Posted by: Chris | July 21, 2006

Terminal Professionalism

Recently, I was mulling over the books I am currently reading (I like to mull) and I realized that two of which I am reading most conscientiously are at complete opposite ends of the Nonfiction-Marketing spectrum. One, which was loaned to me by my manager’s manager, so to speak-my grandmanager, so to speak (“grand” here referring merely to seniority, not age, lest she be reading, consequently increasing my readership by 50%), is Waiting for the Cat to Bark, by Bryan and Jeffery Eisenburg–a very forward-looking marketing treatise which deals with many contemporary marketing issues. The other book (which, incidentally, was written ten years ago), Nuts! by Kevin and Jackie Freiburg, is a history of Southwest Airlines. In the latter, I found a great example of how in the early days, SWA truly understood how to “brand” their employees. Freiburg(s) cites Lighten Up authors C. W. Metcalf and Roma Felible in what they describe as Terminal Professionals: “overworked, overstressed, underpaid, and underplaying individuals” (Nuts! Freiberg, 65). Freiburg(s) then provides the refreshing antithesis: “…the professionals that customers encounter at Southwest are remarkably uninhibited and empathetic individuals who believe that the business of business is to make a profit by serving people and making life more fun” (Ibid, italics added). I realize that this definition of a typical SWA employee was coined by a person who is not actually, nor was he ever, an employee at SWA. But if anything, this actually strengthens the point I am trying to make about services marketing and the branded service employee. The fact that an outsider is able to identify and define unique attributes of an entire workforce is an indication that SWA’s brand permeated not only their brightly-colored aircraft, not only their tongue-in-cheek advertising, but also the employees themselves. This does not occur by luck. But I will not go into how it occurs today. This post is already longer than I intended for it to be. I really am trying to do better!

You may notice, I have a special interest in SWA. I don’t work for them, and I am just a poor teacher who could not afford to fly on an airplane if I even had the time to. My interest is based on the fact that SWA is a marketing powerhouse. Strong positioning (and speaking of positioning, kudos to Jennifer Rice and her insightful observation about a topic previously ruled by Trout and Reis), consistent branding, and smart advertising…along with a ridiculous amount of talent and tenacity, have made this company successful despite roadblocks I never would have imagined before reading Nuts!. One example of their marketing ability may be seen in their blog, one of the best and most interesting corporate blogs I have read; hence its unchallenged presence in my blogroll. Interestingly enough, today’s blog was written by none other than a corporate intern–JUST LIKE ME! This post revealed to me that SWA continues to brand its employees (even their lowly interns), just as they did when they began back in the 70’s. Read the post. This is no Terminal Professional. And neither are the other SWA veterans who post nearly every day on their corporate blog. Indeed, Southwest is a company who still understands how to brand their service employees.


Chris Posey


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