Our colleague set forth on what was to be a run-of-the-mill business trip to San Francisco. His quest to find the lowest price, as demanded by his company's new travel policy, led him to Virgin America's relatively new service between New York City and the City by the Bay.
Today's business travel has proved a version of hell on earth, but his experience with the carrier was certainly unique. It began when he quickly and easily booked his ticket online. Upon arriving at the ticket counter, friendly, helpful, scowl-free individuals greeted him and helped secure his aisle seat. As he took his seat in coach, he found surprising legroom and black leather seats rather than stained upholstery. Then, as the safety video - a Tim Burton-esque animated tale - began, it actually kept this regular traveler's attention. The fresh approaches didn't end there. He ordered and received his meal when he was hungry. He watched the movies he chose when he wanted to see them. Water arrived when he asked for it, and then the smiling flight attendant asked if he wanted more. By the time he got off the plane, instead of running for the exits, he excitedly anticipated his return flight.
Virgin America has figured out that even in difficult times, where consumers search for the best price, they'll return to a brand - and even bond with it over time - if the brand delivers at individual moments.
Companies outside of the airline industry can certainly learn from Virgin's lead in brand experience. What works for Virgin, and can work for others, is that the company seizes upon real-world experiences where the brand interacts with customers, and then finds ways to do something uniquely Virgin in those moments. Each of these small interactions - from a smile accompanied by "Hello, gorgeous" to quirky videos - build upon the previous. We call this brand activation. The sum of all these moments is a brand experience that serves to drive customer thinking and behavior change.
All brands have the capacity to create on-brand moments that build experiences that drive bonding, which is crucial in getting consumers to think or behave in new and different ways. The brands able to form bonds in this economic climate will thrive when growth returns to the market.
Now more than ever, with shrinking staff and budgets, marketers need to get the most out of their marketing spend. Jupiter and Verse's "CMO Priorities for 2009" study found that 62 percent of respondents said their traditional advertising efforts no longer effectively attract new customers. In addition, 50 percent needed to prove return on investment for any marketing efforts.
The most effective way to change consumer behavior (like attracting new people to buy your product or service) and measure effectiveness is through brand activation. This entails delivering the right message, at the right place and at the right time through orchestrated efforts.
When building brand activation strategies, be sure to examine every point of your target customer's journey to identify innovative ways to approach each moment - perhaps, for example, you transform a safety video from something tedious into something clever. Set objectives by determining the thinking or behaviors you want to change, and think outside of the current brand experience to determine if there are opportunities to disrupt or add moments that could engage senses. This is the time to have a blank-slate approach that allows you to optimize any existing moments or create new moments. Explore all options - social media, events, guerrilla marketing, pr, point-of-sale, digital, etc. Then test these new things in smaller markets and measure what happens - it's the best way to determine if the tactics work.
Virgin America and other leading marketers know that advertising alone will not move customers to bond with a brand. Instead, they look to the expected and unexpected real-world moments to imprint the brand into customers' brains. These creative approaches to brand activation allow customers to hear, see, touch, smell and taste a brand. The full customer experience is built from a program that delivers something unique about the brand at every moment and by using every sense. Fostering this level of engagement will change consumers' thoughts and behaviors as well as drive long-term bonding, which will benefit brands today and into the future.