CAMPAIGNS: JetBlue soars on strength of branding

Despite entering the airline sector during a difficult period, JetBlue's brand-driven marketing has helped it fly high as others are struggling to recover.

Despite entering the airline sector during a difficult period, JetBlue's brand-driven marketing has helped it fly high as others are struggling to recover.

JetBlue Airways entered the troubled airline sector in 2000, just as the economy was headed into a tailspin, and well after several other low-fare carriers had long since entered the hangar for good. To say the least, the cards were stacked against JetBlue despite its promise of new planes, easy internet booking, comfortable leather seats, low fares, and DirecTV at every seat. But from the beginning, the JetBlue business plan called for intensive brand management, and focused on the idea that delivering a consistent brand message is the key to growing demand and, ultimately, growing the company. "JetBlue is extremely consistent in wanting to live and portray a very simple value proposition," explains Magnet Communications SVP and chief marketing officer Rob Coburn. "In two words, they 'get branding.' They're all about the branded customer experience." Strategy JetBlue charged Magnet with thinking about communication large and small, and the number of times passengers would be exposed to the brand during the course of a journey. "They asked us to extend the core values behind the JetBlue brand, and to all of their marketing communications and touchpoints of the consumer experience," says Magnet SVP Chris Johnson, who heads the agency's brand-identity practice. Part of that strategy stemmed from the fact that low-fare carriers like ValueJet, People's Express, Kiwi, and Freedom Air, to name but a few, had not fared well in the US market in the past. "We knew that people weren't going to take us seriously unless we positioned ourselves in a completely unique way," says JetBlue VP of marketing Amy Curtis. "My feeling was that just because you don't want to spend a lot of money on non-operational things, that didn't mean the face of the company had to look cheap. There are ways to look sophisticated, savvy, and interesting without spending a fortune on it." Of course, if JetBlue wanted to stay fresh and interesting, it would need to put a plan in place to do just that - one that would not abandon its brand identity and philosophy, but still manage to constantly evolve. Tactics Magnet started by simply looking at the planes themselves. "It was a standard Airbus package in terms of delivery," says Johnson. "And we worked to help bring more of a brand flavor to the planes that the customers fly. One of the things we developed with them was a series of proprietary patterns that reflect the exuberance and excitement of the brand. We can take something very basic, like the tail fin, the plane interior, or signage in the terminal, and "JetBlue" it, so to speak - make it feel like the brand." In fact, JetBlue now redesigns the tail fins on all its planes every year, and is in the process of once again redesigning the cabin spaces of the planes. "It works well," Johnson says, "because think about the number of times an airline has to communicate. Over time, the selection of patterns grows, and can be changed and used in different ways. So there's always something fresh and new, but it's still very much consistent, and reflects back to the values of the brand." Curtis adds, "If you're painting a brand-new airplane, why not paint it something that's going to look different and make it stand out from everyone else that's out there? After all, it doesn't cost any more to do it properly." This same thinking was applied to every communication opportunity, from the boarding passes, to the signage in the terminals, to the e-ticket kiosks, to the messages that flash on the DirecTV screens during the flight. "An airline's name and logo get translated so many times in the course of a day, the best thing would be to keep it simple, clean, and elegant, and subject to fewer breaches of brand identity," says Curtis. And such an approach also served JetBlue well where things weren't as "JetBlue-able" as they were elsewhere. For example, at JetBlue's hub in New York's JFK Airport, the back wall is painted in a JetBlue-like tail-fin pattern. "It works OK there," says Curtis, "but it was difficult to translate it to every airport we fly to, like Denver and Seattle, where we only have one round trip per night. Our physical presence in the airport can be very small - it could be a borrowed gate. It just didn't work in other places." Results Even though not everything is JetBlue-able, so to speak, the airline has enjoyed enormous success since its launch only two years ago. More routes have been added, more people are flying JetBlue, and the company is not only publicly traded, but profitable. In Q2 of this year, JetBlue had an operating margin of 18.6%, it's sixth-consecutive profitable quarter, with operating revenues of $149.3 million. More interestingly, however, is just how much the brand seems to resonate with the airline's customers. "We've started to hear that people aren't just saying, 'Oh, I flew to Florida.' They say, 'I took JetBlue to Florida.' What that means to us is the JetBlue experience is special to customers," says Johnson. Oddly enough, people are also beginning to trade JetBlue paraphernalia on eBay, such as the first flight schedule, baseball hats, and even the safety cards from the seat pockets. Future Johnson expects that as JetBlue's route offerings continue to expand, so will Magnet's relationship with the airline, especially considering that the brand must continue to be innovative and evolve, as is called for in the business plan and agency relationship alike. "The hardest job I have is to keep doing that," says Curtis. "We try and have a sort of continuous flow of new visual elements to bring to the experience. Once you've established yourself as an innovative brand, you have to remain innovative in order to live up to it - it's a constant evolution." One that other low-fare carriers - and even major airlines - would do well to take note of.

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