Full to Empty: The Jet Blue Brand

Think of brand equity as the water level in a glass. Some brands are full, some are half-full and some are empty. Some brands have negative equity—these are the brands that have broken their brand promise to their customers. When you break the trust, you break the water glass, and you are no longer at ground zero, you are actually in the negative and need to climb to reach neutral ground.

Jet Blue Brand Tumble

The Jet Blue brand was close to a full water glass before an ice storm and an inadequate Jet Blue infrastructure led to 1,000 flights canceled over 6 days in February including trapping passengers on planes for up to 10 hours without food, water or sanitary toilets. Now their brand equity glass stands empty or shattered.

Is it all over for the Jet Blue brand whose promise was to “bring humanity back to air travel?” I don’t think so. Jet Blue is doing a lot of the right things to turn a PR disaster into an opportunity for redemption and rebirth. JetBlue CEO David Neeleman not only has apologized on the Late Show with David Letterman, but set the right tone in an e-mail to customers that begins, “We are sorry and embarrassed. But most of all, we are deeply sorry.” Its new Customer bill of Rights is unique among carriers and provides a service guarantee backed up by vouchers or refunds.

Giving Jet Blue a Second Chance

Jet Blue has built up equity among a loyal following and won the Reader’s Choice Award of Conde Nast Traveler for the last five years. What this buys Jet Blue is a second chance. Customers won’t flee just yet, but they will be watching.

I’m a case in point. I’ve been very impressed with Jet Blue on cross-country trips to Boston—loved the low prices, the extra leg room, the friendly service, the individual monitors with Direct TV programming, the Bliss Spa overnight goody bag and the Terra Blue chips. I flew Jet Blue for a quick trip to San Diego last weekend, and, because of all their publicized troubles, was watching them like a hawk. The trip went smoothly: the self-serve kiosk got me my boarding pass efficiently, the flight attendant put my carry-on bag in the overhead bin for me, and the snacks were a cut above standard fare on airplanes. The only glitch was a dirty pull-down tray which, when I told an attendant, was cleaned quickly with a smile.

Never Let it Happen Again

The market is willing to give a company with a strong brand the benefit of the doubt, but you don’t get too many second chances before the brand is irreparably harmed. Remember that the full glass can go empty in an instant if the brand promise is broken. If that happens, you need to apologize sincerely, show real reform and work like the dickens to never let it happen again.

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