Focused On Brand? Forget It, Says 1 Famous Name

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The focus on "brand building" is often misplaced, according to one person who helped build one very well-known brand.

Amy Curtis-McIntyre, former vice president of marketing for JetBlue Airways, told the CUES Nexus Conference that the priority should be on the product.

"If a company sets out to build a great brand, that is putting the cart before the horse," she said. "Build a great company based on respect. Create a good product and market it right. But remember: the most brilliant marketing looks really easy. Don't complicate it, keep it simple. Figure out what to say, say it clearly and often."

Curtis-McIntyre began her remarks to credit unions by poking fun at herself. "Some of you might be wondering: what the hell does airline marketing have to do with credit unions? The answer is: credit unions know about community marketing and advertising using people who have had a good experience with them."

"Never underestimate the power of a personal connection," she added.

For example, the oft-used marketing slogan "The JetBlue Experience" was not something generated by a person within the airline, Curtis-McIntyre said. Instead, it was a phrase used by many of its customers to describe the fact there was something different about flying on JetBlue. She said more companies should listen to their customers-or members.

Another method Curtis-McIntyre recommends is the element of surprise. Do something members/customers are not expecting, and those people will talk.

"This is the most powerful free advertising you'll ever get," she told the audience. "It is not hard to get people talking about their bad airline experiences, but equality and respect resonate across the board."

One overlooked part of brand building is to sell what it is that people really want or need, she continued. This means doing it better than anyone else, solving a problem, or offering something different in a way people never thought of before.

'Making It Suck Less'

JetBlue's early mission statement was "Bring humanity back to air travel," she noted. But, in internal discussions, it was more simply stated as, "Let's make coach suck less."

"We all know flying coach pretty much blows," she said with a laugh. "But when they show up and there are new planes and leather seats and TVs at every seat, people get excited. Give them more than they expect."

When JetBlue commenced operations, it was a short-haul, high-frequency flyer. Later, the CEO decided to add one cross-country flight per night-from New Jersey to Ontario, Calif.- to the flight schedule. This led to a discussion of food service, and the problem of feeding 156 people fell to Curtis-McIntyre to solve.

Food service was a problem, she explained, because the Skybus aircraft especially configured for JetBlue have no galleys, meaning no way to heat or chill foods, or to protect perishables. Moreover, she was given a budget of $1 per person.

The only food available that met all criteria was a bagel topped with one slice each of meat and cheese. Curtis-McIntyre said handing customers such an unappetizing item was guaranteed to generate complaints. Instead, she used it as a way to demonstrate what she says is an important but underused part of brand building: the truth. She created a T-shirt with the image of a chicken, along with the slogan "Nature never intended it to fly." The shirt was given to the cross-country passengers in lieu of a meal.

"In business, people are so used to being manipulated and mislead. We decided to tell people what they want to know: we told them we are an airline, not a restaurant. We'll give people a soda, and clean up after whatever food they bring on board, but we can't put out restaurant-quality food."

There were no complaints, she said.

According to Curtis-McIntyre, all companies should look outside their industries for ways to both perform and market better.

"I assume that's why CUES brought me here today," she quipped. "But the truth is, it is hard to be inspired by the people we compete against."

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