November 8, 2013

5 Invaluable Lessons from Virgin

For many entrepreneurs Richard Branson is the epitome of bold and successful entrepreneurship.  His companies are known around the globe for upturning their categories and challenging the status quo.  While executives and the press clamor to meet the man himself, far less is written about the unique training ground that his companies have been for entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, and marketers.  While Harvard Business School gave me an indispensable foundation in general management, Virgin offered unparalleled lessons in building businesses that remain true regardless of industry, audience, or trend.

1.  Your product is your most important form of marketing.
Long gone are the days when an ad campaign could hide a multitude of sins.  In today’s highly connected world, positive and negative word of mouth spreads like wildfire.  Virgin invests in developing stand-out products and services that are measurably different from their competition, and that their customers love with near obsession.  Case in point:  Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class.  No focus group could have foretold the need for business class travel with mood lighting and a stand-up bar.  Yet by investing in a measurably different, better product, Virgin can spend 1/10th the funds on advertising that its competition does, and carries a much less costly loyalty program.  By focusing on “points of re-evaluation” or experiential touchpoints that differ dramatically from what’s expected in the category, like the spa pool in their airline lounge, or the inflight massage, customers not only begin to think differently about the status quo, but they are  more likely to tell their friends.  The virtuous cycle of word of mouth begins!

Here’s a technology counterpart:  Mint.  By focusing on solving a pain point with delightfully elegant UI, Mint experienced record-breaking adoption that led to its acquisition by Intuit only 3 years after its founding.  Like Virgin, Mint didn’t invest in costly ad campaigns or even multi-touch nurturing- instead press and word of mouth drove incredible adoption because it made managing finances  just.that.easy.

Screen Shot 2012-12-11 at 11.52.42 AM

Virgin Atlantic’s category-defying Upper Class Suite reset the bar for transatlantic business class travel.

Richard Branson celebrates Virgin Atlantic's 25th Anniversary

Richard Branson celebrates Virgin Atlantic’s 25th Anniversary









I will never forget the last time a product literally made me shiver.  It was 5am and my taxi arrived at the curb at the airport.  At that hour, I was clumsily gathering my luggage and fishing for cash.  The cab driver noticed my disheveled state and said “I take cards” and he slid my Amex through a tiny white box attached to his smartphone with great ease.  I signed with my finger and a receipt appeared automatically in my inbox.  “Oh my gosh, what’s that called?” I asked incredulously.  It was Square.  In the next 24 hours, I mentioned it to no fewer than 5 people.  It was so incredibly different than what I expected- so delightfully easy to pay on the go- that I had to spread the word.

In my next post, lesson #2:  you can’t afford to blend.


December 9, 2011

Targeting Can Be Sexy. Seriously.

Recently I was asked for my favorite or most creative campaign that I’ve led. Leading marketing with start up budget, my most recent successes have been surgical in precision with my target audience and the business objectives. Unless you’re a mother in one of my key target markets with a strong interest in what you feed your family, you may not have seen our campaigns. If you have, it’s likely been in your grocery store or while you shared photos with your friends on Facebook. A bit unsexy, perhaps, but extremely effective.

But targeted marketing can be sexy, too. At Virgin Atlantic, we discovered the campaigns we ran to make air travel glamorous made us seem unapproachable to business travelers. Of the few key factors that drove choice in airline, flyers wanted to know that an airline cared about them. Not surprising when you’re trusting a company to launch you to 30,000 feet, I suppose. The irony was in striving to differentiate ourselves we had drifted a bit from our roots as a customer champion – the difference that mattered to our target.

Since our flying experience delivered plenty of thoughtful touches- I partnered with a great agency to help us change our target’s perception. We focused on bringing the in-air experience to the ground for a very specific group of people: UK corporate travelers based in our two key markets. And understanding their value to our company, we invested to bring innovative, interruptive experiences to their doorsteps- both virtually as they traveled the web, and literally in front and around their workplaces. We invited their corporate travel managers to pub quizzes that snuck in an occasional product feature and assured we delivered on our brand promise to the gatekeepers as well as the travelers.

Here’s a video of the work:

We didn’t bet the bank- we invested significantly less than we would have in traditional media, and maintained our proven workhorse programs. We used the best available technology at the time to micro-target our prospects at their workplace and on the web. And the results in terms of bookings, marketshare, and revenue growth were staggering and paid off well beyond the campaign period. But the best return is something I’m not sure anyone has coined yet…it’s the energy and enthusiasm from employees when your marketing resonates with the brand and their values, and inspires them to continue delivering the brand promise in their own work everyday. It’s better than viral, it’s….?

October 11, 2010

A moment of unintentional greatness: I give you the first 3-D email (that I know of!)

Filed under: Marketing — aimee @ 8:48 pm
Tags: , , ,

I joined a vibrant startup in April with an unusual history of creativity: 5 patents, a sleek website, and really innovative technology. Today we unintentionally continued that legacy with our first 3-D email, announcing our presence at the produce industry’s largest trade show. The frame was taken from an animated 3-D film that we’ll be premiering at the PMA trade show on October 15th in Orlando.

HarvestMark's 3-D Email

Care to learn more about HarvestMark? Check out our consumer-focused proposition here. Otherwise, get out your red and blue glasses and enjoy!

March 8, 2010

What bacon and voodoo can teach us about differentiation

This week I received a note from Youngme Moon, one of my former business school professors, that she’s about to launch a new book entitled “Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd.” The creative trailer for the book cleverly illustrates the challenge of differentiating in a crowded field of “me too!” yet reminded me of a business school case in lacking even the slightest glimpse into the solution. So, while I wait in anticipation of a good read on the April 6th release date, here are two inspiring companies who definitely chose to go left when others turned right:

The Eponymous Donut from Voodoo Donut in Portland, Oregon

The Voodoo Donut from Voo Doo Donuts in Portland, Oregon

Two businesses crossed my path this week that are valiantly unafraid to specialize. Incidentally both were started by pairs of friends, but that’s material for another article. The first, Voodoo Doughnuts of Portland, Oregon specializes in off-beat, dare I say eccentric varieties of the beloved pastry that would positively scandalize Dunkin’ Donuts. Case in point: their signature Voodoo variety is a person-shaped doughnut frosted with eyes and a smile and filled with raspberry jelly. Included with each purchase- a pretzel rod “pin” to stab the doughnut, which oozes red jelly filling. The business has been featured in the New York Times, Fast Company, and enjoys a passionate following at its two Portland locations.

JD's Bacon Salt. It comes in three varieties.

The second company, JD foods, specializes in bacon condiments. The past few years have given rise to an unprecedented passion for bacon. First, a sleeper blog of things wrapped in bacon became a runaway success, with the arterial-clogging “Bacon Explosion”. Soon bacon appeared on menus across the country as tempura, icecream, and even vodka. It was suddenly socially acceptable to profess one’s love of the fatty yet delicious meat amidst crowds that eschewed carbs and even meat. In the midst of the rising bacon tide (hmmm, perhaps not the best visual) friends Justin and Dave invented bacon salt and bacon-naise with the catchy tagline “everything should taste like bacon.” With product additions like “Baco-Pop” popcorn and bacon-flavored ranch dressing, even vegetarians are singing J&D’s praises.

Both of these examples support the premise that there’s no such thing as “a little different” for small companies that want to capture consumers attention. Would J&Ds have 4,212 Twitter followers if they were a spice company that happened to also sell bacon salt? Would VooDoo have gained the same volume of press attention if it offered an unusual doughnut once or twice a year? By embracing their specialties these companies have earned a place in the heart of consumers, and differentiated themselves from their much larger competitors. Tell me, which companies do you admire for “going left when others go right?” Hit comment below.

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