Why Southwest Airlines is sticking with email and cozying up to customers

Whether it’s using mobile to hyper-personalise the experience or email to build closer relationships, Southwest takes a disciplined approach

It seems ‘hyper’ is the prefix of the moment. Whether it’s being hyper-local, hyper-personal or hyper-contextual, travel brands are using all means possible to reach their customers in this new omni-channel world. 

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines is no exception. 

“Mobile allows us to design communications to hyper-personalise the experience,” says the airline’s chief marketing officer, Kevin Krone.  A hyper-personal experience from Southwest could be anything from:

  • A responsive design ‘deals’ email that leads to a mobile friendly offer page

  • The ability to get your email deals right in your mobile app

  • A reminder to add a car, or early bird, on that trip you are about to take

Like most travel companies, Southwest is allocating more of its budget to mobile projects. But Krone is quick to point out that “we look at it as a percentage of our digital buys rather than allocating a specific amount to mobile”.  It really depends, he says, on the specific campaign and where the team thinks the customer will be most receptive to its marketing message.

Mobile allows us to design communications to hyper-personalise the experience

In order to do this effectively, Southwest says it must closely monitor where customers are shopping, track what they are buying and where they are buying it – on a desktop, mobile or tablet device. “Attribution models are helping in better understanding how mobile advertising is contributing along with advertising to the final sale in the campaign,” says Krone. Interestingly, in the past year, for example, the airline has seen the biggest jump in the number of consumers shopping and buying by tablet.    

Email still relevant 

Citing stats from a 2012 Exact Target study, Krone says email, the top communication channel for most retailers, is nowhere near peaking.

  • 91% of consumers check their email everyday
  • 66% of those consumers have made a purchase as a result of an email they have received

 “At Southwest we feel that we need to build individual relationships with our customers,” says Krone. “This has meant moving away from a discreet set of campaigns that are mass blasted and more toward building profiles and designing experiences that allow us to interact individually.”  

He cites the airline’s Click-n-Save weekly email, which could contain 15 different targeted placements to address specific user profiles, behaviour and where they are in their journey. For example, it could be a new customer to SWA or one due to fly in three days.

Socially savvy 

Social has become an integral part of Southwest’s marketing strategy. In 2012 it became the first airline to reach 3 million fans on Facebook. 

Although there were a few early hiccups in last year’s JD Power and Associates Social Media Benchmark Study, Southwest was named as one of the top four performers in the categories of social media servicing and social media marketing. A big plus for Southwest was that the study found that 67% of consumers have used a company's social media site for servicing  - in other words to ask a question or resolve a problem. 

“We see great success in using our social channels to drive business objectives which includes brand engagement as well as transaction goals,” says Krone. 


And when it comes to key performance indicators for social, these are specific to the effort and include both return on engagement and return on investment. 

We see great success in using our social channels to drive business objectives
Krone’s top tips for customer targeting 
  • Have the right message. Make it compelling and differentiating
  • Package it in such a way that stands out – be that on TV, digital or other media 
  • Aim to reach the right target audience at the right time. In other words, know when they are shopping for a vacation or business trip 
  • Test ads before and after 
  • Integrate your message across the organisation 
  • Be nimble. Pointing to a recent initiative, Krone cites the decision to jump on the opportunity to launch live TV across the fleet as an example of being   nimble. “We’re disciplined enough to learn from every campaign to get better with the next,” he says. 

To hear more insights from Kevin Krone, Southwest Airlines’ chief marketing officer, and many other senior executives from the travel industry join us in Miami for Online Marketing Strategies for Travel 2014: The Americas and Caribbean (June 2-3)


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