Travel & tourism marketing: How Virgin Air keeps brand buzz high when marketing dollars are low

September 11, 2012

Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson is a master of media buzz.

Virgin Air founder Richard Branson recently shared his secrets on creating marketing buzz with a shoestring budget.

As you know, Sir Richard Branson is a serial entrepreneur, having founded or acquired 400 companies that bear the Virgin name.

He’s also helped breathe new life into the travel and tourism industry with his novel efforts at branding and promotions.

Business Day recently published a column by Branson that highlighted some of those novel marketing efforts:

  • When they launched Virgin Atlantic, Branson created free publicity for the airlines by taking part in a series of extreme challenges like a speed boat crossing of the Atlantic and several around the world balloon trips.
  • When Virgin Atlantic did buy advertising for the airlines, they made sure their ads were cheeky, topical and newsworthy. Which often got them press in addition to the media space they paid for.
  • Expanding air service to other countries helped transport the Virgin brand name to countries which did not have their record stores.
  • This created awareness and trust for the broader Virgin brand name and allowed Branson to export Virgin mobile phone service, financial services and health clubs to those countries.
  • When they launched Virgin Air in emerging countries in Latin America and Asia,  there was virtually no recognition of the Virgin brand name.
  • So Branson’s team used a three-pronged approach featuring adventure, film and social media. This strategy has attracted a younger, more media-savvy audience to the brand in those countries.
  • Virgin’s space program, Virgin Galactic has given them lots of free worldwide media coverage. And reinforced that the brand is associated with groundbreaking adventure.
  • Virgin’s film production company Virgin Produced has successfully introduced several popular movies, including Limitless and Immortals.
  •  This has helped reinforce that the Virgin brand name is associated with cutting edge ideas and the best of pop culture.
  • Above all, Virgin uses Twitter, Facebook, the company’s blogs and Google+ to build a stronger following for the Virgin brand, especially in markets where they do not have a physical presence.
  • They do this by broadcasting Virgin news, opinions, image and causes to millions of people across the world.

How are you using your brand’s strategy, products, or your destination’s leading personality to bring media attention to your travel and tourism brand? Share your ideas with our readers.

Here’s a video of Virgin Galactic’s launch of their new “spaceport.”

Tell me again: Why should guests care about your travel brand?

September 6, 2012

When I moved to Denver 18 years ago, it seemed like a long way off from the work-obsessed, almost cult-like ad community I left behind in Minneapolis.

Then I started meeting a few of the natives. And saw what they were doing with their free time.

Up and down my street, and in office after office at work,  I met people who worked hard. And played even harder.

I met people who plotted and planned out every minute of their evenings, weekends and vacations like it just might be their last.

They mountain biked, kayaked, fly fished and tent camped in the summer.

They skied, went snowboarding,  ice climbed and went snowshoeing in the winter.

Somewhere in there, they found time to take vacations to exotic resorts, desolate beaches and undiscovered four and five-star hotels in Asian and Eastern European cities I had never heard of.

In between trips and treks, they talked my ear off about their passions, and the latest travel and outdoor recreational brands  that helped keep their adrenaline pumping.

And I began to understand the difference between a customer and a follower.

That brings us to your brand.

Have you created the kind of product or place that people can’t stop talking about? Is your brand worthy of someone’s full and undivided passion?

Do the people who follow your brand feel like you get them? Do you participate in their conversations enough to know what they love? And hate?

Do you wrap your brand in the same love that intoxicates your followers?

If so, I know 3 million people here in Colorado who can’t wait to meet and talk to you.

If you don’t, I know another 300 million Americans who can’t wait to ignore you.

Travel marketing mystery: How United Airlines won a fare war but lost a customer.

July 31, 2012

My wife and I recently booked a ticket on United Airlines to Minneapolis.

We were on our way to visit our youngest son, a college student in Minnesota.

I usually fly Frontier or Southwest to Minneapolis.

I like the feeling of fun and freedom both airlines give me. Besides, their prices are the cheapest when I book early.

This time I went with United because they undercut my favorite airlines on the last minute fare.

With only a couple weeks left until our trip, I paid twice the normal amount for my ticket that I can usually get it for when I book a month or two out.

I was not too happy with their price, but I had to hand it to them for winning this battle of the premium fare wars.

They also offered 3 more flights to choose from that day, which did sweeten their deal for me.

All went smoothly until it was time to board the plane.

When it came time to load my trusty Victorinox carry on luggage–a bag designed to be squeezed into any overhead compartment–it wouldn’t fit.

After watching me struggle for a couple of minutes, the stewardess came over and corrected me.

Stewardess: “Next time please bring a smaller piece of luggage.”

Me: “But I’ve used this bag for years.”

Stewardess: “Your bag is too big.”

Me: “I think your overhead compartment is too small.”

Stewardess: “No, your bag is too big.”

Before I could get a head of steam on my anger, my wife told me I was starting to embarrass her.

So I retreated to my assigned seat, and spent the rest of the flight smoldering from the injustice of it all.

After we landed, I did a little research. Turns out United was flying an Embraer 170 that day.

According to Seat Guru this compact Brazilian-built jetliner has full-size overhead bins on the right side of the cabin, but the left-hand side overhead compartments are too small to fit a regular-sized carry on.

It’s been awhile since this happened, and I have avoided United with a vengeance.

As I look back on my experience United won the fare war, and the argument that day, but lost a customer. For life.

Incidentally, the Customer Service Scoreboard ranks United #330 of 550 companies that have been rated by their visitors, with an overall score of 33 out of a possible 200.

Looks like I’m not the only traveler they’ve disappointed.

Travel and tourism marketing: Alabama tourism focuses on food as a destination

June 22, 2012

This famous Decatur BBQ joint is one of the featured eateries in the campaign.

In 2005, the Alabama Tourism Department created  “The Year of Alabama Food” campaign to draw attention to Birmingham’s culinary delights.

The campaign proved so successful, that 7 years later, the state’s tourism agency has decided to bring it back.

The $1 million marketing effort will feature the popular “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die”, an Alabama BBQ Hall of Fame, and an Alabama Restaurant Week.

The campaign will focus on state dining treasures like Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, the original Wintzell’s Oyster House in Mobile, and dozens of other favorite eateries.

The state decided on this direction because they realized they don’t have beaches or major theme parks to attract tourists.

But local chefs and food trends have attracted visitors from around the region to the state for its great food and chefs.

Fine dining in Birmingham is the jumping off point, but to take the concept statewide, state tourism officials came up with a theme that also highlights country cooking, barbecue and seafood.

Since its inception in 2005, the popular “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die,” has become so popular it’s updated annually.

In fact the state distributes 200,000 brochures on the subject through state welcome centers and local chambers of commerce each year.

Many restaurant owners in the state who have made the list proudly display the designation on the windows of their businesses and mention it in their advertising.

The 2012 “Year of Alabama Food” campaign will feature a 30-second TV spot and a website– –that includes directions to restaurants across these the state.

There’s also a big social media push, with a Facebook page, Twitter feed, and blog posts from many of Alabama’s top chefs that include recipes of some of their favorite dishes.

The blog will also have a section where visitors can take pictures of and post comments about the places they visited and the dishes they tried.

Throughout the year, “The Year of Alabama Food” will also highlight food festivals and events around the state.

In August, restaurants throughout the state will offer fixed-price lunch and dinner specials during the inaugural Alabama Restaurant Week.

What do you think of Alabama’s efforts to use food as a differentiator? What are you doing to differentiate your travel brand from your competitors?

If you’re interested in reading more, here’s a link to the “100 Alabama dishes” brochure. 

Travel marketing: Southwest Airlines shares its social media flight plan.

September 26, 2011

The Southwest social team uses a collaborative approach with internal and external partners.

A Southwest social media team member shares 6 strategies from their social media playbook.

Southwest Airlines communications specialist Laurel Moffat spoke recently at an AMA event in Kansas City.

Laurel shared 6 cornerstones of the Southwest social strategy every leisure marketing specialist focused on social media should study:

1. Listen first, talk later. The Southwest team has found that if you listen first, you can discover what content is meaningful and relevant for your audience.

2. Personalize the experience for your audience. Southwest team members sign their names to Facebook posts, share content customers are already thinking about, and localize content.

One example of localizing content:  Southwest maintains different Facebook pages devoted to fans at 20 different airports.

Southwest sends content like this to passengers on topics they are already thinking about.

3. Staff appropriately to manage your online community. The Southwest has a social media team of 5 people. Together, they monitor and communicate  with:

  • Visitors to their website, which receives 12 million monthly visits.
  • A Twitter feed with 1 million followers.
  • A Facebook page with 1.3 million Likers.
  • A YouTube channel that’s had over 5 million views.
  • An online travel guide.

This team monitors Southwest’s online presence 24/7, including hourly check ins at night, with two people trading responsibilities on major outposts.

The social team worked with Southwest's internal marketing group and an external agency partner to design this Facebook app.

4. Use a collaborative approach to your social strategy. The Southwest social media team collaborates in five ways:

  1. Internally with marketing, who create the look and feel for their social pages, the communications team who drive content,  and the legal and investor relations departments.
  2. Internally with customer service; emerging media team members are cross trained in customer service so they can address customer service questions directly, as they arise.
  3. Internally with Southwest employees, through a social media club, and the BlogCon conference to train them in social media and content creation.
  4. Externally with partners like Buddy Media for their social media platform and  VML for their external digital marketing needs.
  5. Externally with key influencers including travel bloggers, brand fanatics, avid travelers.

5. Let your social community decide what they like. The Southwest social team doesn’t try to predict or control what kinds of content their online community will like, and are constantly surprised by what their community looks at.

One example:  A video on the Southwest ground crew cleaning an engine is one of the most popular videos on the Southwest YouTube channel.

6. Fix your brand first, then launch your social media. When they first got into social media, Southwest had a few stumbles.

But it was ok because they had a strong brand with loyal customers. If their brand had been weak, some of those stumbles could have been disastrous. Learning:  Fix your brand, then dive into social media.

What have you noticed about Southwest’s approach to social media that Laurel didn’t address in her talk? What are they doing right? What would you like to see them change?

Thanks to Mike Brown from the Brainzooming Group for his excellent summary post of this event on Social Media Today, and the example Southwest email, which Mike used in one of his recent talks.

Leisure marketing: 15 landmark articles for social media community managers

July 25, 2011

15 classic posts for online community managers from one of the world’s best social media teachers

There aren’t many travel & leisure marketing pros who are also experts in social media.

In fact, in the whole world of social media, there are only a handful of agencies that really know the space, and teach everyone else how it’s done.

One of my favorite social media teacher agencies in the world is Fresh Networks.

They’re a straight-talking, London-based agency that has spent a good deal of time and effort documenting the day-to-day responsibilities of a community manager.

In honor of Community Manager Appreciation Day, they recently pulled together 15 posts from their blog.

They cover a variety of topics that should be required reading for every community manager and social media director.

I reprint them here with my sincere admiration and high recommendation.

  1. When does a community manager’s job begin?: Why it is critical that your community manager is involved in helping to plan and design the online community before it is launched.
  2. The Ten Commandments of managing online communities: An insightful presentation on how to manage online communities from Julius Solaris.
  3. The biggest mistakes an online community manager can make: From lack of engagement to a lack of discipline, we look at five of the biggest mistakes an online community manger can make.
  4. How word of mouth grows online communities: A case study on the role of word of mouth helped to grow an online community at a critical early stage.
  5. Five things to consider when engaging social media influencers: Influencers in social media can be a great help when growing your community and become advocates of your site. However engaging them can be difficult. Here are five things to consider when engaging them.
  6. How to react if somebody writes about your brand online: A simple guide to help you decide when, and how, you should respond if somebody comments on your brand online.
  7. Why you shouldn’t join every conversation about your brand online: When you should, and when you shouldn’t, join conversations about your brand online (and why you shouldn’t feel the need to respond to them all).
  8. Champions, active users and trolls: Defining the different types of users in an online community and exploring how they behave and how you should manage them.
  9. Moderation and safety: Why moderation is important, the four types of moderation you can choose from and how to decide which approach is right for you.
  10. Should anonymous comments be allowed in your online community: The pros and cons of allowing anonymous comments in your online community, and those times when it really is the best option.
  11. Comparing paid and organic search strategies for online communities: Which are more successful drivers of traffic? And which are more likely to drive engagement?
  12. Eight ways you can use your online community to get insight: Eight tools and activities you can use in your online community to get insight from your members.
  13. What online community managers can learn from gaming: How to use gaming techniques to help manage and grow your online community.
  14. Using experts to encourage real engagement with your community: How experts can add value to your online community if used sensibly, and in a way that meets the needs of your community members.
  15. Is time on site a useful measure of how successful your online community is?: The short answer is ‘no’. This article tells you why, and where time on site is a useful measure.

If you’re a travel or leisure marketing pro, what resources do you trust for the latest social media topics? What other blogs and social media gurus should we be reading on this topic?

Leisure marketing: 21 reasons you should be advertising in next year’s Super Bowl.

January 31, 2011


170 million viewers will spend $10 billion getting ready for it.

Whether you’re measuring viewership, ROI, Facebook “Likes”, or online viral effect the Super Bowl is a proven winner.

At $3 million per 30 second spot, advertising on the Super Bowl may seem like a crazy idea.  Until you look at the numbers.

No matter how you measure the success of your leisure marketing, these numbers are super:

  1. Last year’s Super Bowl posted a 45.0 HH rating, with a 68 share. The average audience of 106.5 million viewers eclipsed the final episode of M*A*S*H* to become the most-watched TV show ever.
  2. It was the third straight Super Bowl to set a record for average audience, and the 20th straight year the Super Bowl has achieved a 40 HH rating or higher.
  3. Of the millions planning to watch the 2011 game, 1 in 2 say the game itself is the most important part, but 1 in 4 say they watch for the commercials.
  4. This year over 100 million people are expected to watch the Super Bowl in the U.S. alone, and the broadcast will be seen in more than 230 countries, foreign locations, and military installations.
  5. In a poll following a recent Super Bowl,  two-thirds of respondents remembered their favorite brand advertiser from the Super Bowl but only 39% recalled the winning team.
  6. One Super Bowl ad can be as effective as 250 regular TV commercials, according to a 2010 analysis by Millward Brown Optimor.
  7. In the same study, Millward Brown Optimor reported that consumer packaged goods brands see an average sales lift of more than 11% in the month following the Super Bowl.
  8. In the last 10 years, 4 of the top 5 Super Bowl advertisers were leisure brands: 1. Anheuser-Busch ($235 million); 2. Pepsico ($170.8 million); 3. Walt Disney Co ($70.8 million); 4. General Motors ($61.1 million); 5. Coca-Cola Co ($54.4 million).
  9. Mega brands aren’t the only companies advertising at the big game. This year you’ll see ads from,, HomeAway, Bridgestone and Sketchers.
  10. First time advertisers account for 20-25% of the roster of advertisers in any given year. This year, the lineup of newcomers will include Best Buy and Pizza Hut.
  11. GoDaddy has seen its market share increase steadily since it began advertising on the Super Bowl in 2005, rising from 16% to over 48% worldwide.
  12. Over a five-year period, Careerbuilder saw its sales increase an average of 40% each year in the three months following the Super Bowl broadcast.
  13. A recent Teleflora Super Bowl ad aimed at getting consumers to buy more flowers for Valentines’ Day. Sales went up 5% in a tough market, and the average value per order rose 8%.
  14. Total Super Bowl-related consumer spending on the big game is expected to reach $10.1 billion.
  15. 22% of Americans plan to be on Facebook during the game, and another 22% plan to be texting.
  16. 25% say they will be talking about the ads on their social networks.
  17. 43% plan to re-watch their favorite ads and 31% plan to pass those along to others via email or social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, up from 26% last year.
  18. Americans are also almost as likely to “like” a brand on Facebook that advertises during the Super Bowl (20%) as they are to “like” a team (24%).
  19. The notion that Super Bowl ratings decline in the fourth quarter is a myth. Average ratings for the last 19 Super Bowls (1992-2010) increased each quarter: 1st quarter – 40.6; 2nd quarter – 42.4; 3rd quarter – 43.3; 4th quarter – 44.0.
  20. The median age of Super Bowl viewers: 43, and the audience is split 56% male, 44% female. (By comparison, the breakdown for an average regular season NFL game is 66% male; 34% female.)
  21. In a recent survey, 75% of viewers say they see the Super Bowl commercials as part of the entertainment.

    Sources:  Kantar Media, AOL Daily Finance, Venables, Bell and Partners, The Fox Network, Retail Advertising and Marketing Association’s 1011 Super Bowl Consumer Intentions Survey

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