Editorial: Why JetBlue is flying high

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Since its inception, JetBlue Airways Corp. has spent $31.8 million on measured media-a seemingly meager ad budget for the first three years in the life of a new airline. Yet its seat-sales percentages are the best in the business; it has garnered more positive press in the past 12 months than any of its rivals; and it has developed the kind of customer loyalty many better-established companies dream about.

Just like Starbucks Corp. in its early years, JetBlue has achieved such success by creating a customer experience that prompts consumers to recommend it to friends, and by employing smart PR, alongside call-to-action ads, to do some of the initial brand-building work without breaking the bank. This JetBlue experience is the result of innovative thinking from its management and marketing team: leather seats; live TV for every customer; and some neat snacks. But it is also about the unusually friendly and efficient service customers say they receive from reservation agents, ground staff and flight crew.

Like the communications team at Southwest Airlines, but unlike so many other companies, JetBlue's marketing team has worked hard to involve employees in decisions that concern them and have made it as much of a priority to communicate internally as externally. It helps explain why staffers, though not as well paid as many of their peers at other airlines, are motivated to go out of their way for customers.

The fact that JetBlue found its advertising voice-a touch irreverent, but honest and human-in the last year didn't harm its chances of being selected as Advertising Age's Marketer of the Year. But what set Jet Blue apart from some tough competitors for that recognition was its shrewd use of other marketing tools, such as PR, and its creation of an airline customer experience that's become as much a part of the JetBlue sales story as its low prices. This airline's success shows, once again, that every consumer contact is a branding opportunity.

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