Social leveraging an ordinary product into strong customer engagement


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I read recently an admonition in a comment to a post that social media/business “only works well for companies who already deliver a competitively superior product”.

I don’t agree with that comment, especially since by definition the majority of companies don’t deliver a “competitively superior product” – the majority deliver a fit-for-purpose product which satisfies a value equation in the mind of the buyer.

It’s the old salesman’s lament – we’re having trouble selling it because we don’t have any competitive advantage. Sure, so how many companies are selling the next Walkman or iPad? A minuscule fraction of a percentage point. Most are selling pizzas and Chevrolets and doing ok, some very well. Go get another job!

Fast Company just reported on how JetBlue has redefined the airline category and now has the 4th greatest “social currency” of all US brands, headed by BMW, Mercedes and Lexus – Apple #5.

Here’s the amazing truth, in a comment by Erich Joachimsthaler, CEO of Vivaldi Partners and author of the study. He thinks JetBlue‘s blue chips, visual identity, terminal, TVs, and amenities are distinctive but not breakthrough different.

“Every aspect has been copied or exists with another airline.

 As a brand that follows this logic of distinctiveness, social media and technologies are the absolute godsend communications tool.

 A distinctive brand disproportionately benefits from social tools.”

Aha. The sum of the parts is greater than the whole, and amplified through social media. This is the business of incremental or continuous improvement, leveraged through social media, as opposed to “creativity” “brainstorming” and “innovation departments”. And since social media is the lever of WOM just as steam powered the lever to create the Industrial Revolution then social media powers WOM to create tremendous shareholder wealth.

JetBlue’s greatest distinction is that it ensures satisfaction in an industry where it’s competitors don’t seem to care. (My mind flashes to banks, there’s an opportunity!). So what happened to the poster child Southest Airlines in all this – perhaps they just missed the social media oomph of JetBlue?

So the message is to let the little bits add up, sweat the details, make sure it all integrates, including the social media strategy, and then let WOM do it’s job.

I’m also thinking that JetBlue have mastered that tremendously illusive quality of brand depth. We’re pounded by brand promises, and the airlines are masters at the smooth ad, but not only does the promise rarely align with reality, but when something goes just slightly wrong you find yourself dealing with a hell on earth i.e. there is zero brand depth.

What’s your take on Jet Blue’s success and the role of social media, and where did Southwest fall off the map?

Image via Wikipedia

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Walter Adamson
I help firms create optimal customer experiences by integrating social data, teams & processes with enterprise systems. The much vaunted 360-view of the customer can be a bottomless pit without a clear data strategy. I help you deliver a greatly improved customer experience starting with a "45-degree" view of the customer, fully utilising social data analytics. I clarify your objectives and what data you need to service them, and guide you to operationalise "social at scale" to consistently deliver valuable customer experience at every social touch point.


  1. Walter, thanks for a thought provoking post.

    My instinct is that social media can amplify what already is — good bad or indifferent.

    Zappos was a great company that engages with customers before embracing Twitter.

    JetBlue has built a brand based on a better customer experience, including new tech (leather seats, entertainment), customer service, and a customer-centric culture. Social media amplifies that and is another channel for service, but doesn’t define why JetBlue is successful

    Southwest takes a different approach, but has a long track record of satisfied/loyal customers that appreciate affordable flights with good service. Again, social media doesn’t drive that, but SW’s Facebook fan page seems like a good way to support the company’s strategy.

    Of course social media can be used to source new ideas and innovation, but I’d argue that without a strong innovation strategy it won’t pay dividends.

    Are there companies where social media is a critical success factor in a company’s success? By critical I mean remove social media and the company falls apart. I’m struggling to compile much of a list here, at least for established firms. Perhaps Threadless because without customer collaborating to contribute designs, there would be no company.

    I’m sure we’ll see more like this, but my view is that social media mainly serves to contribute to an existing (successful) business strategy, such as delivering a better product (Apple), a differentiated experience (Zappos) or even low cost (Wal-Mart). Using social media is not a business strategy in and of itself, but it can certainly support other business strategies quite nicely.

  2. Walter

    Another interesting post.

    I agree with Bob. Jet Blue, like its predecessor Southwest, has redefined what short-haul flying within the USA means to customers. As Kim & Mauborgne describe in their work on Value Innovation, Southwest started it all by focussing on just those things that air travelers valued, but which the airline majors weren’t providing. That’s why Southwest is still at the top of the ACSI Customer Satisfaction ratings for airlines. Jet Blue has continued the low-cost airline tradition in the USA. The rest, as they say, is history.

    Would Jet Blue or Southwest have been as successful if they had had a run-of-the-mill value proposition and had relied on word of mouth to drive success instead. Not a snowball’s chance in hell! The fact remains, social media is only really effective if what you offer is better than the competition. People will talk about fantastic experiences. They will talk even more about absolutely awful ones. Remember Jet Blue’s snowed-in flights debacle that cost the CEO his job? But who wants to talk about a thoroughly average exprience? That’s right, no-one!

    Graham Hill
    Customer-centric Innovator
    Follow me on Twitter

    Interested in Customer Driven Innovation? Join the Customer Driven Innovation groups on LinkedIn or Facebook to learn more.

  3. Most brands are “distinctive but not breakthrough different” and they are successful this way. Love it!
    This is the plain true and it should be taken into consideration much more than innovation tout court whilst setting up a new business or leveraging an existing one through social media or whatever other media channel.

  4. Thanks for the comments. After all these years I still haven’t sorted out why I think that 99% of companies don’t need innovation, in the sense of “creativity”, or in the sense of “invention”. I think if they simply (1) developed ingrained business process innovation, (2) related that to good customer engagement and feedback, (3) executed well, and (4) threw out things and services and processes which no longer added value, then they’d have a heck of business. Most companies I see don’t do these basics well, despite that they may have an Innovation Department.

    The “innovation industry” has done a good job of appealing to people’s weaknesses, and to their vanity. But for most businesses it’s the average Joe and Jane that will make the most difference, not the street performers who demand that you clap.

    I’m still interested in the reasons Southwest doesn’t rate as a social media savvy company or brand, according to the surveys and JetBlue is up there. What, for example, does that mean about the value of social media and it’s place in customer experience/satisfaction.

    Walter Adamson @g2m
    Certified Social Media Consultant
    Melbourne, Australia
    My social spaces and places:


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