Sometimes you just have to throw it against the wall to see what sticks.

That must be United Airlines’ sentiment about safety videos. If you fly regularly, you’ve probably noticed the flight attendants’ exhortations to pay attention to the upcoming safety video. Which on United flights doesn’t appear until after a self-congratulatory, look-at-us-aren’t-we-great bit (in essence, a commercial).

The safety video appears shortly thereafter, but not until after you’ve realized you’ve been duped and went back to reading that entrancing novel on your iPad.

In this case, United asks us to pay attention to their commercial for an experience that, as passengers on an active flight, we’re already experiencing. It’d be far more effective (but more work) for them to shelve the bit and concentrate on actually creating a delightful experience for their passengers. Like many major U.S.-based airlines, United relies too often on market domination (bullying, as Seth Godin puts it) rather than differentiating themselves in their service offerings.

Moreover, that safety message has now been relegated to second-class status behind commercial messages, implying that even United doesn’t feel it’s terribly important. I fly fairly frequently and can probably recite the safety video from memory, but as a former navy nuc, operating nuclear reactors onboard aircraft carriers, I take things like that seriously. Apparently moreso than the airline itself.

United offers us two lessons learned:
(1) Earn your customers’ attention by telling your story in a succinct and straight-forward way. Don’t waste their time.
(2) Rather than telling your customers how great you are, demonstrate it. It will have a much more significant impact.

In other words, do, rather than tell. Do it right, and you’ll gain that market traction you desire.

P.S. That commercial could have worked better if United simply turned it around and made it about the customer, the passenger, the person who wants to go places. Tell the story of going somewhere special. That story is so much more compelling.