How Virgin Atlantic Just Gave Us a Master Class in Social Branding

Many brands are doing surprising work today but Virgin Atlantic is one that consistently captures the attention of not only the airline industry but the media landscape at large. Last week, they did this yet again with the launch of their new safety video. As designers of one of the first interesting safety videos several years ago, it’s not surprising that Virgin looked to re-invent the staple of airline travel yet again- but what they did this time was specific to the social business marketplace and reflects many of the key components of highly effective social branding.

What makes this video so extraordinary is not just the way in which it takes something very staid within the airline industry (to the point of being deadly boring) and infuses it with real life, but rather how the art of community architecture is built into its very design. So, let’s break down the components of their new safety video campaign to reveal how it builds the brand’s reputation, its customer loyalty and ultimately its sales.

Virgin Safey dance competitionStep One: Recognize opportunity for reinvention within your industry.

Never one to rest on its laurels, Virgin has yet again looked at something other airlines may overlook and seen an unprecedented opportunity to drive media exposure and customer engagement. This time they launched a competition that invites people to compete to appear in the next Virgin safety video. By doing so, they invite their customer community to co-create their content and infuse the brand with a sense of fun and exploration that makes Virgin and the travel experience all the more exciting.

Step Two: Maintain community engagement

The launch of this new video has created its own media storm and the competition itself will layer on all the dynamics we see behind the success of top television programs such as American Idol, The Voice and America’s Got Talent. For the next safety video, there will be a series of artists who compete, a series of judges who determine who wins, and an online audience who will have a say in which contestants ultimately appear in the next version. What’s more, is that Virgin will be making four videos a year, so rather than framing this as a one-off opportunity to create some media buzz, Virgin has structured this in a way that it will maintain community engagement over the long-term, creating a series of conversations that will compound awareness and engagement around the brand.

Step Three: Amplification of customer engagement

The premise of the entire video is that by allowing contestants to compete, customers to chose the winners, and judges to add credibility, the Virgin community will do a far better job of creating a compelling safety video together than the company would if it just went out and made one on its own. What Virgin has started here is the creation of a series of content that shares ownership of the brand and its story with its customer community. It’s also an extension of the personality of Richard Branson, long known as a maverick within the industry and business in general.

When a customer thinks about which airline to fly, they already have a compelling passenger experience to persuade them to choose Virgin. Layer upon that the sense of fun and inclusiveness reflected in the safety video, and its ability to not take itself too seriously, and it makes it harder and harder for others to compete not just with the in-flight experience of Virgin, but rather its brand personality.

Central to the success of any brand in today’s social business marketplace is to recognize opportunity where others see none, to engage consumers in fresh and compelling ways, and to create content that turns customers into brand ambassadors so that your entire community builds your business with you. Virgin has given us a wonderful example of how to do this well and I suspect it will be but the first of innately shareable content pieces Virgin and its customers will create together.

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