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For Virgin America, the Sky's the Limit

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For Virgin America, the Sky's the Limit
For Virgin America, the Sky's the Limit

For me, a trip to the airport can be synonymous with a trip to the dentist. The cramped seats. The expensive baggage fees. The crappy airline food. The list of irritations goes on and on. At the DMA Email Evolution Conference, Luanne Calvert, VP of marketing of Virgin America, divulged that even the IRS tops the airline industry in terms of customer satisfaction.

Yet, Virgin America wants to take the customer experience to new heights. To overcome the negative connotations of the airline industry, such as poor design, poor service, and lack of choice, Calvert said Virgin lifted the simple pleasures found on the ground to the sky. Hence the airline loaded up its planes with features like Wi-Fi, mood lighting, and even music in the bathrooms. “In talking about the experience that we have, this is an emotional message: comfort, enjoyment, entertainment,” she said.

Convincing potential, cynical customers to give Virgin America a try is one of the airline's greatest challenges, Calvert said. One key way Virgin conveys an emotional message is through email. Here are the top 10 lessons Virgin America learned about perfecting the art of email marketing.

1) Extend campaign look and feel

To lure potential customers, Calvert said, Virgin America launched the #myVXExperience campaign and created a “boat load” of digital assets, including display banners, paid search, and brand amenity. She added that Virgin sometimes weaves campaign assets into emails as the creative.

2) Tell a story

“Yes, email is important for price-point messaging, but we like to use it for an overall storytelling and emotional connection,” Calvert said.

Everyone loves a good story and Virgin America spun a doozy when it announced it was selling a special chartered flight in celebration of Cyber Monday. The one-of-a-kind flight sold for $49,000; not everyone could afford such a hefty price tag. So, to include all of its customers in its holiday tale, Virgin offered them a 10% off flight discount.

3) Leverage earned media

Calvert encouraged marketers to focus on “what's the story we're trying to tell” and to weave that story into the brand's overarching message.

4) Lifestyle engagement messaging works

Calvert says Virgin America's frequent flier program, Elevate, allows the airline to communicate and reward its most loyal customers by acknowledging how much they fly or how much they spend with the Virgin America Signature Card. Rewards can range from free checked bags, seat selection, upgrades, or free flights.

“People are addicted to their frequent flier points…,” she said, “[but] what are you actually getting?”

Calvert described people's desire to get more points from other airlines as an “irrational behavior” that's acted upon even if the service is lousy. To lure these consumers into Virgin's emotional experience, Calvert said that the airline aims to get consumers to sign-up for its frequent flyer program, even if they're enrolled in other frequent flier programs.  She also said she plans to rebuild Virgin's frequent flier program “from the ground up” to better target business travelers and by better balancing the experience of business and leisure in 2013.

5) Leverage partnerships

“Not all of our emails are about prices and deals,” Calvert said. Calvert encourages brands to leverage partnerships with other brands to give consumers an incentive to purchase. For example, Virgin America teamed up with the One&Only Palmilla resort in Los Cabos to provide Virgin consumers with the opportunity to receive discounts and points.

6) Mobilize

 If consumers are heading to the airport, odds are they're not checking their email on a desktop. Hence, acknowledging customers' reliance on mobile is a key tactic for Virgin.

“We're very aware that that's where our business is going completely…Our audience is very tech savvy,” Calvert said.

7) Create a sense of urgency

Calvert says holding a one-day or eight-hour sale can propel consumers to take action and purchase.

8) Create demand

“We try not to do more than one email a week,” Calvert said. Holding back on its fare sales, Calvert said, leaves consumers hungry for more.

9) Some success stories are mysteries

Every once in a while, a few lucky marketers will launch a campaign that will unexpectedly take off without an identifiable reason as to why, such was the case with Virgin's Maycation fare sale. 

10) ROI on email is tops

“The fact that it's so measurable, the ROI we have for email is really bananas,” Calvert said. Digital engagement, brand tracking and awareness, Net Promoter Score, and revenue are a few of the metrics Calvert said that Virgin America measures. Email is the most measurable channel, she said, followed by search engine marketing and display.

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