9. Serve up the quirky: Southwest Airlines
This low-cost carrier has consistently set its own route in the airline industry, creating a distinct personality through everything from open passenger seating to flight attendants who sing the safety demonstrations.
“Southwest has always been a very independent brand that’s quick to break the norms of the airline industry,” says Tim Calkins, clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “From the seating assignments to the fact that it doesn’t list in many of the big online reservation systems, it has always prided itself on being very different.”
Calkins says much of Southwest’s brand success comes from the fact that although its operations and corporate culture are idiosyncratic, those differences support the company’s central function.
“Southwest has a fun, energetic corporate culture that’s unique in the airline industry, but at the core they are a very proficient operation that gets travelers from point to point in an efficient, affordable manner,” he says.
While the airline received low ratings for not sharing information on decision-making, those protective measures may be among the reasons it continues to thrive. Several of the big carriers have tried to follow Southwest’s model with low-cost subsidiaries (think Delta’s Song and United’s Ted), but none have been able to maintain them.
“You can see what [Southwest] does–they fly one kind of airplane, they don’t charge for baggage and they have friendly employees–so you’d think someone could replicate that, but they can’t,” Calkins says. “The magic of Southwest is that even though the brand has many unique elements, all of the different pieces work together to serve its customers in a unique way.”