The king among the low-cost airlines is, of course, Southwest Airlines. It has fashioned a niche (a large and growing one) by being the cheapest airline for flights with a unique boarding system.
You can see the airline continuing to capture that space with its recent advertising, touting a sale with one-way tickets as low as $73. The Southwest Airline sales come as airline tickets are lowering across the board, although Southwest has seen flyers bombarding the airline to get those cheap flights.
Southwest Airlines, in brand terms, is the Walmart of the US airline industry.
But a thought occurred to me when seeing another Southwest sale ad yesterday. What if Southwest went all out and basically said its competiting airlines are trying to rip you off?
We hear about mechanical failures on planes every day, it seems. (And, for a business traveler who is often on the road like myself, I have experienced one technical issue after another, seemingly with every flight.) Airlines are always looking to squeeze the blood out of its old planes to reduce costs while still offering prices that make no sense.
How Southwest Airline sales can be more meaningful.
Southwest is in that unique position where, because it is the low-cost leader, it feels more passenger friendly. (Hence the Heart One campaign approach and heart logo.) What if it tapped into that passenger anger that most of us feel about airlines?
While the most recent passenger satisfaction surveys say satisfaction is up overall, it’s a tiny amount (3% from the previous year’s dearth of satisfaction) and airlines got the worst rating among all industries other than Internet service providers, subscription television and health insurance.
That is a low bar.
This reminds me of the time when there was great anger at banks a few years ago. We worked with financial institutions in which research demonstrated that anger and the successful brands capitalized on it by basically saying, “We’re not a bank.”
Southwest can’t claim it’s not an airline, but it can claim something close to it. Playing the low-cost game has short-term benefits, but it only has long-term success if it is linked to the meaning of the brand. (Think Walmart saying, “Live better.”)
Southwest could shoot up to the top of the industry in terms of preference by positioning itself against the competition and saying, in effect, “The other airlines are crooks.”
Because that’s what target audiences believe.