The runway at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport is littered with the carcasses of airlines that thought they could compete for a little slice of Northwest Airlines’ pie. Nobody can drive a competitor out of its home turf better than Northwest. But one gets the sense that this time, it’s different. For one thing, Minneapolis St. Paul isn’t the home turf for Northwest anymore; Atlanta is.
Southwest Airlines is starting service to the Twin Cities on Sunday and — unlike many of the dearly departed upstarts — people have actually heard of them.
What’s more, aside from the fact it knows how to undercut airfares — and not charge for checked baggage — it also knows how to market itself. In fact, it may be the best-marketed airline in the country in addition to being one of the few that actually makes money.
Case in point: On Saturday, Southwest is holding a “tweet up” (a mixer) at The Newsroom on Nicollet Mall. The airline uses Twitter to communicate — almost as if it’s a human (It actually is a human, of course. It’s Southwest employee Christi Day.) It’s got 65,000 “fans” on Facebook, where it dominates the social networking scene for airlines by answering individual questions.
The airline is all about irreverence. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. A jet with a swimsuit model painted on it (photo) has been its latest controversy, dubbed the “porno plane.”
Will an aggressive marketing strategy allow Southwest to compete head to head with Northwest after the hubbub of its arrival fades? After all, remember Krispy Kreme doughnuts?
People have been bad-mouthing Northwest for years, then sticking with the carrier even when a competitor moved into town. And if Northwest matches Southwest fares, which they’ve indicated they will, will they keep the customers who are loyal to their WorldPerks frequent flyer miles program?
On the first hour of MPR’s Midday this morning, Gary Eichten will explore “the Southwest Effect.” Will it make a difference to you?