Even with a very human reputation and 40+ consecutive years of profitability, Southwest isn’t immune to competitive and market pressure. Rivals have attacked price by unbundling services, then charging for extras, and raised the ante with new services and technologies. Southwest saw an opportunity to develop a new brand identity for a new era — one that would set the business up for continued success.
Southwest wanted the hallmarks of its culture, humanity and a personal touch to be expressed in ways that resonated more clearly in an increasingly jaded market. The goals were to distill 40+ years of success into a modern, impactful look, unite a fragmented visual system and help the airline connect with two highly desirable segments: millennials and business travelers.
Without a heart, it’s just a machine
Achieving a successful design solution required aligning the company’s vision with its tremendous history. We conducted an investigation of assets, barriers and benchmarks. Southwest had long stood for freedom; but our findings pointed to a powerful accompaniment. From the very beginning, Southwest has always treated every passenger equally. It democratized air travel. This led to the insight to focus on what has always made Southwest great — its emphasis on people first.
In this examination, we identified the most potent symbolic asset: the heart. While always a part of the Southwest identity, the heart had become overused, with hundreds of variations appearing in internal and customer-facing communications. We chose to use the heart to make a bigger statement. And in doing so, helped the heart to become a truly iconic symbol.
A little heart goes a long way
In 2014, Southwest claimed the humble but bold heart as its brand symbol, crystallizing a business philosophy 47 years in the making and showing the world that what started Southwest is exactly what will lead it into the future — treating people more like people.
The heart, thoughtfully utilized at moments of connection, is the identity’s emotional punctuation. In the customer experience, it signifies what makes the brand unique — a personal touch. Complementing it is a redesign of Southwest’s livery, airports and website. From planes to snack packaging, the refresh is modern but true to Southwest’s DNA: confident, authentic and full of personality.
Turns out, the company is also the financial world’s top pick; profitable for 41 years in a row and named airline of the year and top investment pick of 2014. Not only does the airline have a 95 percent appeal to Southwest flyers, it saw a 7 percent increase in consideration among business travelers and a 7 percent increase in brand commitment among the general market.
Southwest was built on the idea that people come first; now they’re showing the world that a little heart goes a long way. More than ever, travelers know they’re flying with people who care, no matter where they sit.