Connections before communications

3 minute read

Imagine being the driving force behind a brand that inspires and empowers the public to join a cause, act on an issue or purchase a product.  I’m sure we can all think of a few.

Dove, a brand built upon the growth of self-esteem in girls and women. Or Heineken, more than a beer, it’s a conduit for uniting rather than dividing us.  These companies exist and they are tapping into the cultural zeitgeist that matters most to their market.  

As communicators we push content to empower our audience to act. But, these companies are doing more than that. They are using strategies that harness emotions and use the best aspects of communications and advertising to motivate their audience.

According to Kristin Papillon, team lead for content strategy at WestJet, “It’s about connections, not communications.”

And you’d believe it; just take a stroll down their campus hallways.

Photos of WestJetters building homes in the Dominican Republic and delivering Christmas miracles line the walls. Even a trademarked WestJet tartan is on display to commemorate their inaugural flight to Glasgow and honour the culture of their newest guests.

WestJet, an airline founded in 1996 has seen tremendous growth in its 21-year tenure. From 200 to 12,000 employees, they’ve always achieved brand consistency as the ‘people’s plane’.  

Papillon attributes that to consistency of experience, “We are transporting people in some of their best and worst hours and we take that seriously – you need to be there in the good and the bad times.”

What’s the best way to connect with your market?  

Companies that are empowering the public and employees to participate in prosocial activities will drive consumer preference and motivate employees to accelerate business results.

At WestJet, the goal is to have the company take care of its people, the people take care of guests and guests to take care of business.

It’s not uncommon to see Gregg Saretsky, WestJet’s President and CEO, stay behind once his flight ends and join the crew to groom the plane. “It makes business sense and puts a face to every level at WestJet. We know our values and we live them,” says Papillon.

Why is emotion important?

Because we are human.

Touching those primary emotions—love, sadness, and joy—brings authenticity to your brand and allows consumers to relate to your product, transcending the delivery of your base business.

Aside from the practical jokes and friendly pranks from WestJet’s airline attendants, WestJetters have a big heart and they’re not afraid to show it. Better yet, it’s infused into their brand and sets them apart from the competition.

After all, air travel is a commodity. It’s the connection to the guests that matters.  

What happens to your brand if you can’t always be the ‘good guy’?

Business decisions need to be made and it’s tough if they are perceived to conflict with the brand you’ve worked hard to establish. One instance that Papillon remembers is the implementation of WestJet’s baggage fee.

In an era with hundreds of airlines going out of business, WestJet thoughtfully handled a change that was business-imperative but had the potential of upsetting guests. Papillon’s advice, “Be honest and start with why. We knew that our guests had to be at the forefront of the issue and that’s the approach we took.” 

Chelsie KlassenComment