Storytelling From Southwest Airlines ...


We recently completed a brand audit for a company outside the tech sector.

To borrow from the legal profession, I love the “discovery” that comes from this type of work.

In talking to the executives about branding, Southwest Airlines kept surfacing.

It’s impressive how Southwest has carved out a distinctive position in the mind of the buyer.

Observing the brand from afar, it’s easy to come away thinking this was a “no brainer.” Airlines tend to be a homogenous lot. Southwest figured out that having a little fun would deliver differentiation.

Voila … a great brand.

But such thinking shortchanges Southwest.

The safety issue associated with flying makes this a serious business. It took chutzpah on Southwest’s part to make “fun” part of the brand experience.

It’s also revealing how Southwest’s people create a difference in market perception. Consider this for a minute: Your motivation to fly comes from needing to move from Point A to Point B.

It’s the plane that does the moving.

Yet, Southwest has built a brand that reflects its humanity and again showcases its people as a difference-maker.

You can see one form of brand execution on the Southwest website.

southwest airlines website pr

I suppose it’s an indictment of the airlines industry that “treating you like a person” can be a unique value proposition.

Look at the visuals.

Even the pilot is chummy.

And they’re not overwhelming the viewer with heavy text.

This page – visuals + words – can be easily consumed in a seconds. Even just a glimpse gives a certain vibe.

Contrast the Southwest approach with United:

united airlines website pr

As much as I believe in the power of the narrative, no one believes this.

Does United really think any customer or potential customer cares about “leadership in the airline industry?” Plus, we’re not exactly talking a high bar.

The United story needs to show the company in action, not pontificate about “policies in a clear, consistent, and understandable fashion.”

Of course, the company’s behavior and actions need to align with the brand promise.

Otherwise, the storytelling ends up being a house of cards.

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