(This article was written for Southwest’s monthly employee magazine, LUVLines, detailing the airline’s revamping of its corporate brand.)
In the early 1970s – just as Southwest’s red-bellied aircraft were first taking to the skies – we found ourselves in the difficult position faced by many start-up ventures that set out to shake up their industries and challenge the status quo. We were long on enthusiasm and spirit, but a little short on cash.
Our business plan was solid – revolutionary, even. But we needed to make a name for ourselves. We needed to stand out from the crowd. What we needed was a look, a feel – a style – that said “Southwest Airlines” whenever you saw it. Between our distinctive aircraft paint scheme, the stylish uniforms worn by our flight attendants and our humorous advertising, our employees developed that image by capitalizing on the independent, free-spirited nature of Southwest Airlines.
Called “branding” in the business world, this effort to develop a lasting, unique identity through the use of logos, consistent color schemes and slogans has remained a key part of our business strategy for more than three decades. Over the coming months, in fact, as many of our Stations are in the midst of long-scheduled (and much-needed) renovations or expansions, a team of dedicated Southwest employees will be working behind the scenes to ensure our airport locations are displaying the correct corporate logos, colors and other branding items.
In most cases, this will result in some eye-catching changes as we bring our facilities up to date with the new marketing and identity standards – such as our Canyon Blue and Saddle Tan coloring – that were unveiled in 2001 with our new aircraft paint schemes and interiors.
Rather than maintaining the teal coloring that adorns the walls behind many of our ticket counters, for example, our Properties and Facilities Department will be installing new Canyon Blue wall coverings highlighted with Saddle Tan borders. Polished steel lettering and logos (our familiar “heart with wings”) will complement the new colors and, in airports where our lease allows it, carpeting, countertops and lounge-area seating also will be upgraded to establish a brand consistency across the nation.
Specialist Airport/Inflight Merchandising Edie Myers, whose team within the Marketing Department is charged with developing and maintaining Southwest’s airport and inflight branding standards, says this consistency is what Southwest is working to achieve systemwide. “Our challenge is to provide a consistent look and feel for our customers, no matter which of our airports they’re flying to. Whether a customer walks up to a ticket counter in Seattle or Fort Lauderdale, we want them to take one look at our colors, our logos – our entire brand presence in that airport – and instantly recognize it as Southwest Airlines.”
While this recognition hopefully will evoke images of Southwest and our safe, reliable air transportation, the new “look and feel” of at our stations should bring to mind another trait that is uniquely Southwest: low-cost. Our mission to unify our image is being approached with the same eye-on-costs attitude that accompanies every move the airline makes.
Cost containment was a primary goal while determining which elements and materials would become standard. In some instances, we are simply purchasing different materials at the same cost as the old. And, in most cases, the new elements will be installed as part of larger expansion or renovation projects, which would require the replacement of these items anyway. Items that are subject to wear and tear – such as carpeting and countertops – will be replaced as needed with the more durable materials featuring our new colors and styles at little or no additional cost to the company.
From start to finish, it will take several years for all of our stations to be outfitted with the new look. As with our aircraft, therefore, we will have a mixed look of old and new materials in our stations as the program moves forward.
“This process will follow the natural flow of all of our projects,” said Manager Facilities Projects John Zuzu, who has been leading a team of Facilities employees at the center of the refurbishment effort. “With the extent of work already planned, we should see 23 of our ticket counter areas with the updated colors by the first quarter of 2003, and the remaining areas completed within three years.”
The first station to be outfitted in the new look last month was Dallas Love Field (DAL), where extensive renovations have been underway for some time to improve the airport’s parking, security screening and retail areas. The station als has received a number of our new self-service Rapid Check-in kiosks (which sport Canyon Blue and polished steel exteriors), making it a logical time and place to launch the branding effort.
Other areas at our airports, such as customer lounges, Baggage Service offices and Customer Service centers also will be updated as needed and where applicable across the system.
Equally as important as our efforts to keep costs low, Edie said, is our focus on making sure that our new materials and designs are of the highest quality and will endure the test of time – effectively saving us money in the long run. With our ticket counter back walls and podiums, for example, the use of higher quality, more durable laminate and stainless steel materials will offset the expense of refurbishment through longer product life.
“Just as our aircraft are going to slowly transition to our new look, so are our airports,” Edie said. “In representing Southwest Airlines – whether it’s with our marketing, our advertising or even with our logos – we have always aimed for images that evoke a sense of quality and simplicity. Those traits are timeless. We are not trying to change our brand, we are reinforcing it. And we’re doing that in a way that will be cost effective and in a way that will elevate our customers’ experiences and expectations at the airports we serve.”