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Nicole Pape

6 Lessons to Apply from Southwest Airlines’ Rebrand

Specialty printers and apparel decorators can learn a thing or two from top-flight execution outside of their industry.




6 Lessons to Apply from Southwest Airlines’ Rebrand

GAINING INSIGHT FROM others can be a talent. Even if you know who to listen to, asking the right questions, knowing when to listen, and finding the hidden gems of value for your own company takes some effort on your part. Nonetheless, cultivating this talent can contribute to a well-rounded competitive edge by helping you and your business continually evolve and grow. Here are six tips for absorbing more knowledge, gaining new perspectives, and challenging what “learning from the best” really means.

1. Look Beyond Our Industry

There are plenty of consultants and experts in this space, but I admire many forward thinkers who have nothing to do with screen printing. Sometimes, identifying the best means focusing on adapting ideas, concepts, and processes from other industries.

One of my favorite books of all time is Blue Ocean Strategy by Renée Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim. The book does a deep dive on a few top companies, one of which is Southwest Airlines. Southwest became a juggernaut in the airline industry in part by studying the automotive industry. The company’s analysis concluded that the accessibility of economical cars was deterring people from purchasing relatively expensive tickets for domestic flights. So in 2014, the company got rid of (what were then) the standard frills of air travel, expanded from a regional to a nationwide network, and reduced ticket costs to push easy access to wherever customers needed to be whenever they needed to be there.

Marketing this rebrand with a fleet freshly painted in blue, gold, and red, Southwest leaned in on a new motto of “connecting people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel,” and boom! People were booking short-haul flights left and right, thrusting Southwest to the top of the airline industry (at the time). The company created a “blue ocean market” by looking outward at the automotive industry, then turning their gaze inward to the airline industry with the realization that no one else was providing the low-cost services that people obviously wanted.


2. Don’t Expect One-Size-Fits-All

New airlines were born in the wake of Southwest’s successful expansion into more rural areas. Spirit, Mesa, Frontier, SunCountry, and others vied for space in a market Southwest essentially created. However, applying a new strategy doesn’t automatically translate to success (Frontier, *cough cough*).

In short, you will have to be flexible. Be open to trying new things for a period of time to prove the concept is right for you. Rather than applying another’s strategy exactly, focus on the broad patterns. Determine what is applicable, where you should be willing to adapt, and what might not necessarily be for you.

3. Network

Southwest focused on dominating the direct, non-stop flight territory by strategically networking larger airports with smaller, regional hubs offering relatively fewer flights. Your network can make or break you as well. Industry events, tradeshows, conferences, and seminars provide access to experts, entrepreneurs, and other leaders who inspire you (or perhaps even perplex you). Keep connecting, keep talking, and keep learning from their experiences, both good and bad.

4. Learn From Your Customers, Too

Southwest used market analysis and customer feedback to improve visibility and claim a stake in the commercial airline industry. The company realized its original colors, gold and red, alienated travelers from other regions who considered the airline to be solely for the southwest based on the name and color choices. Updating the logo and colors (along with expanding domestic routes east) shifted this perspective.

Continuous improvement is the cornerstone of a thriving business, but it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. What does customer feedback reveal about how your business can improve? What can you implement that keeps the dial moving closer to companies, leaders, and entrepreneurs you admire and respect?

5. Take Risks

Taking calculated risks is an essential part of success in business. Southwest understood that offering “budget” flights would require creating shorter commuter routes to increase the availability of air travel in rural areas that needed alternative transportation. Other major airlines scoffed at the idea of spreading the fleet out in areas that weren’t as heavily populated, but today we can see how Southwest played a key role in expanding the industry’s horizons.

6 Lessons to Apply from Southwest Airlines’ Rebrand

6. TheStay Focused

most successful companies and leaders are diligent in focus. They will take an idea from A to Z by setting specific goals and staying committed. Southwest’s mission was to bring affordable, direct flights to areas across the country that did not have the same transportation infrastructure as major hubs around the US. If it had allowed itself to be distracted from this mission by setbacks and challenges, another airline likely would have dominated the same space.

When you look at those you respect, admire, and want to echo, I am sure anyone you want to emulate has experienced failure, taken risks, and found ways around disaster to be successful. Mimic their drive, focus, and determination as well as their strategies. Stay committed to your vision and remain persistent, and maybe you will become the inspiration for others to “learn from the best.”




Let’s Talk About It

Creating a More Diverse and Inclusive Screen Printing Industry

LET’S TALK About It: Part 3 discusses how four screen printers have employed people with disabilities, why you should consider doing the same, the resources that are available, and more. Watch the live webinar, held August 16, moderated by Adrienne Palmer, editor-in-chief, Screen Printing magazine, with panelists Ali Banholzer, Amber Massey, Ryan Moor, and Jed Seifert. The multi-part series is hosted exclusively by ROQ.US and U.N.I.T.E Together. Let’s Talk About It: Part 1 focused on Black, female screen printers and can be watched here; Part 2 focused on the LGBTQ+ community and can be watched here.

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