Southwest’s Battle Cry defeats competitors, wins loyalty

I’ve realized a critical error in going over my last few posts – I’ve broken my own rules.  I’ve been talking about how to create effective, engaging messages without being engaging at all.  This week, to better illustrate how successful messages come to be, I’m going to tell some simple, concrete stories about brands that have engaging consumers in unexpected, emotional ways.

My first example is Southwest Airlines, a company that has managed to stay profitable for the last 30 years among competitors that are consistently in the red (Heath).  Southwest has managed to do so by adopting a simple idea throughout their organization.  They are THE low-fare airline that makes it fun to fly again.  This simple idea addresses two of consumers’ biggest grips with air travel: the cost and the hassle.

So how did Southwest convince its external customers to believe this internal message?  First, they listened.  Christi Day and Paula Berg, head of the communications team, use Twitter, the blog Nuts About Southwest and other social media monitoring tools to gauge customers opinions and preferences before developing messages and corporate policies.  When examining their assigned seating policy, Southwest asked customers, via their company blog, how they would prefer seating to be structured.  They found out that customers didn’t mind first come, first serve seating.  Not only did this save the company valuable time and resources, it reinforced their commitment to customers. (Radian 6)

By listening to what customers want out of an airline, Southwest is able to create concrete benefits that are easily communicated.  In their ‘Bags Fly Free’ campaign they were able to tap into customers opinions on checking luggage in a surprising, personable way.

They carry this attitude through to their social media platforms, where they respond to customers praise, concerns and grips. Their famous ‘Rapping Flight Attendant’ video was actually filmed by a passenger, and later picked up by the communications team and distributed to news outlets where it received media coverage. (Radian 6)

Since then, Southwest Airlines has become well-known for their fun flight crews. They’ve learned how to make the monotonous experience of flying unexpected and fun, and have successfully created a memorable, emotional experience for passengers.

YouTube reaction to rapping flight attendant.

Southwest doesn’t just go the extra mile to entertain customers – their whole customer service philosophy is based on going above and beyond.  They monitor social media and customer feedback for complaints and work to address them transparently and quickly.  In the following Twitter stream, customers’ express their gratitude for Southwest’s level of service in providing a positive experience and addressing problems.

Southwest is a great demonstration of how to create compelling messages based on a simple, concrete idea.  They made flying fun and stress-free for their customers and gave them unique experiences they could easily share with their social networks.  As a result, the brand has been able to create loyal brand ambassadors that not only refuse to fly with competitors, but also pass on strong recommendations to their friends, family and colleagues.

Heath, Chip & Heath Dan. (2008). Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (Rev. ed.). New York: Random House, Inc.

Radian6. Southwest Airlines Social Media Cast Study. Retrieved from http://tiny.cc/2ijkb.

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