Often the best marketing is done in the toughest circumstances by marketers facing challenges which will make or break a company’s reputation. Such is my interpretation of the Southwest Airlines situation after one of their planes suffered a tear in the outside skin last weekend.
Southwest is giving us all a Master’s class on marketing on their actions and communication after that event transpired. They took the unprecedented step of pulling all similar planes out of service – themselves. Boeing did not recommend this step, nor did the US Government. Southwest did. There is a terrific article in The Wall Street Journal on this topic which goes into more depth.
While the article in part notes that the grounding of 79 jets was unusual and driven as much by the lack of precedent for the failure in the jet’s skin, I think the grounding is brilliant marketing.
When the public has a reason to doubt your product or service on the aspect of safety, Ann’s rule is that no course of action, no matter how costly or extraordinary, should be ruled out without serious consideration.
In Southwest’s case, they grounded a bunch of “similar” jets. They were public about it. They took the heat from thousands of stranded or shifted passengers, and unsurprisingly many of those passengers were caught on tape saying “yes, this is a hassle, but at least they’re taking measures to make sure the plane I eventually get on doesn’t rip apart”.
Those moments on tape, played over and over on the news shows globally, were worth gold. They protrayed Southwest as a cautious and reasoned transportation partner concerned first and foremost about the safety of their passengers. Which is the unspoken but single most important attribute any passenger wants: wifi is nice, a meal is now a rare treat, enough room to sit is really important but rarely found but in the end getting there alive is the single most important attribute passengers want from their travel experience.
You can’t market that idea, as to even mention it implies a few unlucky souls don’t get there alive. Yet in the end, it is the single dominant request of all passengers.
What Southwest did, with integrity and astonishing speed, was give all potential passengers their guarantee – evidenced by their actions – that they would do everything in their power to make sure you got home safe. Even if that meant they lost millions of dollars in the process while they grounded planes.
And in my opinion, that’s brilliant marketing.
photo credit: http://www.southwest.com/about_swa/photos.html