ANA Annual Meeting 2014

How JetBlue Makes Every Employee a Marketer (and Avoids Doing What Delta Would Do)

Outspent 15 to 1 by Southwest, JetBlue Leans on Employees to Send the Message

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JetBlue's Marty St. George
JetBlue's Marty St. George

JetBlue gets outspent nearly 15 to 1 on media by low-cost rival Southwest, and it has a 3% market share compared to 80% controlled by the big four airlines. So how does it remain top of mind for so many air travelers?

The secret is largely in making every employee of the airline a marketer, according to Marty St. George, senior VP-commercial, who described the strategy at the Association of National Advertisers Masters of Marketing conference in Orlando on Thursday.

Orlando is also home to JetBlue's employee training center, and Mr. St. George regularly participates in new-employee orientation.

"Orientation at JetBlue is brand orientation," he said. "I make sure our crew members know how important they are to the brand." His first message at a recent session for 191 new hires: "Every one of you is a marketer."

From its beginning, JetBlue has been about delivering superior flying experience at low cost, leading to 10 consecutive top industry awards by J.D. Power and Associates (some spanning all airlines and more recently for the low-cost segment created by J.D. Power). Part of that involved starting with newer aircraft and free TVs for every seat, with 100 channels of TV and 100 channels of Sirius XM satellite radio available.

But possibly a bigger contributor to that track record is a culture where employees act as representatives of the brand -- starting with recruiting people who have JetBlue's "challenger mentality," Mr. St. George said.

The airline takes that seriously enough that people who don't show the right mindset are sometimes identified and dismissed during the orientation, he added.

Among other tips Mr. St. George offered for creating a culture of brand marketers:

Include the whole staff in your victories. Each time JetBlue has won a J.D. Power award, it travels to every city where the airline operates, in a riff on how National Hockey League teams handle the Stanley Cup. It's ended up being on the field at Yankee Stadium and at a clambake in Portland, Me.

Hire the right people. "It's tough to be hired if you don't love the brand and want to be part of the brand story," Mr. St. George said. Marketers with experience at the big airlines, he said, often don't work out.

Think differentiation on every decision. "We ask if Delta would do this," he said. "If the answer is yes, then we don't."

Recognize good marketing ideas can come from anywhere. When JetBlue launched a "Carmaggedon" promotion in California offering $4.05 flights from Burbank to Long Beach during the closing of Interstate 405 for construction in 2011, it got 3 billion media impressions, including on NBC Nightly News, and ultimately cost a mere $115,000. The idea came not from the marketing department but from the general counsel.

Live the buzzwords. "You probably can't get hired into JetBlue if you haven't studied our values," Mr. St. George said. "And you hear about those values constantly as a JetBlue crew member," as they frequently come up in conversation. Those values, by the way, are safety, caring, integrity, passion and fun.

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