The High-Tech Texan Blog

Monday, February 28, 2005

Ding! Southwest Airlines Launches A Marketing Flight

Full disclosure - I love Southwest Airlines. Been flying SWA since I was a little boy growing up in Dallas. I've owned a few shares of stock in the company since I was 13. I flew so many times one year I had a Companion Pass - the equivalent of an "everyone wants to be my friend" trophy. I've got a lot of LUV for Southwest.

They are marketing geniuises. Low fares. Peanuts. Fun attitude. Herb. Double credits when booking online (alas, those were the days).

But the darling of the airline industry and one of the few profitable carriers is trying to pull the wool over our eyes. Or at least get us to eat more peanuts. SWA debuted a new service that sends price fare alerts directly to customers' computer desktops. The product, called DING!, can be downloaded from Southwest's Web site. Once downloaded it is located in the bottom right-hand corner of your desktop where other application icons are located.

I should love this feature. I love to fly and appreciate the lowest fares available. I'm The High-Tech Texan. They are a Texas-based airline. This is technology at its coolest, right?

Southwest said it came up with the service because shopping for deals online can take up too much time. Maybe. But I already believe they offer some of the lowest fares and when I search for low fares I go to their Web site and look at prices for the route I want to fly. That's 23 seconds out of my busy day.

What DING! gives Southwest is something much more valuable than filling seats on its planes. It gives them presence on computer users' desktops. And that space is priceless. If you don't believe me ask Bill Gates. He has spent untold millions of dollars in legal fees defending Microsoft's right to place their own products (namely Internet Explorer) on every computer that comes installed with Windows. That's roughly every computer in the world.

(note to my Macintosh fans - relax. Southwest's DING! product is not yet available for Macs so your point is moot).

An icon on your desktop or in your system tray can be the equivalent of gold. It's because these applications, services or Web links are constantly top of mind. There they are, all day. Staring at you while you gaze back at your monitor. One click and you are surfing on their site. That's one-click away from potentially booking an airline ticket, for example.

I downloaded DING! and I expected to book a trip from Houston to Vegas for $39 each way. Still waiting. I did find my first DING! deal. I could go from Hobby to Providence, RI, for $90 each way. A quick check of the SWA Web site found a savings of $9 each way. Grant it, $18 total is a lot of peanuts but enough to give Southwest the opportunity to have access to my eye balls every time I sit at my PC?

I would like DING! better if it worked like a true interactive application. Let me completely see a deal and book it through the DING! window that pops up. Here is where Southwest reveals this is more of a marketing tool. All of the buttons on the DING! are actually links to their Web site.

Click "Book Air" or "Check In Online" and you are free to move to Non-stop.

And landing on a Web site is the frequent flying goal of most every company with Web presence. Usage numbers and Web traffic can increase significantly which means companies can make more money on banners and ads (though SWA does not run ads on its site). More traffic can get a Web site listed higher on search engines; a pinultimate goal for a company with lots of competiton.

I like the fact that my favorite airline, my hometown airline, my airline that I partially own (maybe one bolt on one wing) continues to be on the cutting edge of technology and wants to continue offering some of the lowest fares in the air. But don't pass it off with a press release that made headline news touting it as a way to save time when looking for online fares.

There's much more at stake.

(note: I will keep using DING! for at least the next 30 days. Hey, I'll get two bonus flight credits for just staring at that orange and blue airplane tail on the bottom right-hand corner of my screen!)