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Oct 18, 2004

JetBlue Airways' VP Marketing Reveals Her Five Budget Marketing Lessons

SUMMARY: How do you launch an entire airline on about 1/10th of the budget of most? Very cleverly. JetBlue VP Marketing Amy Curtis-McIntyre's strategy was simple. "If any other airline can do this, then JetBlue can't." Hear her story, including PR stunts, plane painting, and placing ads in publications that major airlines "wouldn't touch."
by Contributing Editor Jennifer Nastu

"It's very easy to throw $75 million [into marketing]," says Amy Curtis-McIntyre, VP Marketing JetBlue Airways. "It's much more difficult when your boss tells you that you have under $10 million to launch an airline."

The relatively small marketing budget forced Curtis-McIntyre and her team to perform "more efficiently and more intelligently." Here are the five lessons she learned along the way:

-> Lesson #1. Involve marketing on all touchpoints

"Integration of product development and marketing makes the overall customer experience so much better," says Curtis-McIntyre.

Involve marketing on every touchpoint so that there's no separation between what Product Development and Marketing think about the product.

Curtis-McIntyre's team either managed or was heavily involved in all customer touchpoints, from the Web site and phone scripts to in-flight snack service and flight attendant uniforms.

-> Lesson #2. Build internal ambassadors

Curtis-McIntyre knew it was important that every member of the JetBlue team felt passionate about the brand, banking on the power of grass roots and word-of-mouth marketing to make up for the shortfall in budget.

"So we built brand ambassadors all over the team," she explains. Her two favorite stories:

a. Painting the aircraft

Curtis-McIntyre and her team wanted something unique and stylish for the exterior of the aircraft. She went to the Technical Operations folks -- the people who care for the planes -- and asked their advice.

"We said, 'If you could paint an airplane, how would you do it?'"

They said the aircraft should be light colored on top for fuel efficiencies -- and dark on the bottom to hide dirt. The rudder, which often needs replacing, should be dark so replacements won't be as noticeable.

"We painted the aircraft against what Technical Operations recommended. So now we have a group of mechanics who believe they were part of the design, and you don't have to give them a lot of marketing psychobabble," she says.

b. Designing uniforms

Curtis-McIntyre had never been involved in uniform design before, so she took the head of In-flight and the head of Pilots and talked to the flight attendants about what they would want to wear.

"We solicited feedback from the people who would be dealing with customers every day," she says. "Then I wore the uniform myself to make sure it fit well."

Because they felt involved, there was immediate acceptance of the uniform.

-> Lesson #3. Rely on PR (and do stunts other companies can't get away with)

Curtis-McIntyre's strategy was that, "If any other airline can do this, then JetBlue can't," she says.

For example:

a. Live TV from an airplane

"We're players in the service industry, not just transportation," she says. To convey that message, on the first day that JetBlue flew, they brought onboard a plane some of the characters and personalities from the channels they would be showing on DirecTV.

"We ran a huge event called TV Comes to Life," with Fred Flintstone and Abraham Lincoln, among others, she explains. "It was hysterical seeing Abe Lincoln sitting on a brand new airplane," and he ended up being interviewed by Matt Lauer, co-anchor of "Today."

b. Pilgrims come to "America" for Thanksgiving

JetBlue had been planning to start service between New York and Las Vegas, but when National Airlines stopped doing that route, JetBlue moved the Vegas start-date up three months.

"We had no time," Curtis-McIntyre says. "So we ran a $10,000 pair of ads, one in the Village Voice, another in one of the NY tabloids."

Because it was just before Thanksgiving, they invited "pilgrims" to come to America (a restaurant in NY). Anyone who arrived in costume was given a free, round-trip ticket to Vegas.

The event included a charity element, asking people to bring canned goods to donate to City Harvest, a feed-the-homeless program.

400 people showed up in costume (including a tofurkey and a transvestite pilgrim). The event was picked up by Fox 5, ABC, and a big radio morning show.

-> Lesson #4. Respect customer service

Curtis-McIntyre's team respects JetBlue's customer service agents, and they show it -- an important detail, since customer service reps have the most interaction with customers.

First, they gave the customer service agents the same uniforms as the flight attendants.

"Most airlines cut corners on the customer service uniforms, and it shows," she says. "It says something about how much the airline really cares about you."

And most of her team is proficient on the reservation system. If there's an emergency, she can send her marketing professionals out to the airport to help on reservations. "It builds the belief that no single job is more important than another."

-> Lesson #5. Stick to your guns in the face of competition

As the "little guy" competing against giants, Curtis-McIntyre's team knew they'd be outspent in the media. But they had another challenge: two of their competitors were in Chapter 11.

"The only thing worse than competition is desperate competition," she says. "When things get more difficult, you should focus on your original business plan and your greatest strengths. They might spend more money, which means my messages have to be more clear."

Curtis-McIntyre continued to focus on arenas that her competition wouldn't touch, such as smaller publications and community, cultural and athletic events "that probably go under their radar."

This includes:
--ads in alternate lifestyle publications
--golf tournaments in the Long Island community
--ads in The Village Voice
--sponsoring college events and advertising in college papers

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