I had a delightfully unexpected brand experience a week ago that I must share. I experienced a beautifully designed and executed experience and I liked it. A lot. This company has done the work that we ask each of our clients to do. To look at each customer contact point and infuse their brand into it, create a unique brand experience. They did it well. Very well. Considering that I am not impressed easily, I have significant category dissatisfaction, and yet still entered the experience with some anticipation, this company exceeded my expectations.

Who has earned this impressed brand review? Virgin America Airlines. Virgin is a legendary brand known for its style, fun, irreverence and commitment to its customers. Virgin’s business entry strategy is to set up shop in markets where customers are being neglected. (Lordy, if the airline business is not one of these markets I do not know what would be! Air travel has become downright unpleasant, more a dreaded necessity to maneuver through than the start of a potentially exciting journey.) Virgin Atlantic has flown internationally for 30 years, and started flying within North American abut 7 years ago. My only disappointment is that it took me 7 years to find a way to travel them.

Some background, I view all North American airlines with such a high level of disdain that I truly resent that I have to give them my hard earned money. This negativity stems from the universally normalized complete lack of regard (at best) to the contemptibility they hold for us pesky customers (all too often). They get away with it because they can (everyone does it), and they hide behind profitability (yes it is important) as an excuse for making the traveller more and more uncomfortable and inconvenienced. The bar is truly buried for this industry.

And with this cynical attitude, mixed with some hope that Virgin will be different, I begin my journey. Booking – no crashing site, simple process and SURPRISE the best price option! (Don’t tell Virgin, but the truth is I would have paid a bit extra to try them out.). 24 hour check in, seamless and the boarding pass is identified as pre-cleared (a Virgin negotiated benefit for their traveller). Pre-cleared means jumping to the short que at security, manned by capable and prompt TSA personnel, nothing needs to be taken out of your bags, a swift transaction, almost like the good old days. Arrive at the gate: plane is on time. Gate personnel: friendly and efficient. Seems like they may even like their job! Enter the plane and it is a mélange of funky pink and purple lighting, white leather seats in business class, and even my coach seat is comfy. Leg room AND storage space. And the seat back pocket has dedicated spots for my cell phone and a bottle of water, and room behind for iPads/reading (why hasn’t anyone done that before!?). And I still am not done. There is an entertainment system that is actually entertaining. In addition to the usual TV/movies, there is seat to seat chatting, onscreen ordering of drinks and snacks, brought to you when you want (you can even send someone a drink), power outlets at each seat, inflight internet, and the dang seat is comfortable. Virgin calls this “feature rich” cabins, and yes indeedy, they are. But I am not done….still. When the safety briefing comes on, that we all tune out (I know you do), it is done in a captivatingly cheeky sung/rapped/choreographed visual video extravaganza. The safety briefing! I looked around and everyone was watching it with a smirk on their face. It is the first time I have paid attention to it in years. And finally, there was a lack of incessant chattering by the in flight crew on the PA. We took off on time, we landed early. It was a 10/10 plus a bonus point for no less than 4 delightful surprises. I repeatedly experienced the brand values of style, fun, irreverence and concern for customer. Thank you.

I realize I seem giddy about seemingly silly things, but all travelers know how annoying the little things can become, so it makes a difference. And Virgin planned for me to experience this and I immensely value this. Their goal with Virgin America is prove “it is possible to fly low-cost luxury” and to “give travelers more for their money” in order “to make flying fun again.”

Well done. I am gleeful over a brand experience so well managed. May it serve as inspiration for all of us.

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Many years ago I was asked to prepare a point of view and present a perspective on leadership. The point of the presentation was to suggest ways all of us could step up to be better leaders.

As part of my preparation process I interviewed a number of people to determine who their most influential leaders were. You should know that these were all highly accomplished people, people others would consider leaders, who were well into their careers, exposed to many people, opportunities and experiences. I could not wait to hear who helped form them into who they were. I anticipated leaders they met on their career path, thought leaders they got to know from writings, community leaders, the sky was the limit.

What they told me sticks with me to this day. Do you know whom EVERY single person I spoke with had on his or her list? Parents, and specifically their dad.

And do you know what else they told me? They had very few models of leaders that they truly and wholly valued. They spoke of other moments of learning from important individuals, but a person who truly formed their whole being, and showed them that leadership was not individual acts but rather a philosophical way of moving through the world personally and professionally. Someone who taught important lessons, touched people personally and makes the world a better place.

Leadership is truthful, generous, committed ongoing moments that happen consistently and continuously.

With Father’s Day this Sunday, I am feeling nostalgic and remembering my own dad and first leader in life. He taught me about doing the right thing even when it’s hard; having convictions; living with integrity; experiencing laughter and fun wherever you can; and giving everything your best effort. He made a lasting and hugely influential imprint on my leadership style.

This feels like an ideal time for each of us to reflect on our influencing leaders, and those we are influencing to make sure we are stepping up to our best right now.

Happy Father aka Leader Day!


Two Sides of the Same Coin

by Trudy on May 16, 2014

As I have mentioned previously, I have lately spent a considerable amount of time understanding the income gap as a concept. Consequently I have come to have a greater understanding of the part of our population that lives at the bottom 20% in our economy.

In stark contrast I had the opportunity to visit Monaco recently, where I got to see the evidence of the population that lives in the top 1%.

Of no shock to anyone, the material differences between these two groups is more than a little vast. Many of us cannot imagine the daily effort it takes to get through a day living at or below the poverty line. And I suspect most of us also cannot truly comprehend the realities of the billionaire lifestyle.

I will leave it to individual musings and values to assess the diametric differences in these two populations, and how each of them ended up where they are.

I do however want to point out one observation my offspring and I came to as we parted ways with Monaco.

The two groups are really not that different.

The people in the bottom 20% of the economy live with a constant threat of insecurity. Will there be enough food, is there sustainable shelter, etc.

The people at the very top of the economic hierarchy fear for their security too. They cannot move freely through a city for fear of personal safety, they must over protect their homes and belongings to not have them taken away from them or have harm come to them because of it.

Everyone in Monaco talks of the Russian billionaire that anchors his personal residence / ship in the Mediterranean around Monaco (it is too big to dock in a marina), who rarely leaves it, is wary of who he can trust, and has missiles on his ship to keep him safe. Ironic tradeoff. Living less to have more.

Any life that cuts us off from others and makes us feel unsafe is deeply unfortunate.

And both groups suffer from this at the core.

Both are trapped by the circumstances, one of them can bring the world to them.

Food for thought.


One Head + Internet is Better than Two!

April 11, 2014

Recently I read an article that I feel is a foundational shift in how we humans acquire information. In Scientific America’s December 2013 Issue, the article “How Google is changing your brain” laid out a research based perspective that postulates that the Internet has replaced our typical human memory partners. In the past, a team […]

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When was the Last Time you Interrupted Someone?

March 14, 2014

I must confess, for me it happens more than it should. I like to think that I am exploding with enthusiasm about the topic at hand and need to join in. I like to think I am guiding to dialogue about a different perspective or augmenting the one being discussed. But after doing some reading […]

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