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How Virgin Atlantic's Marketing Nails It

Virgin Atlantic is a small airline with a big personality. This is how it lures customers from the big guys.
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I'm on a new customer experience journey at my online marketing company VerticalResponse. We're taking another look at everything we do from the ground up-- how we do it, when we do it and how our customers are going to like it. It can be challenging to take a holistic view of your entire business and redo a ton of things (at once!), but over time process changes, people change and the way you do things needs to change. So we've been looking at how other successful companies approach their customer experience.

I had the pleasure of listening to Simon Bradley, vice president of marketing North America at Virgin Atlantic Airways recently at the Customer Experience Leadership Conference and he shed some light on how they think about marketing... and it might just knock your Virgin Atlantic Upper Class socks off. 

You may think Virgin Atlantic is a huge airline worldwide, but they're not. Maybe they're the No. 2 airline in the UK, but they don't even hold a candle to United, American or Delta here in the U.S. So how does this airline with 18 departures a day survive, and better yet, thrive?

They don't have a huge digital marketing budget like you might imagine (more than you and me!) so they need to be very clever about how they market their product. They need to be somewhat grassroots. On top of this, their customers usually only fly once or twice a year, so they need to develop an on-going relationship with them in-between flights.

How Do They Do It? They Start from the Inside...

VA first looked at who their customers are. Internally they describe them as mavericks, adventurous, and pioneering. Simply put, they are "fearless leaders." So Virgin Atlantic set out to cater to this target audience and make their experience fun and ultra cool. They put a bar onboard, passengers can get a massage, or a nail clean up and food and drink are always top quality.

From the inside they see themselves as a brand much like an ultra-cool boutique hotel. This way they can be nimble and intimate with customers.

VA's positioning? "Flying in the face of ordinary"--they've even got a hashtag for it #FITFOO. Ultimately they want to be the envy of other airlines. They did a great job igniting their staff to participate in backing up this new positioning and the team loves being a part of it.

Use Your Best Customers... for Marketing

 So they've excited and ignited their staff, but now they've got a few planes to fill. How do they do it? They rely on one important thing... customer advocacy.

Here are a few great ideas, or what Bradley terms, "little earthquakes going on all over the place," that he shared with the audience that moved Virgin Atlantic's marketing needle:

 

  • They created a verb out of their Clubhouse. Have you "clubhoused"? They sponsored a contest where customers took pictures of themselves "clubhousing" and shared it on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #HowIClubhouse. Fun!
  • A Virgin crew took to social media and found a customer at work who was having a grey, rainy day. Since their colors are red and purple, they bought a pair of red rain boots and delivered them to the customer at his office. It made his day, and was a great story.
    Virgin Atlantic Flies in the Face of Ordinary
  • A crew brought trays of red cupcakes to a local DMV to cheer up people waiting in long lines.
  • Their site is fun, cheeky and makes you want to browse around it even if you're not looking to fly!

What are your "little earthquakes" that will move your marketing needle?

Did you enjoy this post? If so, sign up for the free VR Buzz weekly newsletter and check out the VerticalResponse Marketing Blog.

Last updated: Apr 12, 2013

JANINE POPICK

Janine Popick is the CEO and founder of VerticalResponse (a Deluxe company), a leading provider of self-service email and social media marketing tools for small businesses. The company was ranked No. 4,882 on the 2013 Inc. 5000. @janinepopick




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