Top five branding insights from Virgin America

With air travel in the US probably as commoditized as bus rides in Brazil, the industry was ripe for some disruptive innovation. The spark was provided when Virgin American entered the foray a few months ago. Much has been written about their famed safety video as well as a bunch of innovative in-flight amenities. But there is also a ton that other airlines not only in the US, but globally, can learn about fresh, innovative branding from the folks at Virgin.

Welcome to the Branding 101, Virgin style. Here are the Top 5 insights to be cherished.

  1. To exceed great expectations, do the unexpected. As it is, it’s tough upholding the promise of being the airline that is “reinventing air travel”. But Virgin actually does a good job in not just meeting expectations, but exceeding them too, by consistently surprising and delighting the customers. On Earth Day, all passengers in green were allowed to board first. Even the toilet plays trance music. How is that for a pleasant surprise?
  2. Create a strong brand personality. Be it Sir Richard Branson or the zingy flight attendants. Be it the smaller-than-usual boarding passes or the in-flight safety video. All elements enforce a strong Virginisque brand personality, and it is this which continues to linger in the customer’s mind long after he or she leaves the plane. Virgin is excellent in doing this across its plethora of brands, and has done a great job here as well.
  3. Engage. Virgin America has taken the phrase “engage the customer” literally. Passengers can communicate with each other using the in-flight chat system. They can even chat alongside their TV shows, about a particular scene. Now, that’s truly engaging. Everything from the now-famous in-flight safety video (see above) to the check-in staff go an extra mile in engaging the customer. And the customer remembers the engagement and shares it with others. A great example of the true power of a strong brand being leveraged.
  4. Stay consistent. People across the globe have heard of the Virgin brand and associate it with certain attributes – trendy, hip, great value for money and disruptive in nature. Brand extensibility across brands cements the customers’ trust in a brand. Virgin America stays true to the overall brand values of the Virgin group, by offering better-than-full-carrier amenities at budget prices and ensuring that the customers feel the chic nature of the brand at almost every touch point.
  5. Fire from the shoulders of giants. Piggy-backing on a hot trend can result in unexpected benefits for a brand. Virgin America has utilized this same technique by tapping on the “green” fever. It has been approved as a Ceres network company for its commitment to being a sustainability leader in the airline industry. It has also partnered with Method, the environmentally-friendly home and personal care product company that creates the hand soap provided on all Virgin America flights. In addition to that, Virgin America is also sponsoring California State Parks Foundation environmental restoration projects across Northern California and surprising Virgin America passengers with a special gift that offers travelers a few easy tools to go green at home. How is that for being eco-chic?

Virgin America is truly leading the way in the US airline market, making the journey an experience in itself. Let’s see who’s the next one to follows in its footsteps.

Ponder that!

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Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam is a globally sought-after consultant, speaker and thought leader on airline branding and customer engagement strategy. He is the Founder and CEO of SimpliFlying, one of the world’s largest aviation marketing firms working with over 85 aviation clients in the last ten years. Nigam is also the youngest winner of the Global Brand Leadership Award and has addressed senior executives globally, from Chile to China. Nigam’s impassioned and honest perspectives on airline marketing have found their way to over 100 leading media outlets, including the BBC, CNBC, Reuters and Bloomberg, and into leading publications such as The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. He writes a dedicated monthly column in Flight’s Airline Business, challenging the typical assumptions about airline marketing. His new book on airline marketing, SOAR, is an Amazon bestseller that’s shaking up the industry and inspiring other industries to learn from the best airlines. Born in India, raised in Singapore, he now lives with his wife and two young daughters in Toronto.
Shashank Nigam
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