Before brands can employ SIXTEEN DIFFERENT WAYS of “sharing”, they need a solid foundation on which to stand. If you want to make some self-minted digital marketing “guru” speechless, ask him or her “what makes a brand strong?” Then go for the kill by asking “what is the difference between brand positioning and brand essence?”
Let’s illustrate this with a real case study (instead of some bullsh*t post titled “5 Ways To Build A Brand”).
Let’s look at a fun, scrappy airline with a quirky founder. Nope, sorry kids, not Richard Branson. Instead, a profitable airline, Southwest Airlines, and its resident nutjob, Herb Kelleher.
It isn’t always a recipe for success, but sometimes the personality of a founder/CEO becomes the personality of the brand. And that’s how it was for much of the business lifespan of Southwest. Kelleher implemented dozens of ideas that the larger airlines would scoff at. Some are legend, such as flight attendants leading passengers in sing-a-long.
Thus, Southwest Airline’s brand essence, its brand personality, was consistent and easy to define – straightforward, yet quirky and fun. Just like Herb Kelleher.
Combine that with the airline’s efficiency which ensured lowest cost, and Southwest communicated its “product/service” as a fun, low-cost experience. Example: the “You’re Free To Move About The Country” campaign. An excellent brand positioning, because it made you forget how awful the flying experience really was (no seat assignments, no first class, etc.).
Slowly but surely, the strong brand became a strong business. Most people are always surprised to hear the factoid that Southwest carries the most domestic passengers of any airline. Surprise was also the result when shopping for low-priced tickets in the past several years – all of a sudden, Southwest wasn’t really the low-cost airline anymore.
Which takes us to the present day. Southwest needed to change its brand positioning, to communicate a new value for the flyer, and new differentiation from the competition. That led to the newly launched “Welcome Aboard” campaign.
Targeted not at leisure travelers only as in the past, but at business flyers too. The message focuses on Southwest’s size – the largest U.S. airline – and its constant striving for improvement – “we never stop looking for a better way.” The latter comes through in much the same way United has gone with its new campaign, with a focus on onboard technology (WiFi, etc.).
So where did the fun go? Has the brand essence for Southwest also changed?
No. Here is a quote from a typically overly long article about the new Southwest ad campaign from The New York Times Stuart Elliott:
“People enjoy the humor on board, and that we don’t want to change,” Bob Jordan, executive vice president and chief commercial officer at Southwest…“our advertising in the past, while it’s been effective, has been one-dimensional…[our new campaign] will continue to celebrate our customers and our employees.”
The brand essence is akin to your own personality – it doesn’t change. Kudos to Southwest for being able to make it such a large part of its communications – its brand positioning – all these years. But times change, and therefore positioning must also.