Behavioral Targeting Takes Wing at Southwest

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Air carriers like Southwest Airlines can more effectively understand the strength of their brand by looking at the extent to which consumers are researching them online.

Compete Inc.'s travel practice division took a close look at the travel research behavior of 2 million U.S. consumers on an ongoing basis. The effort also included research and booking behavior for each region of the United States.

" Airline marketers now have visibility into consumer demand in every region of the U.S.," said Gregory Saks, d irector of travel for Compete, Boston.

"If one carrier experiences an increase or decrease in consumer interest in a specific region, it is an indication that ticket prices or marketing spend need to be adjusted," he said.

Southwest is one of the leaders in its ability to drive consumers straight to its own Web site at www.southwest.com. Other airlines offer the same facility, with the added ability to book tickets through third-party sites like www.expedia.com, www.orbitz.com and www.travelocity.com.

However, unlike other carriers, Southwest tickets can only be bought online on its site.

Because consumers are forced to visit the site to look for fare information, Southwest can target the user according to his or her behavior, including which promotions and offers it wants to make to each shopper.

As a result, the airline has launched a direct-to-consumer desktop marketing product called "DING," offered exclusively at southwest.com. More than 2 million consumers have downloaded the application.

" Regional brand effectiveness is another input into an airline's revenue management and pricing decisions, which are a significant challenge for the industry," Mr. Saks said. "Identifying how many flight shoppers exist for your brand regionally, and whether or not these consumers are considering other airlines, provides an indication into each airline's ability to raise fares."

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