Marty St. George, Senior Vice President of Marketing for JetBlue, tells us how technology has transformed his business. Social media allows direct communication with consumers and unfettered feedback about what's working and what's not. He has instant access to news of breakdowns of customer service issues, and uses online video to get a brand message of broad impact directly to consumers.

February 2012

The world is moving faster than ever before, bringing us instant access and split-second connections to people and information.

Speed is important in technology, but equally essential in business. We spoke with Marty St. George, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Commercial at JetBlue, about how he’s adding jet fuel to his marketing department.

Here are some highlights from our conversation:

On how JetBlue came to use social media

"Our social media efforts actually came through one of the biggest crises that we faced at Jetblue, which was our operational challenges in the winter of 2007. As we looked to recover from that, we had a multi-media effort, trying to basically talk to our customers and make things better. Our CEO at the time was on television; we had full page ads in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, talking about what we were doing to make things better; we had some videos on YouTube; and while we were at it, we decided to start participating in social media."

"What we recognized very quickly was that there was an awful lot of passion about the airline space among customers, and actually also passion about JetBlue. So as we started engaging with our customers and listening to our customers. We recognized that social media represented a completely unexpected opportunity to really build our brand image... If you think about what marketing had been like for the last 30 years, it had been 90 percent a one-way endeavor—brands would talk to customers and maybe you’d do some market research or focus groups, but you really didn’t have that direct connection with your customers other than the one-offs."

"What we found on social media was this incredible insight to our brand that we never really expected. We’ve learned an awful lot from our customers just by being able to engage with them. And I think most importantly, we’ve very much burnished the personality of the brand. We have a brand that was founded 12 years ago with the mission statement of humanity back to air travel. The most important word in that sentence is actually humanity. What we recognized in social media was, we were doing a great job inadvertently and unexpectedly of really humanizing our brand on a one-to-one level with customers who really wanted to engage with us."

When you do market research, that was a month between the time you started it and you were actually sitting down looking at the report, ingesting it and making changes. Now, there are things I can learn in a single day.

On the benefit of real-time insights

"Historically, the way I would find out that live TV wasn’t working was that a pilot had a plane where live TV didn’t work, he or she would write it up in the log book that night, or maybe the next night. Then it would go to the maintenance team, and they’d look in the log book and say, ‘Oh wow, live TV’s not working.’ The plane could have been flying around for a day or two days with broken live TV. It was a little thing, but it was a great canary in a coal mine for me: I could be on Twitter and as I look through a scan of the brand feed, when a plane didn’t have live TV, I found out about it instantaneously... I can get information so much quicker than I could historically."

"Think about some of the other brand insights. When you do market research, that was a month between the time you started it and you were actually sitting down looking at the report, ingesting it and making changes. Now, there are things I can learn in a single day."

"It’s not just Twitter. It’s on Facebook. I see pictures on Picasa of a plane with condensation on the window—I’m learning stuff constantly about my brand. I also learn great things about my brand. I’m constantly getting feedback of ‘I flew on flight whatever to Boston, and the first attendant on the flight was fantastic!’ and they’d give the flight attendant’s first name...’ Stuff like that was also a great opportunity for us to give feedback to our own crew members, saying ‘Hey, great job. Thank you so much for helping our customers."

On engagement through video

"You go back 20 years where you’re looking at static media, TV, radio, print, one-way media. What’s exciting to us about media right now is that on YouTube, it’s much more free form. We can put anything up there that we want that can communicate our brand message. We actually love the comments section. We love to see what our customers say about what they see and what they learned about jetblue. If you think about 30 second or 60 second commercials, sometimes it’s hard to get ideas across. On our YouTube channel we can put out two-minute videos and we have customers watch them to the very end. If you have engaging content with fun stories and a payoff, you’re providing real value to the customer. And we have no problem getting customers engaged."

Read more digital insights from Marty St. George here