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Trendsetters: Virgin America's CMO Luanne Calvert Describes a New Marketing World
Luanne Calvert, Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Virgin America, joined the company two years ago to play a leading role in advancing the airline's identity from a startup to an alternative for hip, contemporary, discerning travelers. She leads the Brand and Online Marketing, In-flight Content and Loyalty teams. Virgin America considers itself to be an airline that is "reinventing flying," and is known for its pioneering flight experience, as well as its position as a challenger brand. In a short time, Luanne has proven that she is well suited to the task.
Speaking this summer at The ANA Digital & Social Media Conference in Southern California, she shared her concept of "Marketing Unleashed." The Virgin audience, she admitted, is social and online. Her challenge, as well as her opportunity, is to encourage Virgin fliers to be vocal advocates for the airline. "Our product experience is our marketing. Our entertainment, comfort, design aesthetics, food & beverage on demand, mood lighting and seat-to-seat chat not only differentiates us, but helps to create an airline people love by making flying fun again. We've learned to have the courage to unleash our product among guests to create effective marketing."
Luanne Calvert underscores that we live in "a different world of marketing." She believes that old marketing is based on control, while new marketing is far more chaotic, unpredictable and often fearful. "Old marketing is like a dog on a leash, while new marketing looks more like puppies running around. Old marketing is a film director who has all control, as opposed to a farmer who plants many seeds and trusts that some will grow. Similarly, we create marketing-driven content and ideas as our seeds, curate them, and hope they inspire action. However, it is the reactions of our guests that matter." She admits that handing over so much influence to customers is daunting, and jokes that she often considers her role as "Chief Fear Swatter."
In fact, six-year old Virgin America--a small carrier with 53 planes and the only airline based in Silicon Valley--is on more people's radar today. Just this pastweekend, the New York Times Sunday Business Section devoted a front-page feature to the carrier entitled "At Virgin America, a Fine Line Between Pizazz and Profit." The story explores if customer service and profitability can co-exist in a challenged airline industry. Or as the Times asks of Virgin: "Can it make money and still be beloved?"
Luanne would say it can.
Under her leadership, the company has achieved sales growth, while the carrier's approach to digital and social media has not only encouraged customer preference, but inspired actions that have allowed its guests to build the brand. According to the most recent Consumer Reports rankings of US airlines, Virgin America placed first. The airline has also been named the best US domestic airline by Travel & Leisure magazine.
Virgin America is a separate entity from Virgin Atlantic, although Richard Branson’s Virgin Group owns 25% of the company. Virgin America’s innovative and often provocative spirit is aligned with Branson’s ethos; however, he leaves all day-to-day marketing decisions to Luanne Calvert, who has a wealth of experience, including 20 years shaping some of the world’s best-known brands.
Luanne Calvert joined Virgin America after leading digital marketing strategy as a consultant with Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy’s (LVMH) Fendi and Moleskine brands in Italy. Prior to that, she served as Creative Director at Google, where she managed the brand globally and developed innovative campaigns to bring Google products directly to consumer and business audiences – including Google Checkout, Google Apps, iGoogle and Google Maps.
Before joining Google in 2006, Calvert led her own marketing firm (Mixed Marketing, Inc.), with blue chip clients ranging from Calvin Klein Cosmetics to Netflix and eBay. From 1999 to 2002, she served as a Director of Marketing at Yahoo!, Inc. where she founded Yahoo!’s buzz marketing team. Earlier in her career, Calvert served as the Vice President of Marketing at Joe Boxer Apparel.
She launched her career working at various top San Francisco advertising agencies, including Goodby, Silverstein & Partners and Citron, Haligman Bedecarré (now AKQA).