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Is Your Brand Winnable?

Posted on 1 March, 2009 at 12:00

I like real-time. The present. The here and now. The immediacy and the urgency.

With the economy causing all sorts of cutbacks and anxiety, I believe now is the time, the real-time, to elevate your image, whether you run a big organization or you are going solo. Even though people are spending less money, they’re still paying close attention. They see who’s advertising, whose message is relevant in the tough times, and who best connects with their own inner voice, whether its fear or hope. 

One battle for real-time results is in the airline industry. New airlines have tried to squeeze into the Minneapolis-St. Paul market for years but with limited results. Northwest Airlines controls the majority of gates, the majority of flights, the majority of non-stop flights, and the majority of frequent flyer members. But this week, Southwest Airlines, the carrier with the personality, is about to touch down in the Twin Cities. 

Southwest arrives at a time Minnesotans need a getaway most: A winter of sub-zero temperatures and Spring Break.Southwest knows cheap fares alone won’t make them successful; there’s a string of airlines that have tried lower fares, which Northwest has always matched. So Southwest has added an emotional sell to extend their powerful brand. The slogan goes right to the heart of the Minnesota hub: “Positively Outrageous Customer Service.”

Why customer service, why now? The recent merger between Northwest and Delta is raising issues about everything, from labor contracts to serving Georgia peanuts on flights. While Northwest offers the most non-stops out of its Minnesota hub, it’s near-monopoly also charges more for flights originating here, a fact not lost on local consumers who feel ripped off. Southwest arrives with a marketing strategy waged on a financial and an emotional front. But even with credibility and popularity, will the Southwest brand work in Minnesota? Let’s look.

We believe there are four key components to discover the right brand.

Is a brand available, believable, definitive and winnable? During brand discovery, I throw conventional wisdom on its head and challenge the status quo of an organization. What’s the real truth about your organization? What does the public perceive as your real strengths and weaknesses?

Southwest appears to have most of those four brand components. The customer service brand is available as most local passengers have horror stories to share. Southwest’s reputation makes their customer service pledge believable. The slogan “Positively Outrageous Customer Service” is as definitive as you can get. So only winnable is a question mark since other airlines have had their wings clipped by Northwest’s power.

One thing Southwest has on its side is timing. Winter is the worst time for an airline in terms of customer service. Winter storms in one city can cripple another, raising anxiety and anger among travelers. Northwest has had to deal with winter; Southwest has not. Weather has been a clear advantage for Southwest to earn its reputation. As it ventures north, it too will have to deal with angry passengers who are stranded.

So by debuting in March, Southwest will have several months to build its brand loyalty without the threat of standing passengers in northern airports. It affords them time to perpetuate its slogan “Positively Outrageous Customer Service.” I would advise them to find clear, distinct examples of how they live up to that slogan.


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