Tracy's dream had always been to be a flight attendant, and Southwest Airlines made her dream come true. For one flight, she was allowed to greet passengers over the intercom, pass out snacks, and a put a smile on the faces of the passengers.

By the end of the trip, Tracy--who has special needs--had tears in her eyes. The video of her flight--which was viewed more than 600,000 times within 24 hours of being posted on Southwest's Facebook page--brought a tear to many others, too, judging by the comments.

The video is intended to showcase Southwest's spirit for its customers, of course. But there's another audience in mind--an even more important audience--the company's 57,000 employees. It's a brilliant lesson for any entrepreneur in making your company a great place to work--and a brand people will evangelize.

Southwest's founder put people first.

Since its inception under founder Herb Kelleher, Southwest has been a company that prides itself on putting people first. It was the first major airline to introduce profit-sharing to employees. Kelleher created a stir in the investment community when he announced that his company puts employees first, customers second and shareholders third.  

What could be the most powerful symbol of putting people first? A heart. In 2014, Southwest launched a brand identity campaign with the tagline: "Without a heart, it's just a machine." The airline's new look, which includes hearts, is now prevalent on aircrafts, logos and airport signs.

Logos and taglines are meaningless, however, if they aren't backed by real stories of real people experiencing the company spirit. Tracy's story and video is an example of bringing the brand identity to life. The caption on the video reads: "We are proud of our employees for creating this special experience to make a dream come true...at 35,000 feet!"

Love creates loyalty.

This year, Southwest earned second place on Indeed's list of the 50 best places to work, one spot higher than Salesforce. The word "love" appears more than 200 times among the 1,300 current and former Southwest employees who left reviews on the site.

Although the company's perks like good health benefits are called "great" or "amazing," the word "love" is reserved for people. Among the comments:

  • "I love my job because I am to coach/mentor employees when in need."
  • "I loved every day at Southwest Airlines. They truly are a wonderful company that cares about their employees."
  • "I love Southwest. Manager and overall, employees are very nice, helpful, fun and polite."

Southwest CEO Gary Kelly has articulated the company's purpose succinctly in the form of three pillars. Kelly says Southwest Airlines exists "to connect people to what's important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel."

Like a slogan or a sticker, the purpose is meaningless without real stories of real people to back it up. On Southwest's social media pages and on the company's intranet, stories are shared in the form of text, video, or photos that reinforce one of the company's core pillars: friendly, reliable or low-cost. Tracy's day was made possible by a friendly flight attendant named Vicki, who met Tracy on a flight a few months earlier and was determined to make the young girl's dream come true.

Think about your company's purpose. Is it clear, succinct and aspirational? Are you communicating its purpose consistently and frequently? Most importantly, are you sharing the stories of how your company lives its purpose with every employee and every customer?

A recent survey of college students and their buying preferences by ad agency MNI Targeted Media shows that the next generation of consumers are highly attracted to brands with "strong values" and "a dedication to social impact." If your company stands for more than the product--like Southwest--you can't expect employees or customers to discover it themselves.

They have to reminded about the impact your company makes each and every day. That's how you turn consumers into evangelists for your brand.

Published on: Sep 5, 2018