Monday, April 1, 2013

Wooing Westjet - It Just Made Sense

How one Northern British Columbia Community’s hard work and community-sourced, grassroots marketing campaign created magic and wooed an airline 
Written by Judy Kucharuk

Take one look at the video produced for the “It Just Makes Sense” campaign and you realize that anything is possible as long as you have passion and commitment……and perhaps a savvy brand awareness.

The February 2013 announcement that “It Just Made Sense” for the Canadian owned airline Westjet to call the Northern BC Community of Fort St John its newest base, was not surprising to those of us who had watched the evolution of the creative marketing campaign.

Mayor Lori Ackerman believed that the time was right for Westjet to land in her community of Fort St John.

The campaign was firmly rooted in good data (demographics, statistics, community profiles and trends) to support the initiative, crowd-sourcing ideas (let’s call it community-sourcing), social media (facebook, twitter, youtube), and most importantly, the people-energy required to carry it through.

The campaign, organized at the invitation of Mayor Ackerman, involved key members of the community.

“When Fort St John was invited to present to Westjet, we pulled together a community committee to put a campaign together. It was decided at that time to show Westjet the “community” and that the infrastructure at the airport is supportive of growth.” Mayor Lori Ackerman

Intrigued with their process and wanting to learn their secret to “community sourcing” and marketing success, I approached both Mayor Ackerman as well as then Chamber of Commerce President Brent Hodson, and asked if they would answer a few key questions about “It Just Makes Sense. 

Where did the tagline, “It Just Makes Sense” originate?

Brent Hodson:
It was one of the executives from WestJet that actually coined the phrase after a discussion with Mayor Ackerman. So it just made sense to use "Its Just Makes Sense" as our campaign motto. From there, we set out to create a cause the entire community could get behind to improve the services to Fort St. John.

Secret #1: Leverage Social Media

How did you weave a social media campaign with traditional marketing methods?

Mayor Ackerman:
Fort St John is British Columbia’s youngest community.  Social Media is easy to use and a natural fit for any communication. We also knew that Westjet, like other savvy corporations are very active on social media.  We encouraged our community to let them know whenever possible that “it just makes sense”.

How important was the use of Social Media in the campaign? Facebook and Twitter?

Brent Hodson:
Social media was very important for the campaign.  Whether it was Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram - these tools were essential in getting the message out to the community.  We set up an email address: Business members could send in their comments, but also send video clips of them, their community groups, companies and others showcasing the community and that Fort St. John just made sense.  Facebook was a huge part as more people in the region are using Facebook more.  The City, Chamber of Commerce, Media and other groups reached out to their fans to gain more support.  From there, we had comments, videos, respective travel budgets from companies and more.

It is important to note that the campaign did not use traditional marketing methods like television and radio. Word of mouth and the viral nature of social media assisted with spreading the message throughout the community.

Secret #2: Understand the value of Word of Mouth advertising/messaging

 What role did Social Media Influencers have in the campaign?

Brent Hodson:
Social media Influencers were there to spread the message.  Twitter is still 'new' to this region and the people that are on it were the ones who got behind the cause from the get go.  These were the people tweeting, using Facebook and more to really get the message out which was important in getting the comments, video clips and more back to the group.

What other factors played into the success of the campaign?

Brent Hodson:
Other factors that played into this campaign was the demographics of the community of Fort St. John, and the region.  The industry, the growth the area has seen and will see and how the region is full of families who will / want to travel as well as companies looking for that connection to Calgary which was an essential part to the campaign.  The North Peace Economic Development Commission was also a huge part to the campaign as they had the stats, figures, community profiles and trends part that we used in our package that was given to WestJet to showcase the past, present and potential future of the region.
How was it received in Calgary (Westjet Headquarters) when you premiered the movie?
Brent Hodson:
The movie was showcased to three executives in our presentation. When it was shown, their attention was focused on the movie as they saw a broad spectrum of the community from families, to businesses, churches, local groups, and more. This gave them the feeling that the community was behind the initiative and how WestJet's values were similar to those of the community.

Secret #3: Aligning the brand and values

Do you think that by demonstrating that YXJ was creative and fun (much like Westjet) that it played a role in the decision?

Mayor Ackerman:
I think it played a part.  I think the strong, small airport infrastructure with room for expansion, a strong community with steady growth and  being the second largest community north of Kamloops helped too.

Would you have done anything differently?

Brent Hodson:
The campaign lead to a very successful finish where WestJet did end up choosing Fort St. John for WestJet Encore. I don't think I would change anything as it really was about a community getting behind a cause and making it happen. Fort St. John has a history of doing this, and it amazes every time the goals are accomplished.

What are some of the comments you have heard about the campaign now that Wesjet has confirmed that it will be traveling into YXJ?

Brent Hodson:
People were thankful that a group came together to make this happen. It may have started as a select group of community members but it was the community who got behind the initiative. Social media played a huge aspect to getting the message out and it worked!  

“When WestJet came to Fort St. John, you could see their pride talking about the company and in return you saw the pride in Fort St. John who welcomed WestJet with open arms.” Brent Hodson

Mayor Lori Ackerman believed that the time was right for Westjet to land in her community of Fort St John. She and her team of “Do’ers” successfully:

  1. Community sourced support and ideas
  2. Accessed relevant resources and data
  3. Leveraged Social Media
  4. Understood the value of word of mouth messaging/advertising
  5. Aligned the brand and values

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