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Know Your Purpose: Having Some Fun With Alaska Airlines

By Sander Biehn | Feb 27, 2014

Stranded on the west coast last week, I came into contact with Alaska Airlines for the first time. I was wandering through the departure hall and bumped into a friendly face wearing a Seahawks jersey and carrying a clipboard. “Do you work here?” I asked. Everyone was wearing green and blue that day.

When she learned that I needed help getting home and that I was new to Alaska Airlines, she gave me the run down. “At Alaska we like to have fun,” she began. She promised to get me home, but I was smitten by her first sentence. Not only was I going to get home, I was going to have fun. Riding in a brand new 737-900 for the next 5 hours was effortless for me. I enjoyed my tomato juice and peanuts immensely and I read the in-flight magazine with interest to learn about how much fun Alaska was having wherever they flew. According to Eric Holzclaw, CEO of Laddering Works and an expert on consumer marketing, I “bought” Alaska’s vision and was predisposed to being a part of it.  Whether the Seahawk-clad employee knew it or not, she sold me the Alaska vision.

I think there is a lot to learn here for B2B marketers as well. Let’s deconstruct what happened. Before Alaska Airlines even asked me where I was going, they gave me their mission statement. It was simple, honest and relevant. Flying isn’t always easy, but at least they can make it as fun as possible. Once I understood why they did what they did, I could see fun in the motives of each employee from take-off to touchdown.  Maybe I was even seeing it where it didn’t exist? No matter, that is the power of understanding a brand’s motivation. I wanted to be part of the vision too. Just like a visitor to Disneyworld, I was told to have fun and I wanted to comply.  In fact, the desire to want to be part of that vision just prompted me to buy my next ticket out west on Alaska even though they are more expensive than the airlines I normally fly.

The effect of a clear and admirable vision has a two benefits. For employees, they now know how to approach their day and each challenge and obstacle they will encounter. Keep it fun! It rings in their ears no matter what the weather dishes out. Also, they can articulate to customers what to expect. This is evidenced by my first encounter with Alaska.  For customers like me, they understand why Alaska is in business. Do they want to beat corporate earning expectations? Do they want to get the most money they can from me by signing me up for an airline credit card? No! They want to have some fun. So, if I am not interested in fun, they are just fine with me flying with someone else. They never said they’d be the least expensive. However, if I want to join their cause and spread fun and happiness, they would love to have me along for the ride.

Recently, I was discussing this phenomenon with a customer. This client has done a stellar job at articulating his mission and purpose in the market. His competitors are all but lost on this account and it shows. My customer is quickly snapping up business. Also he is kicking it on social media channels. The company is able to respond quickly and effortlessly to accolades and complaints; always through the lens of the purpose statement. Meanwhile, the competition flounders.

I reminded my client that his competitors would pay millions to have what they have: a clear sense of purpose. “I know,” he laughed. He seemed so calm and confident. It made me want to be a part of his success.

Does your company know why you are in business?  If so, can your employees and customers articulate it? How do you find your true mission and how do you make sure your employees and marketing teams lead with that vision?

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