Company: Virgin Atlantic
Contact: Allison Wightman, head of e-business
Location: Crawley, West Sussex, United Kingdom
Industry: Airline
B2B/B2C: B2C
Annual revenue: $3,191,860,000
Number of employees: 8,993

Quick Read

It's a problem that has plagued the online marketing world for years: A website visitor, arriving via a Google search or other online reference, takes a gander at your site but isn't quite ready to buy, so he leaves. That same visitor may pop in a few more times to price-check, window-shop, or gather a bit more information. But a timely coupon promotion advertised by one of your partners is what ultimately drives him to your site on the day he enters his credit card information and purchases your product.

Should the partner who offered the coupon be solely credited for the sale? What about your SEO team who helped push your listing to the top of the search results, or the affiliate whose email campaign may have triggered a search for the coupon in the first place?

For Virgin Atlantic Airways, the issue led to not only inaccurate reporting but also vast overpayment of commissions because multiple partners and affiliates claimed credit for the sale. Something had to be done.

The solution came in the form of a universal container tag from TagMan, which clarified the conversion path and enabled the company to accurately attribute sales. The result? 40-to-1 ROI.

"By being able to truly de-dupe all marketing channels for the first time, we have been able to more than cover the cost of having the solution in place," said Allison Wightman, head of e-business at Virgin Atlantic Airways.


Virgin Atlantic Airways maintains a family of websites serving 25 markets worldwide. Though it relies a fair amount on natural search to bring customers to its site, it also advertises and maintains partnerships with affiliates and other third-party sites. Moreover, code-sharing relationships with other airline carriers, such as All Nippon, Continental Airlines, and Singapore Airlines, allow those companies to promote and sell tickets on Virgin Atlantic flights.

Countless tracking tags were added to the Virgin Atlantic sites over the years to ensure that each partner, vendor, referral source, and campaign was appropriately credited for the sites' sales. Still, when a sale was made, it wasn't always clear which sources were truly responsible, because customers often encounter and click on multiple messages before making an actual purchase. That was causing myriad issues, including inaccurate reporting and duplicate commission payments.

Virgin Atlantic desired a holistic view of all channels and customer conversion paths to better understand the real performance and contribution of each to the sale. That way, it could both ensure proper attribution and distribution of commission payments and gain valuable insight into which channels provide the best results.


Virgin Atlantic implemented TagMan's global container tag, a single page tag that houses all the tags used to track online campaigns, including display ads, paid and natural search, and affiliate marketing. That solution enabled Virgin Atlantic to...

  • Uncover the conversion path. By being able to view all the online marketing events that a customer encountered prior to a sale, in chronological order and in real time, the company could immediately determine which sources had the greatest influence and whether natural search played a role in the conversion process.
  • Accurately attribute sales. By recognizing each step taken in the conversion path, Virgin Atlantic could determine which referring sources contributed and should be compensated, even when they weren't associated with the last click before the sale. 

Campaign reporting was further improved because of the ability to instantly add, edit, or remove tracking tags as campaigns changed, without needing to alter code or involve the company's IT department. "It gave us the tools to fully test, deploy, and change tracking tags within minutes rather [than] having to wait for build slots," Wightman explained.


Virgin Atlantic quickly realized a 40-to-1 return on its investment, saving the company six figures in two months, simply by eliminating double commissions and attributing sales to the correct channel.

In addition, the company is using the insights it continues to gather via the TagMan system to improve its online marketing all around. "We're excited to uncover some of the more hidden paths to conversion and keen to understand how we can optimize our customer journeys," Wightman said.

Lessons Learned

For those wishing to improve their attribution models, Wightman offered the following tips:

  • "You need to have a clear vision of what you want to understand. Take some time up front to map out all of the channels you want involved and what the requirements for each of these will be. This will give you a good framework to begin implementation and ensure you end up with a solution that covers all bases."
  • "You need to be meticulous—to the point of being obsessed—in regards to getting your tracking right. It's the fundamental foundation for any good model. The accuracy of your data needs to be as close to 100% as you can physically get it, and [it must] have as much depth as you are able to gather. Without this, the model runs the risk of not being able to stand up when challenged, or you don't have the full picture to draw compelling conclusions."
  • "Testing also needs to be given adequate time and focus. For us, this was a good few weeks of running test scenarios and validating the results. The key is to make sure you allow sufficient time for this in your implementation timelines," she advised."

Related Links

Virgin Atlantic website

TagMan website 

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Kimberly Smith is a staff writer for MarketingProfs. Reach her via