Ready for takeoff: JetBlue's sales, brand loyalty set to soar with CSR book effort

JetBlue launched a free book vending machine initiative for underprivileged kids earlier this month.

Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III at book vending machine launch event.
Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III at book vending machine launch event.

JetBlue’s campaign aimed at improving literacy among children in low-income areas demonstrates how an innovative, well-executed CSR effort can have impact – not only on society – but on fans, employees, and business results.

Nearly nine out of 10 consumers want meaningful relationships with brands, per Edelman’s second annual Brandshare report last fall. Consumers want companies to meet their societal, emotional, and rational demands, and if all three needs are met, they are 8% more likely to buy from that brand and 12% more likely to recommend it.

The airline, which has received coverage from outlets such as The Washington Post, People, The Independent, The Huffington Post, and Bustle, launched its free book vending machine initiative  two weeks ago in the Washington, DC neighborhood of Anacostia. The program is part of JetBlue’s 5th annual Soar With Reading initiative in partnership with Random House.

Not only can cause marketing campaigns impact sales, they can have a significant effect on employees, aka brands’ biggest advocates. Last year, according to JetBlue’s annual Responsibility Report, more staffers than ever signed up for community projects, volunteering 103,279 hours of their own time throughout 2014.

Happy employees lead to longer retention rates. Last year, JetBlue lowered its turnover rate among 18 to 25 year olds by 8%, year-over-year, and 4% among staffers 56 years old and up.

When it comes to recruiting, strong CSR efforts are also vital, especially among Millennials, 88% whom gravitate toward working for companies with pronounced CSR programs, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report. JetBlue brought on 3,150 new staffers in 2014.

The airline’s healthy media attention on its book initiative is key since more than half of consumers (54%) learn about branded CSR and sustainability efforts from media outlets, according to a study by G&S Business Communications and The Harris Poll.

In addition to interest from traditional media, the initiative has been earning praise on social. United Way Cleveland, Reading Rainbow, Columbus Literacy, and even US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have commended the vending machine program on Twitter.

Social chatter will help build buzz among wider audiences, especially since 40% of consumers hear about a company’s CSR work through word-of-mouth, followed by 32% on social channels, according to the aforementioned study.

The decision to support literacy – in addition to being a good cause overall – is smart because it’s a relatable topic. Anacostia school data shows that fewer than 25% of students in Ward 8 middle school are at reading level, and that number drops to 18% in the district’s high school. The vending machine effort, which will provide 100,000 books this summer to children up to 14 years old and up, can help propel younger, less fortunate generations toward getting a better education.

Kicking off the campaign with three vending machines in Anacostia, an area JetBlue discovered has little to no access to age-appropriate children’s books, is strategic on a number of levels. The brand can evaluate the program’s triumphs and failures before rolling it out in other cities.

And it allows JetBlue to engage people on a community level.

Cone Communication’s 2013 Social Impact Survey showed that 43% of Americans want companies to support issues that affect the quality of life locally, followed by 38% nationally, and 20% globally.

Teaming up with Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III for the launch event on July 8 in Washington, DC was a smart move because the NFL player has a large following on social media, with more than 1.24 million followers on Twitter, one million on Facebook, and 355,000 on Instagram.

Also, aside from being reportedly distant with his teammates, Griffin, known to fans as RGIII, hasn’t had any major snafus or controversies in the media, which is always important when selecting a celebrity spokesperson.

Griffin helped keep excitement going about the campaign two weeks after the event when he tweeted about it, along with a link and photo of the DC event. The post had more than 100 favorites within 24 hours. 

While it’s too soon to tell the program’s success with data, it already seems like a win on the awareness and engagement front. But more importantly, the campaign should lead to a spike in JetBlue sales, brand affinity, and employee satisfaction in the months to come.  

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