Say Yes to a Dress | Developing Characters in Branded Storytelling

Southwest Airline said “Yes to a dress,” and that dress is an important character in this week’s brand story.

In my last post, I talked about the importance of clear brand identity – or brand essence – to shape the branded customer experience you seek to deliver. I also suggested that much of your customer experience is reflected in the stories shared along the consideration, purchase, service, and post-service journey of your customers. As such, your stories are powerful tools for building and enhancing your brand and your branded experience.

For me, effective stories have 5 essential elements:

  • A defined protagonist or character
  • Trajectory or movement
  • Authenticity
  • Emotions that pull for action
  • A hook

If you fail to have all five elements, you have something other than a story. For example, I see lots of client testimonials or event recaps passed off as brand stories – when they are little more than descriptive verbiage.

Over the course of the next several weeks, we’ll take a dive into each of the five elements and show how they pay off a brand’s identity or essence.

This week’s teacher is Southwest Airlines.

I have been blessed to get to know Colleen Barrett from Southwest Airlines. Colleen was the executive assistant for the company’s founder (Herb Kelleher) in the days prior to Southwest’s inception. Through the years, Colleen worked her way up the ranks to be President Emeritus for Southwest.

Herb, Colleen, and so many other leaders at Southwest are consummate storytellers and have infused the company with a clear brand identity. As far as its brand essence, Southwest strives to “become the World’s Most Loved, Most Flown, and Most Profitable Airline.” It does so through “dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit.”

Two of Southwest’s values (which support the mission and vision stated above) are “Fun-LUVing Attitude” and “Wow Our Customers.” Those values are in full display in a recent Southwest Airlines brand story– where a dress was the defined protagonist.

Imagine you are a bridesmaid headed to a destination wedding in Costa Rica. Further, imagine that in the excitement of the wedding you depart the U.S. only to realize that you left your bridesmaid dress at the shop where it was being altered. Having exhausted all other expedited delivery options, imagine your friend back home reaching out to Southwest Airlines via the following tweet:

@SouthwestAir help!! My friend is in a wedding on Saturday in Costa Rica but she left her bridesmaid dress here in Houston! Can we get her dress on flight #1734 tomorrow??? #WorthATry #BestCustomerService

Now imagine Southwest responds:

We like where your head’s at, Mind sending us a Direct Message with her info?

In the spirit of “Fun-LUVing attitude” and “Wow Your Customer,” Southwest went to heroic lengths to delight the bridesmaid but made the dress the lead character in visual storytelling rolled out through Twitter. Here are five tweets (including one that shows that Southwest created a dress tracker for Twitter followers to watch the motion of the protagonist through the story).






As you think of characters for your brand stories, please realize they don’t always have to be a person, but they must have these elements in common – characters are:

  • Addressing a universal need
  • Three-dimensional
  • Charismatic (meaning they are vulnerable or approachable, willing to share, reasonably confident and trustworthy)

In future blogs, we will talk about where you can find your characters (animate and inanimate) to tell stories that reinforce your mission, vision, values, and overall brand identity.

We will also get into the cadence, trajectory, authenticity, and hooks for your stories.

In the meantime, if you’d like to talk about your brand, brand stories, or branded customer experience – we are here to listen – because what is the good of a story unless there are people who are eager to hear it and help you share it effectively?

Simply contact us so we can help you amplify your brand stories.

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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