A Product Positioning Case Study: Southwest Airlines Is Sitting Pretty
Have you ever flown on Southwest Airlines? They're a terrific, low-cost outfit that has a marvelous safety record and gets you where you want to go on time.
In order to keep things simple and offer low prices, Southwest doesn't provide assigned seating. You have to arrive at the airport early or print out a boarding pass get on line at the gate, and then board the plane on a first-come, first-served basis. Survival of the fittest.
Very recently, Southwest has started designating your place on line. However, when boarding starts and you get on the plane, it's every man, woman and child for themselves. On a crowded flight, when everyone's got carry-on luggage, it can be a bit like a rugby match.
So how does Southwest handle the fact that they don't offer the convenience of reserved seating? In a brand new TV commercial, they turn it into a benefit! Here's how: The spot starts with Billy being put into a high chair. His mom tells him where to sit. Cut to Billy in school, where his teacher tells him where to sit ... cut to Bill's first day on the job in an office and his boss telling him where to sit ... cut to Bill at the airport. The ticket agent, on some other airline, gives Bill his assigned seat number and tells him where to sit. That does it for the poor guy! The announcer tells us, "So Bill switched to Southwest Airlines. Now Bill sits where Bill wants. Freedom to choose on Southwest Airlines."
Terrific! By using some powerful advertising Jiu-jitsu, Southwest turns a serious disadvantage into a benefit. The free-for-all scramble for a favorite seat is transformed into a liberating expression of individual freedom.
This is an example of the power of positioningof how a marketer decides to best "position" their product or service in the consumer's mind. Of course, Southwest Airlines, like all companies, can choose from a huge number of positions.
For example, Southwest could have positioned themselves as:
- The on-time airline
- The no-frills airline
- The low-cost airline
- The safety-conscious airline
- The friendly airline
- The we-serve-the-West airline
- The sexy flight-attendant airline (This is not my sordid idea. Years ago this was Southwest Airline's actual advertising positioning. In fact, all "stewardesses" were required to wear hot pants and go-go boots!)
The bottom line? In the TV spot mentioned above, Southwest chose a "free-to-sit-anywhere" positioning. Why did they go this route? (No pun intended.) We can only infer that they felt the need to counter an unpleasant customer perceptionthat Southwest's free-for-all seating policy was a royal pain in the neck.
The point of all this, of course, is not to investigate airline seating procedures, but to demonstrate how a fresh approach to positioning can be used to build a business.
If you can think in a fresh, new way about your product or service, and reinvent it through an innovative repositioning, the world will beat a path to your door.
Ivan Levison is a freelance direct response copywriter who works for such companies as Bank of America, Fireman's Fund, Intel and Microsoft. Levison writes direct mail sales letters, e-mails and ads. For a free subscription to his monthly e-mail newsletter for marketers, visit his website at www.levison.com. He can be reached at (415) 461-0672 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.