Southwest Airlines: Making Air Travel Easy Again

Airlines can be some of the most hated companies in existence.  In more recent years they’ve earned a steady position next to banks, credit card companies, and insurance companies.  Some might even liken dealing with an airline’s customer service to making a trip to the DMV.  So, when an airline offers customer service and value that’s as impressive as Southwest Airlines, people take notice.

Southwest is an incredible brand for a number of reasons.  You might have even read about them earlier this week at CEM for jumping on the corporate blogging trend before most other companies (2008).  Their innovation and constant sense of connectedness with the customer have taken them a long way in recent years.

However, there’s much more to this brand than innovative blogging, great customer service, free checked baggage, and a unique image.  I consider Southwest to be an unforgettable brand because of their low prices, independent flight listings, youthful energy, and simplicity.

If you need help branding your business or gaining more business conversions, Southwest provides some great examples of what you can do to shake things up!

Low Prices

For many customers, Southwest’s low prices are the biggest selling point.  Most people consider getting from point A to point B the primary thing they’re paying for when flying.  While Southwest is no Ryanair (in many ways, price just one of them, the two companies aren’t even comparable), they are known throughout the airline industry for having some of the best prices.

Also, Southwest is famous with customers for allowing them to get the lower price on their ticket if the price drops after they buy.  Along with free baggage checking and no charge for changing flights, Southwest is the ticket for many happy customers.

Independence

If you’re looking to increase your business conversions, you should seriously consider following Southwest’s example of independence.  Unique amongst virtually all other major airlines, Southwest controls their own flight listings.

You won’t find Southwest on Orbitz, Kayak, Priceline, or any other major comparison sites because Southwest only lists flights on their own site.  Keeping everything in-house allows Southwest to have greater control over listings.  Furthermore, it gives them greater control over their brand’s image: where it’s appearing and how it’s being presented.

Lesson: As you’re branding your business, try to keep as much content as possible in your own control.  The more control you have over your own content, the greater chance you have of scoring business conversions.

Youthful Energy

The Southwest Airlines brand embodies youthful energy.  Flight attendants sing songs (but not in the highly annoying way), the staff is known for being exceptionally friendly, and they’ve also been quite successful with their funny TV spots, which show an awkward situation followed by the voice of a captain saying, “You are now free to move about the country.”

There’s plenty of youthful energy in the Southwest brand.  And while this approach isn’t something that works for every single business, it’s been a great approach for Southwest, and quite a unique approach considering the standard stiffness of most corporate airlines.

Lesson: The point here isn’t that you should be branding your business in a “youthful” way.  Rather, brand your business in a way that makes you stand out from your industry.  When you’re different, and do your job well, those business conversions will follow!

Simplicity

Southwest’s biggest selling point is their simplicity.  Simplicity is a common thread that runs in everything Southwest does – from behind the scenes logistics to the details that meet the customer’s eye.

This article from Slate discusses many of the details of Southwest’s simplicity.  My favorite example is the one about Southwest’s planes.  Unlike most airlines, which may use 10 or more different types of aircrafts, Southwest uses just one.  By using one type of aircraft the company can easily interchange crews and parts; they only have to train mechanics on one type of plane; and, they don’t face any kind of parking or storage problems.

Southwest’s simplicity extends beyond equipment and into customer service as well.  Rather than bogging down the boarding and ticket-buying process with pre-assigned seats, Southwest allows passengers to choose their own seats.

Also, the Southwest model forgoes the traditional hub-and-spoke approach, and runs most flights from a ‘point A’ to a ‘point B’ and back again.  This approach avoids all of the complications that other major airlines have to deal with when inclement weather or other issues in their hub cities arise.

Lesson: Keeping things simple can save you money, and make your brand stand out in the crowd.  Don’t feel like you have to follow traditional models just because they’ve “worked” in the past.  Southwest reveals that these traditional models we’ve always considered functional actually have some pretty major flaws.  If you see a simpler way of doing things, don’t doubt yourself for being the first one to implement it!

What Will You Do?

I began this look at Southwest by talking about their low prices.  But, in truth, Southwest’s ability to offer low prices is the result of their hard work in other areas.  While low prices are appealing to consumers, you have to employ some of these other smart branding techniques before you can undercut your competitors.

What lessons from Southwest Airlines will you use for branding your business?

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Ben Richardson is a writer based in Nashville, TN. While he loves writing on a variety of subjects, he's our go-to on all things related to branding and the creative aspects of content marketing. Follow him on Twitter!

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