4 Branding Ideas You Can Learn from Virgin Airline

Virgin airlines

We’ve been talking about the customer service practices of large, successful organizations that you can adopt, no matter the size of your business. What can you learn from Virgin America Airline?

Named one of Fast Company’s top-10 “Most Innovative Companies” in 2015, Virgin America has built a standout airline with its snazzy service, active social network, and a corporate personality fun enough to generate an in-flight safety music video that went viral.[1]

But Virgin is more than a good show. Launched in Silicon Valley in 2007 against the odds of economic recession and regulatory opposition,[2] Virgin America has earned top rankings for the past three years in the Airline Quality Rating Report.[3] Published annually by aviation and marketing professors, the report evaluates airlines based on baggage handling, consumer complaints, bumped passengers, and on-time arrivals.[4]

Here are a few observations that can be gleaned from Virgin’s success story:

1. Virgin America has firmly established its brand.

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No, Virgin’s brand isn’t a blue piggybank. It’s about standing out in the airline industry with glamorous, retro-style service paired with modern, high-tech amenities. From white leather first-class seats and mood-lighting to flight uniforms designed by Banana Republic, Virgin distinguished itself from stodgy airline culture with fun, flair, and forward thinking. Each seat even has its own video touch-screen, power outlet, and access to fleetwide WiFi.

Make it yours: Your brand is likely NOT about glamour (there are kids involved!) But how do you differentiate your brand and your offerings from other organizations similar to yours? Can you identify the unique role your organization plays in the lives of your customers.

  • Survey customers and your staff, even anecdotally.
  • Why do your customers choose you among competitors?
  • What do you offer that plays specifically to the interests of your target audience?
  • Why do your staff work for you and not your competitors?
  • Is there a well-known organization you could partner with to expand your brand’s reach?

2. Virgin has made a priority of hiring like-minded people.Marcus activedays

Fred Reid, founding CEO of Virgin America, told the story of Virgin’s launch as part of Wharton San Francisco’s Executive Speaker Series. “You always hear that people are everything, but often, that’s a platitude that gets ignored,” Reid said. “At Virgin, it wasn’t ignored. We wanted people who were energetic and who put their heart into it.”[5]

Make it yours: As you grow in your understanding of your unique place in the lives of your customers, you can build upon your niche, promote it, and accentuate it. You also can seek to hire those who will share and further your vision.

Define the type of employees and volunteers you want and actively recruit those characteristics and qualities. This is actually one way you fulfill #1 above, because the message you want your brand to send is experienced by your customers at every level.

3. Virgin caters to its audience.

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Virgin created a group of about 30 entrepreneur frequent flyers called VX Next. They generate ideas for the airline, such as an innovative in-flight social network. Fast Company describes the result: “Virgin collaborated with Here on Biz for an app that connects flyers with fellow travellers on their plane, on other in-air flights, and even at the destination.” The network has become “almost a tribe,” Chief Marketing Officer Luanne Calvert said in the article.

Make it yours: American Express advertised that “Membership has its privileges.” People are drawn to the notions of “insider,” “exclusive,” “deals,” and “membership.” How can you create your own committee of evangelists?

4. Virgin “listens” to customers through social media platforms.

people on devicesVirgin maximizes social media to enhance customer loyalty through events, promotions, and sales,[6] and opens lines of communication to generate buzz from satisfied customers and quickly address concerns of disgruntled ones.[7]

Make it yours: Stay connected with your audience through social media and discover the medium that garners the best response. Frequently promote sales or advantages to loyal customers who follow your social media presence and reward them for their feedback. And take advantage of technology that can help you know your audience and cater to their interests with detailed reports and integrated social media. (Shameless plug: ours does!)


(This is the final segment of our customer service series. See Part 1: Amazon and Part 2: Chick Fil A)


  • [1] “Most Innovative Companies 2015: No. 8 Virgin America, For Perfecting Customer Service for an Innovative Clientele,” http://www.fastcompany.com/3039590/most-innovative-companies-2015/virgin-america
  • [2] “How Virgin America Beat the Odds — and the U.S. Airline Market,” http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/virgin-america-beat-odds-u-s-airline-market/
  • [3]  “Virgin America Tops Airline Quality Rating Report,” http://abc7news.com/travel/virgin-america-tops-airline-quality-rating-report-/656845/
  • [4] “And the Best Airline in the U.S. is …” http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/07/travel/airline-quality-ratings/index.html
  • [5] “How Virgin America Beat the Odds — and the U.S. Airline Market,” http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/virgin-america-beat-odds-u-s-airline-market/
  • [6] “Flying Social: How Virgin America’s First-Class Marketing Fuels Brand Awareness,” http://mashable.com/2011/09/08/virgin-america-social-media/
  • [7] “5 Social Media Lessons to Learn from Virgin America,” http://www.business2community.com/social-media/5-social-media-lessons-learn-virgin-america-0728635