Southwest is AWESOME! (really they are)

Southwest Airlines is one of the most social brands that I have come across. Through the use of social media, they have enabled their users to practically promote the Southwest name themselves! Following are some questions which I’ve answered regarding Southwest and their marketing approach and strategies.

Briefly introduce the company and its marketing approach

The basis of Southwest Airline’s marketing approach is to listen to their consumers. Listening is one of the smartest things a company can do and Southwest does this extremely well. By listening to their consumers, and paying attention to the talk on the rest of the internet, Southwest is able to apply what they have heard and have relevant conversation with consumers. This builds brand loyalty, as a result of the emotional connection consumers’ form with Southwest. In order to listen well, a company needs to be active in the areas in which consumers are talking. Southwest is active in many social media sights including:  Twitter. Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, YouTube, Gowalla, Foursquare, a blog – Nuts About Southwest.

Another aspect of Southwest’s marketing approach is to draw consumers in on a personal and emotional level. For example, on September 16, 2011, Southwest teamed up with AirTran to do community service in the Atlanta area; “working side by side to improve the trails, gardens, and access driveways” (Southwest).  Following is a link for the video about this community service http://www.blogsouthwest.com/video/conservation-action-gettin-dirty-atlanta. There are many postings on Nuts About Southwest which indicate Southwest’s commitment to the community. The attraction a consumer forms with the Southwest brand is much stronger when emotional ties are involved, which is what Southwest is going for.

Assess what they are doing – in which zones are they operating?

Southwest is most actively involved in the publishing/broadcasting and relationship building zones. Consumers are reached the most through these two zones and this is where the true image of the Southwest brand is seen. Due to the nature of Southwest’s purpose as an airline, commerce is another zone in which they are heavily involved in.

In Southwest’s publishing/broadcasting zone, they host themed contests which encourage UGC as well as allow all users to post on their blog, Nuts About Southwest. Anyone who is registered is eligible to post, and is recognized a “guest blogger” on the site. The content posted can be about basically anything, not necessarily about the airline. Below is an example of a blog posting by Luke Schnoebelen, a guest blogger.

http://www.blogsouthwest.com/blog/dj-jetsetter

In Schnoebelen’s posting, he blogged about a new site called Turntable.FM, which he describes as bringing community to the music world. On this site, you can become a virtual DJ and create a “room” to DJ in with up to 5 other DJ’s. Other users can rate your song selections either “Lame” or “Awesome” as well as engage in a live chat stream. Southwest reached out to potential consumers by hosting a room on Turntable.FM for people to DJ in, called Southwest Airtunes, and awarded 2 free flights to the winner. Schnoebelen ended up winning the contest which incidentally prompted his posting about his experience on Nuts About Southwest. This is just one example of how Southwest has sought out consumers and facilitated the creation of UGC.

Another way Southwest has involved users is through Badges. Badges are described by Southwest as one of the fun new features where users can earn special rewards. Users can earn badges on their profile page by: checking-in to airports, flying, sharing their opinions, posting on the blog, and completing certain tasks. These badges motivate users to become increasingly more involved in interacting with Southwest as well as interaction between users.

Who seems to be the target audience?

Who doesn’t love to have fun? Southwest positions their in-flight experience as being more “fun” than competitors’ inflight experiences. With this approach, Southwest is able to appeal to a large target market. Combined with their marketing strategy, Southwest’s target market consists of domestic travelers who are active in social media and are internet savvy. Additionally, consumers who are price conscious are targeted by Southwest as a potential target audience because Southwest strives to have the shortest flights possible which reduces costs and lowers ticket prices. “Fun” flights are perfect for families and business professionals alike and both are a significant part of their target market.

Can you tell what the objectives are? If so, what are they?

Some of Southwest’s objectives include:
1. Have a “fun” in-flight experience for passengers
2. Keep prices as low and maintain flight safety
3. Encourage consumers to be active on Southwest’s social media sites
4. Create brand loyalty through users’ interaction through social media

What is the “experience” being offered to the social customers?

Users who are active are able to form a deep connection with the employees at Southwest. For example, on the Nuts About Southwest blog, employees are constantly posting about their experiences for users to see. Users who participate in earning badges can win free stuff from Southwest including tickets for free flights. The same is true for consumers who are involved with contests hosted by Southwest across the internet.

What assets are being used?

Southwest employees all work together to maintain the brand image at Southwest. Also their physical assets, airplanes, are up-to-standard with all the amenities a consumer would expect, as well as additional things such as the traditional peanuts.

To what extent does the smm strategy mesh with the overall IMC strategy?

The social media marketing strategy Southwest has employed meshes well with the overall IMC strategy. One of the main reasons for this is the exuberant amount of content generated directly from users. Consumers are more likely to listen to the opinions from other users rather from the company itself. By harboring the UGC in contests and such, much of Southwest’s marketing is accounted for in positive user experiences.

What’s missing (in terms of experience engagement, content and assets, zones, and integration with the rest of the marketing mix)?

There is not a whole lot missing in Southwest’s experience engagement. They have successfully created a network of happy users who are emotionally connected to the brand. They could, however, always connect all of their social sites. For example, there should be an obvious link to the Nuts About Southwest blog, and all other social sites, on the southwest.com. Southwest has been very successful at encouraging UGC and keeping users involved.

“Southwest Airlines Social Media Strategy – Lessons for All Organizations | Social Media Today.” Social Media News, Strategy, Tools, and Techniques | Social Media Today. Social Media Today, 31 Jan. 2011. Web. 14 Sept. 2011. <http://socialmediatoday.com/mikebrown-brainzooming/266092/southwest-airlines-social-media-strategy-lessons-all-organizations&gt;.

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About Emily Baumgartner

My name is Emily Baumgartner and I will be graduating Magna Cum Laude in May 2012, from East Carolina University, with a BSBA in Marketing. I am currently looking for a full-time position in the marketing, sales, or advertising related fields and am willing and able to relocate anywhere in the country for the right opportunity. ______________________________________________ For more information about me, please visit http://about.me/emilybaum

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