JetBlue Just Sent an Email to Its Passengers, and Taught a Major Business Lesson In the Process

If you listen long enough, almost every business leader on the planet will eventually tell you the same thing: Our people are our most important asset.

That’s often right. But for many businesses, I think their second-most important asset is sometimes undervalued.

It’s their relationship with their customers — maybe even more specifically, their customer email list.

Case in point: You might know that two airlines right now are both competing with each other to acquire Spirit Airlines.

  • On the one hand, there’s Frontier Airlines, which made a roughly $21 per share cash-and-stock offer that was scheduled to go before Spirit Airlines shareholders this week.
  • On the other hand, there’s JetBlue, which made a $30 per share cash offer-; then raised it to $31.50-; and is trying to squeeze Frontier out of the process.

Spirit delayed the shareholder vote yesterday, in light of JetBlue’s revised offer. And, that’s the context in which the CEO of JetBlue, Robin Hayes, sent an email to JetBlue passengers-;apparently to every member of JetBlue’s TrueBlue frequent flyer program-;updating them on the proposal.

He did really three things:

  • First, it framed the argument JetBlue makes it for why JetBlue is the better deal. (“In short, this combination would bring you more of the JetBlue you know and love…”)
  • Second, it set expectations for how quickly everyone might know the outcome. (“Our proposal is in the early stages and we won’t know for some time if we will be able to acquire Spirit.”)
  • Finally, and this might be most important, it directed email recipients to a website pushing shareholders of Spirit to vote against the Frontier deal, with a clear call call to action and a simple interface.

This last bullet point to me is the most interesting, because it involves using JetBlue’s customer base and email list for something other than direct marketing-;which frankly is why I normally hear from that airlines have my email address.

JetBlue confirmed that the message went out to their frequent flyer list, and that of course it also has a strategy to reach out to both individual investors at Spirit and institutional investors to try to get them to reject the Frontier deal.

JetBlue declined to reveal how many people that means, but KYROS, an actuarial firm that focuses on loyalty programs, reports that during 2017, JetBlue had at least 2 million award redemptions individual members might redeem points more than once, of course.

It seems safe to assume it’s measured in the many thousands or more, but I’m curious as to how many JetBlue frequent flyers could possibly also be shareholders in Spirit.

Look, leaving that detail behind, I acknowledge that I have the zeal of a convert when it comes to the value of email and email marketing.

I’m swayed by having written a daily email newsletter for nearly four years, first here at Inc.com and more recently at Understandably.com.

But the fact that your business can cultivate direct ways to connect with your most valuable customers at scale — most often via email — is a game changer that wasn’t appreciated even just a few years back.

It’s not just about having the email addresses; It’s about using them judiciously, so that there’s value in what you send, and so that when you do ask your customers to do something other than buy from you directly, you do it in a way that doesn’t turn them off, and might even get them to act.

A customer email like this one that runs just 200 words — and that perhaps more importantly has only a single call to action — fits the bill.

I reached out to all of the players here. Frontier refused to comment; Sprit referred me to its statement postponing the meeting.

And, I’m basically agnostic as to whether JetBlue buys Spirit, or Frontier does, or neither.

I can make the case why either airline would want to make the deal, and I also can see how it might be a net positive for consumers if Spirit were to become acquired and thus create a fifth major carrier that could compete with Delta, American, United, and Southwest Airlines.

But, the real reason I follow the airlines are to learn from them, not to participate in the business.

There might not be another industry with so many big, publicly traded players in a pure commodity industry, with an army of analysts, investors and marketing dissecting their every move — figuring out whether turning a figurative here or changing a marketing message there actually has any effect.

As I write in my free ebook, Flying Business Class: 12 Rules for Leaders From the US Airlinesit’s like a nonstop parade of business school cases you can use and learn from.

Today’s takeaway is simple: Collect your customers’ email addresses, treat them with respect, and use them wisely. You never know when you might be glad you did.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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