"The best marketing people in the world are paranoid."
And that's a good thing, according to Amy Curtis-McIntyre, who as Jet Blue's vice president of marketing was responsible for many of the customer service and employee team-building initiatives that helped make the company one of the most innovative and successful airlines. Paranoia, she explained, helps marketers look outside of the box for ways to appeal to customers. Curtis-McIntyre, who is now attempting to re-market the Hyatt hotel chain, shared her observations about brand building, and how they might be translatable to the housing industry, during a lively presentation she made at the BUILDER 100 conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., this week.
Curtis-McIntyre is a force of nature who uses words like "really" as exclamation points. But when she joined Jet Blue as its second employee, the business she entered was enough to defeat even the most optimistic of dynamos: In surveys, airlines ranked about even with departments of motor vehicles as organizations customers despised doing business with. So she set out to "bring humanity back to flying," by breaking many of the rules that industry had subscribed to for decades. Essentially, this boiled down to one basic objective: "Make coach suck less," she said.
To achieve that, Jet Blue essentially recreated the flying experience. It eliminated first-class seating and went to single-class, pre-assigned seats. "We had no idea how powerful this was going to be" in terms of customers' psyche, she said. The airline trained its employees to be "brand ambassadors" by becoming responsive to passengers' needs. Jet Blue also provided amenities that, at the time, were unheard of, such as free 36-channel DirecTV access at every seat.
The goal, for Jet Blue or any successful company, she said, should be to engender "remarkable moments" that customers will remember and relate to their friends, thereby spreading the brand message. She is also a firm believer in the connection between a company's prosperity and the performance of its employees.
Curtis-McIntyre emphasized that the cultivation of a brand hinges on its credibility with customers. For Jet Blue, that meant telling passengers the truth about why flights were delayed by giving them updates every 15 minutes. Jet Blue also informed passengers that it kept fares low by having attendants clean the plane while it was in the air, so it spent less time on the ground for housekeeping. And when Jet Blue began flying cross-country to Ontario, Calif., instead of equipping its planes with galleys it decided instead not to serve food at all, explaining to customers that "we're not a restaurant," said Curtis-McIntyre, and that Jet Blue was doing them a service by not subjecting customers to substandard meals.
During her presentation, Curtis-McIntyre showed three of Jet Blue's TV commercials, all of which featured its employees. These ads humorously played on the negative stereotypes surrounding air travel and how Jet Blue was different. Interestingly, she made the point that her company relied less on advertising than on public relations to get its point across to customers. She also warned her listeners that effective marketing would be pointless unless it creates a brand in consumers' minds that "stands for something."