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Interview with Marty St. George (@martysg), CMO at JetBlue

Marty StGeorgeYesterday I had the privilege and pleasure to  interview Marty St.George, the CMO at JetBlue (for the second time). You can listen to the podcast, which was sponsored by Microsoft, on the FastForward blog.

Here is what I wrote for the FASTforward Blog.

We started the conversation by focusing on what it takes  to achieve one of JetBlue’s original goals – bringing humanity back to the airline industry. Many companies try to embrace humanity or talk about humanizing their brands, but very few achieve that goal the way JetBlue has. Most end up with pockets of humanity or episodic programs that makes them seem human for a little period of time. JetBlue was able to scale it to the point where it has become part of the fabric of the company.

The secret?

First, they created a culture based on embracing humanity – they did not just try to make humanity an add-on to a more traditional airline business culture. Where most other airlines consider themselves in the airline operating business, seeing their jobs as flying airplanes around, JetBlue considers itself in the customer service business, and they happen to fly airplanes as part of that. Second, and in order to scale “embracing humanity” as their  company grew, they built a set of  5 core values by which they hire, train, and lead their people – Safety, Caring, Integrity, Passion, and Fun. They also realize that the company does not own the culture, nor the brand – the employees do, and every crew member is an equal owner in the culture and the brand. Subtle nuances to some traditional business thinkers, but possibly the single most important difference between a company who can truly claim to have a human face and one that is just giving it lip service.

We then talked about the importance of leadership in maintaining such a culture, and how JetBlue University is an integral part of coaching and training new leaders from within. They also have a very different concept of teaming than most traditional companies – making sure that no silos form within their organizational structure, and being very collaborative in nature. Being able to have a true  collaborative culture is another byproduct of being based on a shared mission and core values.

The 2nd part of the conversation was focused primarily on JetBlue’s embrace of Social Media. For JetBlue, Social Media is the antithesis of media – it is a direct connection/two way conversation between the customer and the brand. While they started with social media as an experiment, they now have truly made it part of the fabric of their company. Like Dell, they realize that you cannot just play by putting a toe in the water – at some point you need to go all out. And when you do it right, people do not just talk with you, they talk with one another about you – providing you with the richest learning environment.

We also touched on the messy side of embracing humanity – including how to deal with people who unfairly voice their anger and frustration in public, and how to avoid being taken hostage by others who have big social media megaphones.

Other things we talked about include:

  • The importance of senior leadership involvement in onboarding new employees
  • How your front line employees are your brand
  • The need to keep a small business feel as your company grows
  • The role of passion in the workplace and the importance of communications as part of that
  • The importance of praise in embracing humanity
  • How to keep the balance between being being hi-tech vs. hi-touch and still be able to claim that your brand embraces humanity
  • How twitter scales as a customer service channel
  • The importance of trials in airline marketing

You can listen to the podcast over at the FASTforward Blog.

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