What keeps the marketing engines of JetBlue running so smoothly? It could have something to do with CMO Marty St. George, a pilot of the company’s marketing team and expert navigator of the testy air travel market. In an industry full of machinery (both literal and figurative), St. George leads a marketing team that has separated itself from the steely competition through the company’s core values, its ability to cleverly tap into current events and its focus on customer ownership of the JetBlue brand.
A Company of Marketers
Whereas many business owners like to think of their companies as one big “family,” JetBlue gives its employees the benefit of joining a slightly more meaningful group. “Every month we hold an orientation for new crewmembers at our training center, and many senior leaders attend,” St. George says. “When I speak at orientation, my first line is to welcome everyone to the marketing team – since everyone who touches a customer owns a piece of the brand.”
This is St. George exercising his duties as the CMO of one of the more humanized airline brands in the market. He sees it as his job to ensure that each interaction, whether employee-to-employee or employee-to-customer, remains as central to JetBlue’s core as possible. “As CMO, I am focused on making sure that our mission and values come through in every communication we do,” he says. “Both internal and external.”
The idea, St. George explains, is that as go the crewmembers, so go the passengers. “At JetBlue, we all recognize that the experience is the ultimate manifestation of the brand,” he says. “And our people learn this on day 1.”
Keeping in Tune with Humanity
When its entire workforce is considered part of the marketing team, it’s not surprising that JetBlue’s campaigns would have the ability to effectively tap into widely shared human feelings and desires. For example, JetBlue’s Election Protection campaign connected with Americans’ emotions surrounding the 2012 Presidential election, but in a way that was clever and also politically sensitive. The company ran a sweepstakes where it promised to give away 2,012 free flights out of the country if the “other” candidate won, depending on the selection of each user. It was widely successful, received “zero blowback,” according to St. George, and brought a generous amount of buzz to JetBlue’s doorstep.
Similarly, when the 405 Freeway closed in Los Angeles — a horror akin to shutting down the New Jersey turnpike — JetBlue recognized commuters’ desires to escape what would be nightmarish traffic and decided to capitalize. The initiative was called “Carmageddon,” and for one day, JetBlue offered flights between Long Beach and Burbank.
“When the team brought the idea to me, I said, ‘I can’t imagine this getting buzz, but feel free to do it, if you can do it cheaply,’” St. George says. “For about $ 10,000 in spend, we generated almost $ 10mm in impressions. We had captured the moment in a fun, creative way.”
It’s this kind of customer participation that JetBlue strives to duplicate day in and day out, always with a human touch. “Our mission is to inspire humanity, and part of what we try to accomplish is that personal connection between the brand and our customers,” St. George says.
Because JetBlue customers could spend anywhere from a couple hours to an entire day interacting with the airline during a flight, the company makes a point of integrating the customers into the brand, absorbing feedback to ensure that this hours-long touch point is as pleasant an experience as possible. This has created a positive feedback loop for JetBlue. “Our customers feel personal ownership of the brand, and they are very vocal about the things they love, and the things they want us to change,” St. George says.
When asked about the importance of JetBlue’s content in giving customers a chance to chime in, he says that content is only one tool in the shed. In true JetBlue fashion, it’s the customer-to-company participation that matters most. “I think ‘content’ is a concept that’s going to become obsolete very soon,” St. George says. “Rather than focusing on content as a means, we focus on engagement as the end. Content is one of many ways to create engagement, but certainly not the only way. We have done some innovative programs, but we do it with the goal of engagement.”
In partnership with The CMO Club, The CMO of the Week series profiles CMOs who are shaping, changing and challenging the world of modern marketing. For Neisser’s complete interview with CMO Award Winner St. George, click here.