to learn more about how Song was built by marketers.
  • Song’s Start Up Flight Plan (article)| Fast Company (June 2003)
  • Interview with Song’s CMO | Reveries
  • Interrview with Andy Spade | The Persuaders (online extra)
  • Peter Davidson (blog) | shares some Hot Marketing Opinions on Song | 10.28.05
  • Laura Ries (blog) | in typical Ries fashion, Laura has a strong take on Song | 10.28.05
  • Some guy named “Seth” (blog) | “Song wasn't a failure on at least one level ...” | 10.28.05
  • Rob Marsh (blog) | “Great brands start as great businesses.” | 10.28.05

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    » Branding for Permission... And Song. from Brand Story
    Chris Baggott has a new post up today about branding as a way of opening the door for the real work: direct marketing and sales. This isn't anything new, but Chris puts it in a way that should make sense [Read More]

    » Sad Song Says So-Long from David V. Lorenzo
    Delta Airlines announced yesterday that Song – its discount airline – is going away. Delta hopes to incorporate some of the features that people liked (such as on demand video and direct service on popular routes like New York to [Read More]

    » End Of A Song from Much Ado About Marketing
    I didn't plan on writing about the coverage the demise of Song is generating in the blogosphere, but John Moore - writing in his Brand Autopsy Blog - does a great job providing a recap of what Song did wrong and why things ended on a sour note. [Read More]

    » End Of A Song from Much Ado About Marketing
    I didn't plan on writing about the coverage the demise of Song is generating in the blogosphere, but John Moore - writing in his Brand Autopsy Blog - does a great job providing a recap of what Song did wrong and why things ended on a sour note. [Read More]


    You're putting the cart before the horse here. I talked to a bunch of analysts about how Song was doing financially and they all said it was probably the only part of Delta that was actually making money. Delta -- like United, American or any of the other legacy carriers -- has no particular identity and with Song they actually managed to create a brand that stood out in the market place. It gave JetBlue a very good run for its money, too. Proof of this can be seen, I think, in Delta's decision to try and spread the Song brand values across the parent company. I doubt it will work -- a lot of what made Song unique was that it was able to start new and create both brand and organization from scratch. I think the biggest winner in Delta's decision to fold Song will be JetBlue which is already moving to take over Delta's key shuttle routes on the Northeast corridor. For more details see my story about anti-brands at that will be posted sometime next week.

    Constantine ... thanks for adding your POV. Because Delta has never disclosed Song’s financials, we can only speculate as to its ability to generate profits. However, no need to speculate as to Song’s ability to generate branding juju.

    I’m left wondering if Song was a viable business then why wouldn’t Delta sell off the unit to raise much needed cash as it reorganizes under bankruptcy protection? This way Delta could pocket all the learnings from Song and also pocket dollars from selling Song to the highest bidder.

    My take is that if they did that then no one would want what remained. Your opinion, though, is in line with what the analysts I spoke to thought was going to happen.

    Problem is, Delta never issued separate numbers for Song. I believe it was just too expensive for Delta to be managing two almost-separate airlines.

    Why wouldn’t Delta sell off the unit to raise much needed cash as it reorganizes under bankruptcy protection? Well, that would undermine Delta's competitive position.

    Now, to answer your question about Song's legacy:
    One of the things I liked about Song was its "customer commitment" statement posted in its website. Not because of its contents, but because it helps customers to set their expectations regarding Song’s service.
    And when customers have expectations of service that match the offerings of the provider, satisfaction ensues.
    (Yep! It's copy/paste from my blog)


    Something's fishy here. Hard for me to believe that a company would trash a successful 'brand. If it were so successful, they would have dumped the name Delta and rebranded the airline Song.

    Song was mildly successful despite of its egregious branding. Cheap flights are at the moment the wave of the moment - perhaps of the future.

    Douglas Rushkoff's The Persuaders should be required viewing.

    And Rushkoff's to-be-published book, GET BACK IN THE BOX, seems to also be required reading for us meaningful marketing types.

    Song is more of a bad line extention by a poorly-run company than a true brand with a remarkable differentiation. Just bad business more than a branding lesson. Like United's Ted, it was obvious to any customer that they are a department of the parent, using all the parent's services and standards. Song was a name with a logo, not a company, not a brand.

    Also have to disagree about focusing on being a profitable business before being a brand. The two are inseperably linked. Google, Amazon, Ebay, so many others are examples of good, differentiated business models with powerful branding moves coming way before profit. Starbucks may have gotten the brand moves right by accident early on, but they still got them right, and had they not, the business would not likely have been able to scale up to what it is now, no? Having said that, in retail, location is a big part of brand and business model, and as aggressive as Starbucks was about new stores, sometimes I think they could have been called just about anything and had the same success. Sometimes, a better idea, being first, bigger capital reserves and aggressive growth wins out against weak competitors, no matter what. And all could be considered good brand moves.

    Hey Thomas ... how about looking at my "a strong business creates a strong brand" stance this way ...

    Great branding happens when a business does everything else right.

    100% agree with that.

    Cingular was launched when I was working as a graphic designer. I remember not liking their brand, even though they seemed to be doing everything right from an identity perspective. A creative, differentiated logo; high-tech yet approachable design; incorporation of the logo and fonts into EVERYTHING they did; not to mention swamping the adspace to ensure name recognition. They did everything exactly as I would recommend a client, so I couldn’t figure out why their campaigns felt so sterile, annoying and counterproductive.

    Eventually, I realized why. They were selling an identity package, not a communications solution. As a customer, I didn’t know if they offered phone hardware or just cell service. I didn’t know if they were available in my area. I didn’t see anyone using the product. Would they charge me less? Or charge more for better service? A million questions that never allowed me to even consider switching my service.

    A strong brand identity is very important, but it cannot supersede the product or service you are selling. I think that's where Song went wrong.

    This is an interesting you think that it's complete chance-if the brand catches on, and creates a successfull business, or if a successful business can create a desirable brand? Is it like the chicken before the egg?


    Thanks for your insights into the demise of Song. I've posted a referral to it on "Much Ado About Marketing" for tomorrow (11/2) and hope we can continue prompting an active discussion on this subject.

    Best Regards,

    Mike Bawden
    Brand Central Station

    Just so you know as a consumer with no marketing knowledge I think it's a total bummer that Song isn't going to exist. I have never flown before and was going to take my first ever flight with Song...I would NEVER fly with Delta, American, or United because I have heard all about how much they suck to fly on. Bad food, bad service, and no space.

    Guess my only choices now are bad ones or one I don't know anything about...either I go Jetblue or who knows what...too bad. It actually made me think I could find fair treatment without paying a fortune and without having to sit behind the people who matter in the better seats.

    The bad thing is that word was just starting to get out about them and now, gone. No wonder Delta is bankrupt. They can't do anything right. I doubt if any of the other big airlines can either from what I've heard. I just wish the gov. would stop bailing out companies that can't deliver a good product at a reasonable price. They are just too big for their own good because they can't go with the flow.

    I never understood why 1st class was so much more expensive. I looked at one flight about 500 bucks coach, but 2500 for 1st class!? Wow...what is worth that much money for a few hours of service besides a prostitute? I don't think a plane ride is. What? Do you get to fly in a jacuzzi seat? If your in coach you get to eat styrofoam-like "food" and in 1st class you get a gourmet to love it. For 1500 dollars I can go on vacation for a week, all food at resteraunts included, plus hotels at least if I drive. That is why airlines like Song and Jetblue (if they are anywhere near as good as Song) are so highly needed. Most of us don't have tons of extra cash to throw away. We expect more for our money. Why fly if you can drive anyhow? Then you don't have to rent a car and deal with airport security and then all that so you can be treated like crap??

    No thanks. Maybe I will just stick with my minivan. It's roomy and comfortable. I can listen to music, entertain my kids with movies, and eat any kind of food I want. I can even get out, get up and stretch my legs anytime I want. I guess it's the freedom that is important. That was the great thing with train trips. You could always go to the resteraunt car.

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