Can Gamification Change Millennials’ Behavior? JetBlue Has The Answer

The airline is also testing beacons and internal mapping of the airports it serves to get its travelers where they want to be as smoothly as possible

About 18 months ago, a Boston man was running late to catch his plane at JetBlue’s terminal at Logan Airport. On his way, he happened to tweet that he was disappointed he wouldn’t have time to pick up a coffee at the airport’s Starbucks before boarding.

His tweet contained a tag mentioning that he was flying JetBlue. Within seconds of spotting the aggrieved traveler’s tweet, JetBlue’s social media team, which is based in Salt Lake City, Utah, went into action.

The airline’s social media team sent a message to its customer service team at Logan. When the man was seated on the plane, JetBlue customer service handed him a Starbucks coffee.

“That guy raved about us for weeks on Twitter,” said Jamie Perry, JetBlue’s VP for brand and product development, speaking at The Economist magazine’s Marketing Unbound conference. “It didn’t cost us a lot of money — well, actually, it did, because it was a Starbucks coffee. But really, you can’t buy that kind of publicity.”

Perry’s point was about the challenges brands that were once considered upstarts — like JetBlue — have to work a bit harder to maintain the authenticity that defined them in the first place.

“We cannot control the way customers come to us,” Perry told attendees. “Sometimes they have a good experience, sometimes less good. But we can control the way we deal with them when the do approach us, especially through social channels. And we can ensure that they leave us feeling as good as possible about their interactions.”

GeoMarketing: Can you talk about the evolution of rewards programs?

Jamie Perry: The first airline loyalty program was the American Advantage program in 1981. What most people don’t realize about them was that due to the legacy nature of the systems airlines have, it’s very difficult to actually know too much about your customer. All the information is geared to ticket numbers, flight numbers. If you’re “Fred Smith,” and you’re flying today, most airlines wouldn’t be able to tell if you’re the same “Fred Smith” that’s flying tomorrow.

The loyalty program was essentially a bribery platform: We’ll give you these set things if you identify yourself when you fly with us so that we could start to build a [customer relationship management] database.

These days, I would say the legacy carriers use loyalty programs to identify that top 1 percent of travelers and throw extreme rewards and benefits at them. But that leaves very little for the regular folks. If you’re bronze, silver, or even gold tier rewards member on most any airline, you don’t really get very much. By the time all the upgrades go to the heavy spenders, there’s barely any room left in the airline lounge.

It’s absolutely time to revisit the rewards that loyalty members get.

What approach do you suggest?

My personal view is that that the best rewards you can give someone in a loyalty program involves things that make their journey easier.

Things that cut down wait time, such as TSA pre-check, which lets them get through the security line faster. Anything that makes life simpler.

Does JetBlue take a different approach to Millennials when it comes to rewards?

Four years ago, we started a gamification program aimed at younger loyalty members. We awarded people “badges” within the app based on where they flew. If you flew to Buffalo, you got a Buffalo badge. If you flew to Albany, and other places in New York, you got the New York State badge.

Some badges are for destinations, some are for achievements. You would be stunned at the way that changes people’s behavior. People have told me that they flew in to Stewart International Airport up near West Point instead of coming into Kennedy because that was the only badge they needed to get their New York State badge. I couldn’t believe it; that’s a two-hour drive into the city! What are you doing? This badge doesn’t get you any other amenities. But that’s what gamification can inspire.

It gets people engaged with the brand, with our program. There’s a whole group of people dedicated to people talking about the badges that have and haven’t got. It’s an area of airline marketing that is ripe for innovation. The way we talk to our customers has evolved a lot in the last 35 years. Loyalty programs have to catch up.

How does location and the use of geo-data factor into the way that JetBlue interacts with its customers?

One of the challenges we have today is helping our customers navigate their way through what is considered a complicated experience. Many of our customers fly with us only once a year, they’re not seasoned travelers. It’s in everyone’s interest if we ensure that they don’t turn up at the airport with a “Now what do I do?” moment.

Using geofencing functionality on smartphones, we can serve them with very targeted reminders for action at various steps in their journey to make sure they flow through that process smoothly.

What are the challenges of using location and proximity to guide people along?

We do have to be careful of when it comes to privacy. In theory, we could track people all the way through the airport and know exactly where they are at all times. But that seems a bit Big Brother-ish and that seems to be going a step too a bit too far.

For us, as we look to balance easing people through and making sure we’re not creepy about it, we’re looking to test beacons and internal mapping of their airport.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.