February 2013

It isn’t often that I get to write a post like this – one that celebrates an organization that authentically lives its brand and keeps its brand promise. However – I just had (yet another) excellent experience with WestJet and I think they deserve to be acknowledged for this experience and for consistently behaving in an authentic, respectable and customer-focused manner.

I recently flew my father and his wife into Vancouver for a visit. My dad had a bad fall last year, shattering his femur, and he is still recovering from that. He still has some mobility issues, so when I booked his flights, I requested a wheelchair.

Well, I have to say, WestJet treated my dad and his wife like royalty. They were treated with respect and they were well taken care of – and not on WestJet’s schedule, on their schedule. They got to the airport early and because of a bad snow storm in Ontario, their flight was delayed – they were taken to a restaurant and were told to take their time; the person who was chauffeuring them around the Toronto airport in one of the carts would come back when they were done and take them to the gate.

On the return flight, it was the same approach – completely customer service focused. Everyone from the person at the ticketing counter to the person loading the plane to the flight attendants to the person who helped them get their luggage treated them with respect and went out of their way to help them.

Every airline has planes that get delayed or issues that happen, and WestJet is no different. But I have to say, as a traveller and a customer, even when stuff happens, I have found WestJet to be responsive, to be accountable and to focus on what they can do to make me, as the customer, feel better about the experience.

When given the option, I choose to travel WestJet. I am loyal to this airline because I feel that the people who work there actually care about me as a customer. That means something in this day and age, and the result is customer loyalty.

Now, I happen to be a PR professional. So I am always looking at customer service, how the staff communicates the brand promise and what that means for public relations and building trust and loyalty with their target market. WestJet does it right and everyone in that organization deserves to be congratulated. I have said time and time again that you can create a great brand and develop a fabulous brand promise, but if the people who work there don’t bring that brand promise to life every day, then you are going to have an issue. WestJet isn’t going to have that issue – because they live their brand authentically and they have engaged and inspired the people who work there with their brand promise. Not an easy thing to do, but so valuable.

Thanks WestJet – not only are you our favourite Canadian airline, you are also a great example of an excellent brand being brought to life one person at a time.

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Recently at AHA, we have been doing a great deal of brand journalism work with clients. More and more, organizations are focused on telling their story in an editorial style rather than through marketing or advertising pieces. Quite often, a good brand journalism story accompanies an advertising campaign.

Sunday’s Super Bowl is a perfect example of how brand journalism has slipped into the mainstream, without us really noticing. For many people who watch the Super Bowl, the ads are an important part of the experience. And let’s face it, they are pretty entertaining. And they should be, given how much they cost to air. I think the last estimate I heard was $3.8 million for a 30-second spot and that doesn’t include the cost of producing the ad. It’s a big investment for an organization. And the smart ones are making the most of it by attaching the “real story” behind the ad.

For example, Doritos ran a series of ads and one of them featured a funny little dog that had a lot of character. I happened to see some information about it on my Facebook page prior to the Super Bowl, so I went to check it out. It turns out the little dog in the ad is a rescue dog that was “discovered” – a little bit of a doggie Cinderella story – from being abandoned and in a shelter to becoming a star.

As a dog person, that story caught my attention and it gave me the chance to better connect with the Doritos brand – even though it didn’t promote their product to me in any way. But, as an animal lover, I like that the producers of the ad didn’t go to a breeder or only look for a purebred; they took a dog that likely hasn’t had the best life and they put her in the spotlight. This could lead to people seeing this and maybe thinking about adopting a shelter dog instead of buying one. That makes me happy. And it makes me feel a connection to the Doritos brand. Had they just run a funny ad with a quirky little dog, they would have caught my attention for a moment. Through brand journalism, I was told the backstory – and they engaged me. Smart. There are a lot of dog-loving, nacho chip-eating people in the world and that commercial and the story will get every one of us.

What’s your story? What do you have to share with your stakeholders, your target market and your community that will speak to them? Go beyond the traditional approach and think about what stories you tell your friends and family when they ask you about your organization. What makes people lean in and say: “really, that’s interesting…”

What are the human elements you can share that will engage and inspire people? Those stories are at the heart of your brand personality and they will bring your brand to life.

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