No one can argue with the success of Southwest Airlines. When you first look at this brand it is easy to tag it with the label of discount carrier, but upon closer inspection, Southwest is so much more than that. Let’s come back to Southwest in a couple minutes.
One of the most notable trends in marketing today is sameness. Pick a category of product or service and what you generally find is that most of the brands feel and act the same. There are notable exceptions of course – think Apple – but for the most part competing products lack clear differentiation. Whether you are evaluating snack foods, airlines, or pharmaceuticals - chances are you struggle to find any meaningful differences in how the brands have established themselves.
Let’s look at the legacy airlines (Delta, American, United, Continental, and US Airways), can anyone really point to differences between these brands that would encourage you to fly one over the other? Their prices are virtually the same, most have removed any resemblance of creature comforts; you now pay for pillows, snacks, drinks, or the wonderful upgrade known as economy-plus, economy-extra, economy-suprimo that treats you to an extra four-inches of leg room. All in all, the legacies are pretty much the same. They have all tried to differentiate themselves, but only within a very safe box of what they think you expect an airline to be.
That brings us back to Southwest. Southwest is a true “challenge brand”. They have chosen a positioning and an image that is the complete opposite of the legacy airlines. In fact, their promotions directly highlight how opposite they are: no baggage fees, no fees to change flights, no first class, and no seat assignments. Can they be anymore different from Delta, American, United, Continental, and US Airways?
Southwest has become a rebellious brand, not just a cheaper alternative to the legacy airlines. Many people, including business travelers, that regularly choose Southwest do so because they know what they are going to get. No bait and switch, no empty promises of great service or extra comfort. Southwest delivers on what they promise, they will get you where you need to go without the nonsense you have come to expect from the big guys. In return they have developed a loyal and growing customer base, an expanding service area, and profits.
Take a look at your brand, what can you do to be a “challenge brand”? How can you tell your customers about the differences between your brand and competitors? Can you challenge yourself to be more like Southwest and less like the legacies? The difference may be continuing to just get by or being great!