My CMO 2.0 Conversation with Marty St. George, CMO at JetBlue was truly enjoyable – especially since I am intimately familiar with the service they provide and biased in that I am a big fan of the company. JetBlue managed to turn what has essentially been a commoditized service by other airlines into a brand that is far from a commodity.
JetBlue’s original mission was to bring humanity back to the airline industry. So the first topic we tackled was how you can humanize a brand when there are so many employee touch points that can make or break that brand promise. It turns out that for JetBlue, the most important ingredient for success is having a values-based culture – one in which every single employee bases his or her actions on those values. Not surprisingly, the values that drive the JetBlue culture are fairly straightforward and easy to live by:
- Safety (the most important of course)
All employees get screened against those values during the hiring process, go through extensive training on it after they get hired, and get constantly reminded of those values throughout their career. The end result is that everyone at JetBlue feels part of a big team, single-mindedly focused on improving the customer experience and by proxy the JetBlue business. Front line crew members are empowered to make independent decisions based on those values, and because of that values-based approach they end up with a self-enforcing culture that has built-in organizational learning. Off course, and in order to make true empowerment work for a company, you also have to have a tolerance for failure.
Marty further talked about the importance of transparency in forming a cohesive workforce – one that focuses on them (the customers) and not us (the employees). Briefing employees on how the business is doing and addressing their concerns in a timely manner is at least as important to JetBlue executives as it is to deal with investors.
Surprisingly (or maybe not because it is an effective marketing strategy in just about any other industry), one of most effective marketing techniques at JetBlue is getting customers to try the service. I say surprisingly because I would have never expected an airline marketing executive to talk about trials. But if you look at the All You Can Jet program (#aycj on twitter), where people can fly as much as they want during a 30 day period for $599, or their “JetBlue Cheeps” program (@JetBlueCheeps on Twitter), where they announce cheap fares between selected locations every Monday, that is exactly what they are doing – getting people to try the product. The results are very good because they are confident that once they get someone to fly with them, they’ll get them back again.
As usual we touched on the marketing mix impact of the fact that most of their audiences have gone digital. And since 80% of all JetBlue tickets are sold on JetBlue.com, it is not surprising that most of their marketing spend is online – with very strong marketing metrics as a result. Even though I would consider JetBlue a strong adopter of social media-based marketing and customer service, Marty believes that there is still a ton to learn and plenty of unearthed opportunities for them (and others). Twitter is an especially successful channel for them – providing both a window into the brand and as said before a tremendous source for trials and customer service-based interactions. As they engage with disgruntled twitterers they constantly have to make sure that they don’t undermine the decisions made by empowered front line employees – they do not want twitter to become a court of last appeal. Fortunately that is where a values-based culture comes back into play – they can predict 99% of all decisions made by front line employees and reinforce those decisions where needed on twitter without having to check with those decision makers.
Lastly we spend some time talking about the importance of innovation as part of JetBlue’s success. While the innovation process is informal and organic, it is part of everyone’s job to think about innovation. They also have a few avenues for customers to get involved in innovation. According to Marty, one of the key ingredients to make innovation with customers and employees work, is to be a good listener and to always provide a response – positive or negative – to every suggestion. As with many other CMOs we interviewed Marty does not believe that you need a reward system to incentivize innovation – it should all be based on a social contract.
On a closing note, Marty mentioned the simple mission statement that he has for his marketing team, the 3 B’s – “Brand, Buzz, and Butts.” You got to love simplicity when it works like this.
Other things we talked about include:
- The pros and cons of adding social media information as part of your CRM profiles
- The importance of internal review teams to allow for lateral communications and sharing of best and worst practices
- Their social media monitoring and engagement process
- How you have to stay small as you become a big company
- The importance of customer privacy and the impact of social media profiles on that privacy
- How their JD Power award, which they have won for multiple years now, is going on tour to all their local centers, much like you would have a hockey trophy going around
- Other ways through which to create passion for your brand
As usual you can listen to podcast over at the CMO 2.0 Site and soon we will publish a transcript.