How Virgin Hotels’ digital marketing strategy has taken shape

Virgin Hotels has just one hotel online—The Virgin Chicago—which opened in early 2015. So its digital marketing has been a study in focus.

Yet not for long. The U.S.-based lodging brand spawned from Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, is planning to open at least four more hotels in the coming years in New York, Nashville, Palm Springs, and Dallas.

Like other Virgin Group companies formed under Branson’s entrepreneurial spirit (from Virgin Atlantic to Virgin Galactic), Virgin Hotels has hoped to disrupt the hospitality industry’s usual mode of business.

For example, just before the Chicago opening, Virgin Hotels put on a guerilla marketing scheme that involved parking a Virgin-wrapped minivan that advertised free wifi in front of competitor hotels that charged for wifi. It also posted an unconventional-for-the-industry promo video.

Virgin touts its “chamber” room concept, which involves a sliding door between the bed and the vanity, mini-bar snacks at “street prices,” its ergonomic, custom-built beds, its in-room personal assistant “Lucy”, and its on-site events, as just a few other ways it is doing things differently as a hotel brand.

Yet when it comes to digital marketing, Virgin Hotels’ strategy is as multi-layered as any other hotel’s these days, with a focus on driving on direct bookings.

“Our number-one goal is to drive people to our website and increase direct bookings,” said Doug Carillo, vice president of sales and marketing for Virgin Hotels. “Not just because it’s a higher profitable distribution channel but it helps us control the consumer experience a lot better than a third party.”

To do this, Virgin invested in a responsive design that makes navigating its website on mobile devices easy, while retaining a striking visual look, as opposed to a default mobile template.

In January, Virgin’s website experience became fully responsive from start to finish when its central reservations system, Sabre’s SynXis, also switched to a responsive booking engine, making it easier for guests to actually complete their reservation from their phone or tablet.

“We’ve seen an uptick in mobile bookings since that happened,” Carillo said.

And having just one hotel to sell gives Virgin the luxury of constantly A/B testing the content “tiles” on its website homepage, Carillo said, by experimenting with different colors or phrases and seeing which one is received better by consumers. (Branding/testing is done by 1 Trick Pony.)

Organic search engine optimization, remarketing, and digital advertising are all part of the rest of the mix with Virgin’s digital marketing strategy, especially concerning Google, Carillo said, noting that Virgin doesn’t have a big budget for paid media.

But Virgin does focus more on its social media outreach, specifically with user-generated content from the top social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as well as TripAdvisor, Google+, and Yelp. The hotel partnered up with Local Measure to aggregate social media content found across social networks and display it on the Virgin Hotels website.

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Carillo said Virgin does this not just because it’s a way to draw in the coveted millennial dollars, but also because it’s trusted content. He told Tnooz:

“Thirty-four percent of our customer base is the millennial generation, but Virgin appeals to a wide range of consumers generationally. The brand is young at heart. And when as a brand you’re able to bring forward user-generated content, that is almost like the largest form of credibility you can get—people telling other people how great your brand is.”

Virgin has also dabbled with Snapchat filters, particularly around special events, but Carillo said Periscope is better for the many live events that happen in the hotel. He added:

“There is so much content going on in the hotel, we don’t have to go out of our way to create it. There’s more candy in the candy store at Virgin Hotels.”

As for email marketing, Carillo said that this is still the brand’s best return on investment, stating that Virgin’s open and click-through rates were about 30-40 percent. (Industry standard is about 20 percent.)

While Virgin’s loyalty program In the Know is building a detailed database of guests and their preferences, Carillo said Virgin is still perfecting its personalization strategy. “We want content that will resonate with all consumers. And we want to make sure that we get it right so we can have that WOW factor.”

Earlier: Virgin Hotels launches in-room personal assistant called…

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Juliana Shallcross

About the Writer :: Juliana Shallcross

Juliana Shallcross is a guest contributor. She was previously the managing editor of HotelChatter, VegasChatter, and Jaunted for 10 years. Based in LA, she now writes about hotels for a variety of publications including Condé Nast Traveler and LE Miami. She’s also chronicling cool places to take the kids at TripsandGiggles.

 

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