Southwest's Rapping Flight Attendant And The Power Of A Value Proposition

Southwest didn't climb to the top of the domestic airline dogpile with hard work alone. Their corporate culture helps drive savvy marketing and a lucrative bottom line.

One of the more mind numbing aspects of business travel is listening to a flight attendant drone through the pre-flight safety instructions. Most passengers don’t bother to look up from their reading. After all, they’ve heard the spiel hundreds of times.

However, one creative flight attendant took a different approach with entertaining results.

Having spent many years studying best in class companies, I was not surprised to see that this enterprising individual worked for Southwest. This two-minute video offers additional proof why Southwest has racked up 40 years of consecutive profits as other domestic airlines struggle through Chapter 11, mass layoffs, and mergers.

The foundation for Southwest’s unprecedented success is that it focuses all of its organizational energy on delivering its unique value proposition to its customers. One of the cornerstones of Southwest’s value proposition to its passengers is that it provides a “fun” travel experience. Other value proposition cornerstones are fastest door-to-door travel times and lowest prices.

While other airlines can try to copy Southwest’s winning formula, what differentiates Southwest is its ability to deliver its value proposition. Effectively providing unique value to your target customers requires alignment of your entire organization.

YouTube hits such as the rapping flight attendant don’t just happen accidentally. It takes an aligned organization to make this happen.

Once Southwest decided that a fun flying experience would be part of the value it provided, each functional group could focus on how they could contribute to creating value to Southwest’s target customers.

For example, here are some of the actions each group had to take to make the video a reality.

  • The HR organization had to develop processes to find and hire fun and talented people (including some who could rap)
  • The training department had to develop an onboarding program that encouraged their individual talents
  • Management had to promote out-of-the-box thinking by its employees
  • The legal department had to ensure that it was permissible to diverge from standard safety announcements
  • And of course, marketing had to acknowledge rapping as a way to enhance the Southwest brand.

It is easy to see how any one group at Southwest could have blocked this. Unfortunately, most businesses behave 180 degrees differently than Southwest.

They don’t put the time and resources into developing a unique and compelling value proposition that resonates with their target customers. They lack organizing principles for each functional group. And as a result, each group makes its best guess on how it can create value for the customers and shareholders.

Successful organizations obtain alignment using a process that I call the 4 Vs

  • Identify value beneficiaries (the customers who will receive the most value from your product or service)
  • Develop a value proposition that resonates with the value beneficiaries
  • Focus to ensure that they can profitably deliver the promised value
  • Communicate your value proposition in a way that builds the brand, increases awareness, and makes selling easier

The instant feedback enablement technology like YouTube and Twitter make it possible to spread "value events" like this one instantly. Promotion of a value can happen very quickly. It no longer takes years to spread by word of mouth, but hours.

Similarly, not aligning your organization around delivering a value proposition can rapidly have disastrous consequences. The YouTube video of Dominos employees doing gross things to their customers’ pizzas is one of many examples.

So it isn't just critical to address get value alignment anymore, it is urgent. By aligning your organization around the 4 Vs, you may not discover a rapper--but you will increase shareholder value.

--Neil Baron is the managing director of Baron Strategic Partners, a consulting firm focused on helping organizations remove revenue obstacles for complex products and services.

[Image: Flickr user Erika]

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20 Comments

  • Jakob Soderberg

    I wish we had SWA in Europe. RyanAir crew personnel has absolutely NO clue in regards to customer service and behaviour. 

  • Magda

    I fly Southwest on a weekly basis - this video reminded me of my favorite, fairly recent Southwest experience- the flight attendant sang about beverage options & the like to the tune of Little Mermaid. It was so surprising and enjoyable that it made me smile the whole flight home. Great points here- love it, and love Southwest.

  • Mikeal L Balogh

    I might of been on that flight, wish someone would a recorded it... made the flight memorable

  • The MBA Lifestyle

    Brilliant! I would make this a mandatory form of interaction with different types of cultural relationship. 

  • Jeff

    What a load of BS.  Flight attendants are NOT on planes to provide entertainment.  Their presence onboard is for one – and only one reason  -- to get the passengers the hell out of the cabin in an emergency.
    I flew Southwest once with a friend who is a very nervous “white knuckle” flyer.  The flight attendant’s “pre-flight entertainment” that included cracking jokes about the flight “becoming a cruise” in the event of a water landing and jokes about screaming should the oxygen masks deploy nearly sent my friend over the edge.   He’s never been on another Southwest flight.
    There’s something to be said for “professionalism,” especially when your primary job function is directly related to the safety of customers.  If I want to be entertained by a stand-up comedian, I’ll  go to local night club.

  • Jeremy Johnson

     Your friend is quite frankly not their target market, and would be better suited for a different flight. You claiming that your personal distaste for their strategy makes them unprofessional, however, is a bit ridiculous. Yet again, profits for SW are what they are for a reason. 

  • Neil Baron

     Jeff,

    I disagree that this is a load of BS.  I am not saying that being entertained is the only reason why people fly. It is just one part of their value proposition.  It appeals to a certain segment of the broad market of travellers.  It is clearly not for you or your friend and you are better off flying other airlines.  However, for a huge portion of the market, Southwest's value proposition clearly resonates.    I know many people who fly Southwest because of the attitude of the flight attendants.

  • Guest

    Jeff - exactly. Anybody who has taken Psychology 101 knows about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs; people need physiological comfort and safety before they need rapping airline attendants. 

    This kind of disconnect between what value brands think they are delivering and what people actually want even has a name: The Delivery Gap. It's frighteningly common. But I suppose it provides nice opportunity for competition. 

  • Jeremy Johnson

    Gretchen,
    You are completely ignoring the fact that large segments of the population receive psychological comfort in different ways (you said physiological but I am assuming you were referring to psychological). For me I am not a nervous flier but always have an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach prior to take off. Services like the on shown above not only distract my mind from the impending flight, but also tends to disarm many fliers, even the grumpy ones such as you and Jeff. I recommend you do one of two things:1) Fly a different airline, and pay for first class so you get the experience you feel you deserve2) Sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. 

  • Jeff

    I’m not an MBA graduate, so I confess that  I can’t define  the “value proposition” being tossed around here, but each time I’ve checked fares for the last three flights I’ve taken – between Chicago and Houston -- Southwest’s fare was identical to the fare offered by the legacy carriers.   Granted, the Southwest flight would have been 25 bucks cheaper with my checked bag.  But another “value” airline – Spirit Airlines – offered a fare on the same route that was considerably less than the published fare on Southwest.
    As to Southwest’s magic ability to pack its flights -- every flight these days is full, due to recent successful efforts to slash capacity across the industry.    
    I’m hardly a “grumpy flier,” and a sense of humor is a wonderful human quality that I fully appreciate.  If I crack a joke, however, about the plane crashing, I’m subject to being hauled off the plane or booted out of the airport by the TSA.  But a flight attendant charged with overseeing my safety can do so, and everyone giggles and applauds the “fun” experience.  I’ve been in an emergency situation with deployed oxygen masks and an emergency landing, and I can assure you that no one on board found it amusing.  I don’t get it.  What’s next?  The pilots rapping their communication with air traffic control to amuse the cabin?

  • Gretchen

    This is a value proposition centered completely around Southwest, not the people in the airplane seats. Who was asking for rapping airline attendants? People are more likely asking for airplanes that have more room and don't smell like feet. 

  • Curtis

    You are spot-on, Gretchen.  When I do have to fly SWA (which is rare but it happens at times), I ignore the flight attendants.  The frequent flyers snicker at their behavior.  Give us more room (leg room and shoulder room) to create a serious brand for the frequent flyers!

  • Neil Baron

     Gretchen,  You raise some very interesting points.  I did not have space to go into this in the article but a key part of good value proposition is making it clear what "trade offs" customers must make if they choose your product or service.   If you want first class seating or assigned seats,  you are not the right person to fly Southwest.  You would be happier flying another airline and paying more.  There are plenty of people who are happy with Southwest value proposition of increased odds of an on time arrival,  reduced chance of lost baggage,  lower costs and a more "fun" flying experience.

  • Jenifer Fredrickson

    Judging by the fact that every Southwest flight is packed, I think they are hitting the nail on the head. They aren't targeting the flyers that want a "serious and boring flight". They targeting the people that want to have a more enjoyable flying experience because of the culture of the airline. I think Southwest is a great example of embracing a culture that your target market diggs you for. I personally think their planes have plenty of room and I have never been on one that smells like feet! If you want a roomier and fancier plane then you can go pay double at another airline. 

  • Curtis

    They are packed only due to their scheduling, and their pricing is very similar to other airlines (not double).

  • Neil Baron

     Jenifer,

    This is right on.   A key part of delivering an impactful value proposition is knowing who are your target customers.  The point of the article is that Southwest has aligned its entire organization, its processes and its systems around delivering its value proposition to its carefully chosen segment of the flying market.