Email Marketing

Soaring Into the Inbox: Virgin Atlantic’s Secrets to Email Success

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Wondering what email excellence looks like? Just look to the skies. 

Virgin Atlantic runs a first-class email program, and it was a pleasure to talk with Virgin’s Jon Lockie, Lead Email Developer, and Tom Nowell, Customer Data and Market Database Manager, on the latest episode of State of Email Live. 

Read on to learn a broad range of email tactics and best practices used by this leading brand. 

Increased demand for travel makes top-tier deliverability challenging 

Following a tough two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for travel is ramping up again. People are eager to take the trips they’ve missed out on. But increased demand in the travel industry means increased email activity, making deliverability more challenging.  

For Virgin Atlantic, great deliverability is the cornerstone of their success. 

“Deliverability often falls off the radar for some brands, but it’s always front-of-mind for us and high on our list of KPIs,” said Tom. “We fully understand the need to make sure our customers are receiving the right message at the right time, particularly when it’s critical information that could impact their travel. 

Virgin’s email marketing team understands deliverability is an ongoing challenge. That’s why they keep a constant eye on their sender reputation, maintain healthy data quality, and demonstrate a continual and relentless focus on content optimization.  

Jon and Tom generously explained how Validity’s email success platform, Everest, helps with all of these aspects—as well as list validation, design and content optimization, inbox placement (including Sender Certification), reputation monitoring, and competitive intelligence.  

Their hard work has paid spectacular dividends, including: 

  • Average sender reputation scores of 99 across all IP addresses. 
  • Inbox placement rates of 100 percent for all global mailbox providers (Gmail, Microsoft, and Yahoo/AOL), plus virtually all regional mailbox providers. 
  • Key Certification compliance metrics (complaints, unknown users, SRD votes, and spam trap hits) are green across the board. 
  • Global deliverability performance is a phenomenal 27 percent higher than a composite benchmark of like-for-like senders. 

These results are just the beginning.

Perfecting personalization 

Increasingly congested inboxes make email personalization more important than ever.  

For Virgin Atlantic, personalization requires making the most of their powerful brand and tone of voice (TOV), and harnessing the impactful message of their “see the world differently” campaign.  

Jon walked us through the tactics they use to achieve this, including: 

Dynamic content: Driven by their mission to be the world’s “most-loved travel company,” Virgin Atlantic delivers highly personalized email messaging to its customers, drawing on the latest technologies, competitive intelligence, and a continuous test-and-learn philosophy to ensure their effectiveness. Virgin’s monthly newsletter uses subscriber preferences to serve distinct customer segments with literally tens of thousands of unique permutations. 

In the campaign above, Virgin segmented its audience in the following ways:

  • Segment 1: Sent to customers new to the program. They received a partner offer prompting them to make a purchase and build their points balance.
  • Segment 2: Customers just short of purchasing a flight with points would receive this ‘Boost your points balance’ offer to earn 20,000 points by flying Virgin Atlantic.
  • Segment 3: Sent to customers who have enough points to purchase a flight. They received a timely reminder of increased reward seats available on flights to Antigua.
  • Segment 4: Sent to customers booked on a flight to New York. They received ancillary content to earn points with car hire services at their destination.

Tone of voice: Virgin Atlantic’s unique brand tone of voice echoes the personality of founder Sir Richard Branson—innovative and confident, with a touch of wit. But their TOV also changes depending on their target customer profile. For example, communication with Gold Tier customers who already know the Flying Club program is different from emails to new Red Tier customers who may require more guidance. 

Interactivity: Email engagement doesn’t simply happen. Subscribers need email functionality that encourages them to engage. Virgin Atlantic deploys a full box of tricks to encourage positive engagement, including carousels, touchpoints (e.g., interactive maps), animated GIFs, click-to-reveal elements, hover states, and dark mode optimization (see image below). They also focus on alignment between email and website user experiences. Greater email interactivity has the added benefit of making Virgin’s emails more accessible for customers with disabilities. 

We wondered if all this complex personalization might mean more potential for things to go wrong, but Jon explained how he uses Validity to prevent this from happening: 

“Our aim is to guarantee our code is optimized to perfection ahead of deployment to ensure no negative impact on the customer experience,” said Jon. “Everest’s design and content functionality keeps us true with every send, allowing us to ensure optimum email performance across 100+ environments, track best practice alignment, and manage incompatibilities to provide suitable fallbacks when we implement these interactive techniques.” 

Customer feedback and the future 

This impressive email functionality means Virgin Atlantic might be excused for resting on its laurels.  

But this isn’t the case. At Virgin, plans are already in progress to implement Brand Indicators for Message Identification (BIMI), Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) for additional interactivity, and greater use of Everest’s engagement tracking pixel. The Virgin team will also continue on its path towards Sender Score perfection.

Virgin Atlantic’s customers clearly appreciate these efforts. At various stages of their customer journey, Virgin’s emails include live feedback modules. These modules show over 80 percent of subscribers find Virgin’s emails useful.  

These feedback modules also provide a wealth of comments and suggestions that feed into Virgin’s internal KPIs as part of their continuous improvement approach.  

Tom summarized the benefits of this customer-first philosophy: “Ultimately, we want to be revenue driving not revenue chasing,” he said. “Everything we do is aligned with this ethos. As long as we get it right, it goes a long way toward helping us achieve our ‘most loved’ ambition.” 

Keep your eyes open for another Virgin Atlantic blog next week, in which Tom and Jon will answer a selection of questions from our webinar audience. 

Want to hear more from this action-packed webinar? Watch the on-demand recording now