Virgin America’s Guerilla Marketing

I attended the Fuel conference on Friday 13th June… I’m not really their target audience but it was interesting to see some of the innovative ways that people are using “web 2.0” tools to connect better with customers. One of the great examples of the day was delivered by Alex Hunter from Virgin America.

Branson was not an option

I didn’t realise that the US regulations on foreign ownership of airlines, meant that Virgin could not use Richard Branson to run the company, or promote it in any way. For a brand that is so dependent on a very public figurehead, this is a big issue. Branson himself embodies much of the virgin brand himself, and I have often wondered how it would impact the Virgin brand if he were not there. Well this situation was a good test of that!

So it was up to the rest of them to make a success of Virgin America. There is quite a long story to their success, but what I want to highlight here is their innovative and very successful use of low cost marketing technique.

Watching Paint Dry

They had a camera filming the painting of their planes, so they decided to put a video of this on YouTube… literally enabling people to watch paint dry… but very cleverly getting the general public involved by asking them to name a plane.

(unfortunately the original video has now been removed)

This also led to increased publicity when they invited BoingBoing (very popular blog) to name a plane, as well as fans of the Spice Girls to name the plane that would take them on their world tour. hmmm… I didn’t know the spice girls had any fans…

This also led to the idea of letting the Digg folks on board to film an episode of Diggnation… this is mass publicity and no real cost to Virgin, except using what they already had (a plane with an upperclass cabin).

Diggnation Episode

BillyBob and Wall Street Trader fight it out for the flight route

They also used he Virgin website, to invite the public to choose the US flight routes… resulting in a online exchange between people living in different cities, arguing about whether Virgin should choose their city or not. In retrospect it seems obvious to ask customers what they want before giving it to them… traditionally we may use expensive market research techniques that rely on accurate sampling and take a long time. This is a great example of how web 2.0 (the participative web) techniques can have a great impact on a business decision, and don’t cost very much at all. What is the ROI (Return on Investment) for this activity? Well, the “I” is very, very low, and the “R” is that they could make an informed decision quite quickly, when combined with the traditional market analysis.

There is no need to try and do a long, difficult financial justification for this… just think about it with common sense. Would we want to make a better decision about flight routes, based on what customers actually want? YES. How much is it going to cost us to find out? Probably about the same as a nice team lunch. It also does contribute very specific calculation financial return, in that choosing the best routes has a direct impact on revenue.

Measuring the “stories in the cloud”

Virgin Eye is a tool that they developed, so that you can see what everyone in the world wide web is saying about Virgin, including the ability to filter out specific brands of theirs, so if you just want to see everything about Virgin Galactic, you can.

Has your business used web 2.0 tools in an interesting way?  I’d love to hear about it

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