The Sign Of A Great Brand…Southwest Airlines

As we stood in line waiting to board flight 157, to Philadelphia, an obtrusively placed sign directed “First Class and Preferred Members” to the left. A message next to it read “general boarding,” which directed the rest of us to the right. The US Airways logo sat proudly at the top of the sign.

I stood there thinking, what’s the difference between these two lines? Nothing. They lead to exactly the same place: the jetway to the airplane, which is not delineated by class or preferred status.

The difference is it made me feel inadequate because I was simply a “general” boarder. Not one of those Preferred Star Alliance, First Class or US Airways Dividend Miles Preferred MasterCard passengers (which is exhausting to listen to). The fact is, being “general” only required me to veer slightly to the right for about 10 steps before handing my boarding pass to the flight attendant. This is simply silly. And I don’t think it serves the US Airways brand or its user experience very well.


Now, I understand that we need to board the plane in an orderly fashion, and the folks who paid a premium deserve to be seated first. But is this demeaning signage and language really necessary?

I guess in the airline industry’s desperate attempt to generate additional revenue any way they can, this belittling sign seems necessary. And I guess for the “preferred” travelers it serves as tangible proof that they paid a premium or made a good decision to join one of US Airways’ clubs. (If US Airways really cared about its customers they wouldn’t offer a horrible credit product with terrible customer service, but that’s an entirely different blog. See Enticing offer or brand blemish?) But, this is what happens when a company is driven by sales, not by its brand.

In contrast, take a look at Southwest Airlines. This is a brand with clarity. So much clarity that they never stray from their core, and they enjoy the title of being the most profitable airline in history. Yes, history. From the beginning, Southwest saw itself as “the champion for the common man.” That meant airfare needed to be cheap. After all, it was the 1970s and air travel was expensive. It was also for elitists, so as the champion for the common man, the Southwest brand had to be fun. Lastly, it needed to be simple because pricing for air travel was complicated, so Southwest offered two price categories: nights/weekends and daytime. Cheap, fun and simple. That was the winning formula for the Southwest brand then, and still is today, even three CEOs later. That’s really impressive. For Southwest, all signs point to success. Love it!

What do your brand signs say to your customers and the marketplace? Take a look at your customer touch points and make sure you aren’t offending 90% of them to benefit a handful. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about your brand touch points.