WestJet’s Christmas Miracle video and some lessons for charities

I couldn’t resist blogging about a brilliant marketing and customer stewardship campaign – WestJet’s Christmas Miracle video. If you haven’t seen it yet, get out your Kleenex and here it is:

When I looked at the video yesterday it had received about 7 million hits and within 24 hours it had jumped to over 15 million. As I was typing this up, it jumped by another million. By the time you read this, who knows how many views it will have had – but certainly many times more than the 800,000 that the company had envisioned.

Kudos to Richard Bartrem, WestJet’s vice president of communications and community relations, for this heartwarming and creative campaign that does a stellar job of cementing WestJet’s brand in people’s minds. Mr. Bartrem’s modest comment to Forbes was, “We’re pretty thrilled.” No doubt!

Not only has the video gone viral and has been seen around the world in over 200 countries, it has made the news across North America and as far as the U.K., Australia, Japan, Poland and Malaysia.

What I found really special about the video were the comments of the viewers on Youtube who said things like:

  • The most heartwarming ad I’ve ever seen
  • WestJet, that’s advertising done right. Next time I get a chance I’ll fly WestJet!
  • Wow, I already love WestJet and fly with them when I can.  I’m amazed at what they do for their customers.  WestJet, you’re awesome!
  • WestJet, the only way to fly.
  • This is amazing. Who knew that a corporation today would ever go to this much trouble to make dozens of customers happy. KUDOS to WestJet.

Forbes reported that the campaign had been planned since August and was filmed in November. It was quite a logistical feat, involving some 150 WestJet employees.

One of the greatest benefits, that may not be obvious to the average viewer, is what the campaign must do for staff engagement and morale. You can clearly see that the “WestJetters” involved were having a lot of fun as they gathered and wrapped gifts and celebrated with passengers at the baggage carousel. You can bet that WestJet employees feel proud of their company, their service and that campaigns like this, which are clearly fun and playful, also help staff retention rates.

So what are the lessons here for non-profits in all of this? One big lesson is about building donor loyalty. In the charitable sector, our “customers” are our donors, volunteers and other supporters. Just like WestJet we need to keep our customers happy and engaged. Excellent donor stewardship mixed with personalization, creativity, fun and the element of surprise can go a long way towards this. And in case you don’t think charities have a donor loyalty problem, here’s a sobering statistic: commercial business customer retention is 94% vs. non-profit donor retention of 41%. We can and should pay attention to those for-profit companies that are doing a good job in this area.

Campaigns like WestJet’s don’t just spread outwards, they spread inwards, and affect how employees feel about their work and their company. So here’s another big lesson that non-profits and charities can learn from WestJet – how to foster employee satisfaction, engagement and control. WestJet has been named one of Canada’s 10 Most Admired Corporate Cultures four times by Waterstone and ranked as the third-best employer in Canada by Aon Hewitt in 2011. As one leadership expert wrote, “Good managers know that happy employees are both loyal and productive employees.”

It’s no secret that staff retention rates in the charitable sector in Canada are pretty abysmal and this has a profound impact on our abilities to achieve our missions. This is not a tiny part of Canada’s economy. According to Charity Village there are more than 165,000 nonprofits and charities operating in Canada. Together they contribute 7.8% of GDP and represent 10.5% of the labour force.

So here’s the bottom line — to be successful, you need to make your customers/donors and your employees feel good and there’s no harm in getting a few lessons from those who are doing it right.