Thursday, May 27, 2010

@SouthwestAir: Last to Market and Proud!

Greetings from Florida!

I'm mixing business with pleasure for the next few days or so -- spending time with parents, friends and Amir Rafizadeh, the Network Sommelier!

Why share this with you? Well, I flew Southwest this time around and bided some of my time thumbing through Spirit, their inflight magazine.  I was woefully unprepared: I forgot to bring a book and my hopes were dashed for some sort of wi-fi connectivity similar to what I had when I flew AirTran earlier this year or even Delta last week.  Sure, I should have planned in advance and research wi-fi availability on Southwest but as I mentioned in this post, that sort of organization often eludes me.  

So there I was, bemoaning my fate, flipping pages and trying to block out the noise of the retiree gin rummy game to my right.  And then, I got to page 225: Southwest Spotlight.  The title of the article? "Coming Up: Wi-Fi"  My curiosity was piqued, I dove right in and was duly rewarded.

What did I learn?  Apparently, being one of the last to the inflight wi-fi party is intentional.  Here are some of the reasons why:
  • Southwest likes to take the road less traveled (pardon the pun): online fares only through their website, bags fly free, humor, etc., all with the customer in mind.
  • Southwest wants to deliver the most robust inflight wi-fi solution and that takes time.  Robust means faster sending and receiving speeds than other carriers because of satellite technology versus air to ground technology.
  • Southwest wants to control the wi-fi "Customer Experience" (title case was theirs, not mine).  This means that instead of Gogo Inflight driving pricing, Southwest has the "flexibility" to offer the service however they wish at whatever price point they wish.
  • Southwest conducted a year's worth of market research: usability, customer preference and the like to maximize both productivity and/or entertainment inflight.
  • Southwest says that, all in all, the road to superior wi-fi experience at a fair price is paved with patience and is indirectly asking us for continued patience.
That was marketing poetry right there.  Truly.  Here is Southwest saying, "Yeah, I'm late or last."  However, its defensive posture is woven so beautifully in a story about you the customer and how every waking moment is spent conjuring up ways to satisfy you the customer.  The spin is essentially, I may be one of the last to fulfill your need, but I'll be the best at fulfilling your need because I'm building this with you, my loyal customer, in mind every step of the way.

Imagine if, instead of the above, Southwest had said the following:
  • I like doing things my way and on my terms.
  • I like being better than everyone else.  I didn't think it would take as long, though.
  • I don't like the idea of paying for a third party as it cuts into my revenues and I'm all about efficiency.  Maybe I can make more money doing things with my own built in network.  Let me tinker with that a little bit and I'll let you know when I'm done.
  • Oops.  People didn't seem to like some of my original ideas and the others ones are hard to implement.  My developers and product managers have had to go back to the drawing board a few times so my milestone schedule is shot.  And oh yeah, this stuff is expensive!  My financials need some tweaking.
  • You'll just have to wait.  Like I said, this is on my terms.
Admittedly, I've taken some creative license and there is some exaggeration here to prove a point.  In this post that was borne of a Chris Brogan retweet, we talked about why a "You" story always trumps a "Me" story and this anecdote is no different.  To be a trusted provider of a good or service, I have to take great pains to demonstrate that I'm fashioning said good or service in the mirror image that you the customer expect and that would enhance your overall user experience.  As I said then, if I am effective as a marketer in delivering what you need and I treat you the way you require to be satisfied, I earn your loyalty as my customer and maybe, if I'm lucky, you'll tell a few friends or strangers.

This is why the article was particularly enjoyable to me.  It took my disgruntled self filled with semi uncharitable feelings about the wi-fi situation and convinced me that waiting interminably for wi-fi on Southwest was good even though I didn't know how the waiting would pay off or what the pay off would be.  It also converted me back into a Southwest fan even though I was starting to see what else was out there in the airline dating pool that might better suit my inflight wi-fi needs.  It's embarrassing to say but it took a few minutes to snap out of it and say, "Hey...  that was clever!"

Good marketing.  Hard to argue with it.  What's your take?  Send your thoughts or please share below.  I look forward to hearing from you!


Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

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