MRA enlisted several researchers attending the Corporate Researchers Conference in Dallas this week to report back summaries & insights from the conference sessions.  This report is on the keynote session “The CEO’s Unique Perspective” by Jim Parker, Former CEO of Southwest Airlines.

Jim Parker engaged in an interactive interview with Barry Jennings (Director, Global Insights Group at Dell) to understand, from a CEO’s perspective, what role marketing research had during his time at the helm of Southwest.

  • Southwest Airlines was started by customers who were unhappy with traditional airline service. Their primary focus was and continues to be customer service.
  • Information about customers came from anecdotal evidence, focus groups, and observed behavior.
  • A culture of employee and customer engagement must permeate the entire organization; employees and customers must see it from their leaders, especially immediate supervisors.

Researchers’ take-away points and concerns:

  • C-suite will make decisions whether they have good information, bad information or NO information.  It is MR’s job to make sure they have information that tells them what they need to know and do so in a way that is easy to digest.
  • It is very important to understand what your customers SAY they want vs. what they EXHIBIT they want.
  • The culture of Southwest is their #1 advantage.  Understand what the culture of your organization is and ensure everyone from the top on down shares it, believes it and embraces it every day.
  • Surveys that already tell you what you know are not useful.  Be the hedgehog.
  • Just as Southwest Airlines has distinguished itself from its competitors, they take a very unique view of marketing research. It seems that they rely a lot on “anecdotal research” that they gather personally from employees and customers.  Southwest Airlines’ marketing research appears to be based more on “art” than “science.”