AUSTIN, TX: Virgin America, the air carrier, believes the support of brand advocates can help it continue to take flight in a category dominated by large rivals with significantly greater marketing budgets.

Abby Lunardini, Virgin America's vp/brand marketing and communications, discussed this topic at South By Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas.

"We're actually one of the fastest-growing airlines in the US … We're really known for having a different product," she said. (For more, including examples of how the brand activates its advocates, read Warc's exclusive report: Virgin America shows the power of targeted brand advocacy.)

"We have new aircraft with mood lighting and touchscreen entertainment. We were the first airline to have WiFi fleet-wide and power outlets at every seat."

But if such features have differentiated the experience on offer, Virgin America must find similarly distinctive techniques to spread the word.

"Because we're small in an industry that's dominated by giants, our marketing budgets are about one twentieth the size of the competition," Lunardini said.

In overcoming this hurdle, tapping into the enthusiasm of its advocates has become a crucial goal for the company, which launched in 2007 and is headquartered in Burlingame, California.

"We're also really known for having a very loyal guest following and some pretty passionate brand advocates," reported Lunardini.

"So in terms of product messaging, we rely a lot on our flyers to help spread the word about the product difference on social and through general marketing."

Beyond amplifying its marketing, this group has assisted Virgin America in campaigning on issues like gaining access to new airports.

"We've also increasingly used our flyer base to help with some pretty big commercial and business challenges that we've faced along the way," said Lunardini.

"Some of those things come with the territory when you're the little guy in an industry dominated by behemoths."

Data sourced from Warc