Virgin America. Branding Done Right.

I want to tell you about my first experience flying on Virgin America locally. Since the airline is relatively new to Orange County, I thought I’d give them a try on my recent business trip to the SF Bay area. It was a test to see how well they measured up to expectations created by their marketing promise.

The marketing genius behind the brand
I first heard about Virgin America coming to Orange County from the local news. Naturally, Virgin CEO Richard Branson flew in and invited the media. He was sporting board shorts, a T-shirt and a surfboard for the occasion. The man’s a marketing genius who is seriously committed but doesn’t take his “personal brand” too seriously. In fact, that’s part of his genius: the willingness to poke fun at himself and participate in virtually any stunt to promote his companies. It certainly generates attention and trial, which after all, is a key point of marketing. (Full disclosure: I once met Richard years ago—my wife used to work at one of his many companies. He’s a nice guy in person, too.)

Anyway, I started by visiting the Virgin America website to check out the flight schedule. Nice, clean site. Easy to navigate, with a touch of fun. So far, so good.

Comparing brand personalities
Now, I’m no airline expert or even much of a frequent flyer these days, but I wondered how my Virgin flight would compare with Southwest or Jet Blue and whether my airport and airborne experiences would be as pleasant as the online experience. The UK-based company happens to be the most admired brand in its home country (ahead of Sony), so there’s a lot to live up to. I picture the Virgin brand personality as being professional yet fun, offering class and quality at a value price. Southwest, on the other hand, seems to be more focused on cost cutting and fair fares. (Are there other airlines that even project personalities anymore? The rest seem to be just trying to stay solvent.)

Check your brand at the gate
I was a little underwhelmed when I got to the boarding gate for Virgin at Orange County’s JWA airport. I wasn’t really expecting a special lounge like Virgin’s Upper Class to London service. But I thought there would at least be a sign and friendly personnel at the gate. “Lucky” Gate 13 looked like it was shared with another airline, so maybe that’s why the Virgin brand didn’t have much of a presence in the terminal. (It did on the return flight.)

Lucky Gate 13

The Virgin Experience
That all changed as I stepped through the plane’s doors. The Virgin brand was in evidence everywhere. Immaculately clean plane. Special mood lighting. Tinted windows. Extra comfortable leather seats. Friendly, confident flight attendants. This was the Virgin America I expected. As I sat down, I was greeted by “Red,” the in-flight entertainment system. This baby was intuitively easy to use and loaded with good content. Best of all, it was included in my low one-way fare price of $58!

On top of all that, there was even a standard 110 electrical outlet at my seat and free Wi-Fi! Talk about amenities. The day I flew, they also happened to be running a promotional game called the “Day in the Cloud Challenge” (an online scavenger hunt that would’ve taken more time than my flight) sponsored by Google—the very company I was on my way to visit. (Perhaps the subject of a future post.)

Multimedia infotainment
Once seated, passengers were treated to the safety instructions. And yes, it was a treat. Most airlines present this important information in a rapid-fire monotone. Consequently, nobody listens. Southwest flight attendants at least try to have some fun with it and do their own personal stand-up comedy shtick, which is fine but now expected. On Virgin America, safety is communicated via an engaging multimedia presentation. I loved it! Here I was, on my way to Google to discuss our firm’s multimedia offerings, and the airline I was flying was actually making creative use of the medium. I found Virgin’s safety presentation to be entertaining and informative, in part because it was so much fun. In fact, more people watched that safety video than I’ve ever seen pay attention to flight attendant presentations. (Of course, people are now conditioned to watching TV screens everywhere they go. But I digress.)

Check out some of the screenshots:

Fellow passengers

Even a Bull can follow these instructions

Easy to understand

Virgin America carried their light-hearted brand personality (attitude, messaging and visuals) consistently throughout each medium. They also did a great job marketing technology in the form of various amenities: Wi-Fi, quality entertainment system, laptop power outlets at each seat—all in coach class! Nice job, Virgin America! (Now if they’d just open up more routes from JWA.)

What are some brands you’ve noticed that deliver on their brand promise at every stage of the customer experience? Or perhaps brands that stumble at a crucial stage in the process? The more consistently brands can deliver on their promise, the more trust and loyalty consumers will have for them in return.

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