How do strikes affect brands?


One of the biggest new stories in the UK throughout 2016 was the disruption to Southern Rail services, caused by strike action. Many customers voiced their frustration, and this made me wonder how strikes affect our perception of brands.

I’m going to look at the responses to the strikes, from customers and competitors. This is just one example from one industry, which many people rely on daily. Other brands in other industries may not get the reactions Southern gets.

Drops in satisfaction

The National Rail Passenger Survey measures what customers think of train brands, and the latest edition was publish in Spring 2016.

Overall satisfaction for Southern stood at 69%. This is an eight-point drop from the last Report, published in Autumn 2015. Value for money also took a six-point dip, down to 35%, and reliability dropped by 12 points to 53%.

This shows customers don’t think kindly of Southern, but these figures aren’t that much lower from what they were before. The strikes have only annoyed customers a little more than usual.


As I said at the start of this post, many Southern customers have shared their anger with social media and news outlets.

One customer, a software developer named Bradley Rees, designed an app called Southern Fail. This lets customers produce Southern-style posters, but rather than advertising the company’s services, the app lets them write their complaints here.

Competitors in the transport industry have used Southern’s problems in their marketing materials. National Express, a coach operator, used the hashtag #RailFail in one of their email campaigns which acknowledges the strike action. A page on their website does the same, and promotes their services as being comfier and better value for money.


Just one example

While strike action has clearly had an impact on how customers think about Southern, this hasn’t massively changed how they thought of the brand before. But customers and competitors have responded to the brand’s problems creatively and commercially.


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