By Nicole Schubert ’19
Leadership and Marketing at Southwest Airlines
Ryan Green, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Southwest Airlines, spoke to the Mays Business School MS-Marketing students on Feb. 28 as part of the Mays Transformational Leader Speaker Series. Green is a 1999 graduate of Mays Business School and a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board. Integrity, leadership, drive for excellence, and traditions are all qualities that drew him to Texas A&M University and later to Southwest Airlines.
As CMO, Green has a wide scope of responsibilities, including:
- Go-to-market efforts
- Digital platforms
- Loyalty, partnerships, and products
- Customer experience
- Insight and analysis across all the areas listed above
Green said branding and advertising have been the newest and most challenging areas for him. He attributes this challenge to his strengths (Achiever, Analytical, Significance, and Relator as determined Clifton StrengthsFinder), which do not align as well to those areas of marketing. He balances this by enlisting people around him who are strong in this area.
Southwest Airlines loves its customers
Southwest Airlines has come a long way since 1971 when it was flying between Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas. But its philosophy has remained the same. As stated by Colleen Barrett, President Emeritus, “We’re in the customer service industry – we just happen to fly airplanes.”
Green expanded on this, saying Southwest Airlines could focus on being in the airline, logistic, or e-commerce business, but it chooses to focus on being in the customer service business. And Southwest Airlines feels the best way to be good at customer service is to start with its employees.
Green quoted Herb Kelleher, founder and chairman emeritus of Southwest, who said, “Your employees come first. And if you treat your employees right, guess what? Your customers come back, and that makes shareholders happy. Start with employees and the rest follows from that.”
Powered by this business model, Southwest Airlines is the largest airline in the United States, flying 135 million people each year.
What does this mean for marketing?
Green says the marketing department at Southwest Airlines is currently focusing on three areas: customer loyalty, marketing efficiency, and agile marketing.
- Customer Loyalty – First, it is working to enhance the airport experience by reducing lines and improving the handling of irregular operation experiences, such as flight delays. With the development of a tracking feature, Southwest wants to be more transparent with where travelers’ bags are. As Southwest expands into longer haul flights, it is working to enhance inflight experiences with more substantive food options and complimentary Wi-Fi and movies. Southwest Airlines’ loyalty program, “Rapid Rewards,” provides many opportunities to earn and use points. For example, every seat on every flight is considered a reward seat and can be purchased with points.
- Marketing efficiency – Southwest Airlines traditionally spent 60 percent of its advertising budget on television ads (mainly NFL Football). Now, 60 percent is spent on digital marketing. Green says this allows for better measurement of the effects of their marketing efforts. To further increase marketing efficiency, Southwest is looking at other innovative methods such as Dynamic Creative Optimization and Artificial Intelligence.
- Agile marketing – Southwest has created its first team dedicated solely to agile marketing to enhance digital marketing efforts. Continually conducting online tests, this team finds that small changes can make a big impact. For example, this team discovered that changing the font color of a discount, changing a background color, or moving an ad up 50 pixels results in higher click-through rates and huge incremental profit increases.
Give the world heart
To connect emotionally with customers, Green says Southwest Airlines is launching a new brand platform, “Give the World Heart.” This concept was inspired by the small part Southwest plays in people’s major life experiences when they fly, such as bringing families together for special moments. Today we are more connected than ever, but less connected to each other. Southwest wants to create a travel experience that connects customers to more human experiences.