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March 30, 2010 // 10:00 AM

Secrets of Social Media Buzz Marketing from CMO of Virgin America

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Last week, I had the opportunity to hear Porter Gale speak about how Virgin America has launched and marketed a new airline with a much smaller budget than their competition. To build their brand and sales, Porter and Virgin America have used a clever combination of inbound marketing tactics like event buzz, cool content and social media interactions.

  1. Select Your Target Customer and Grok Them. Knowing that they were launching in only a few cities the first few years, Virgin America knew that they could not win the frequent business traveler who needs a huge network of airports and lots of schedule options. Virgin America decided to focus on a tech savvy and online-centric consumer, which made sense given their hub is in San Francisco and they serve cities like Los Angeles, Boston, New York and Seattle. Virgin America designs their entire customer experience around this consumer, from offering inflight wifi internet service to having touch screen entertainment systems to using channels like YouTube and Twitter to communicate with their audience and even having colored "mood lighting" on planes.
  2. Create Buzz Worthy Experiences. Virgin does not have enough money to compete with other larger airlines using outbound marketing (think of all the TV ads you see for air travel), so they rely on their customers to create content and share that content to build their brand. How do they get their customers to create and share content? They give their customers experiences worth talking about. They do everything they can to make the flight experience remarkable - they offer food on demand whenever you want - not just when the cart passes, they have power plugs at your seat for laptops and other devices, and a touch screen entertainment system offering music, TV and movies. Then they let the magic happen and the customers talk about those experiences.
  3. Connect, Don't Market. We've talked a lot in our webinars and in this blog about how it is critical in social media marketing to be a valuable resource, not broadcast the benefits of your product. Virgin America lives that to the fullest - they see social media as a communication channel, not a broadcast medium, and they use it as an opportunity to learn and improve about their product and experience, not a channel to pump out their latest specials. Looking at Twitter specifically and using Twitter Grade as a measure of impact, Virgin America gets 100 with 63,000 followers which is a strong presence. However, some of their competition got started earlier and pushed harder, and have achieved even more remarkable results: Southwest gets 100 as well but has over 1 million followers, and similarly JetBlue gets 100 but has 1.6 million followers.
  4. Leverage partnerships. When Virgin America launched service to Las Vegas, they did a partnership with the TV show Entourage, and got tons and tons of media exposure for free by cross promoting the show and their airline. And Entourage is a show that has a lot of viewership with their target audience of younger and tech savvy consumers, so the connection made sense. Other examples are a partnership with YouTube where they live streamed from one of their airplanes during a YouTube Live event, and working with Victoria's Secret to have an in flight fashion show.

What do you think? Are there any lessons from Virgin America that apply to marketing your business?

Topics: Social Media Branding

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