Making the most of marketing

Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 19 February 2020

I love taking on big established brands and shaking up industries. To do this as a challenger brand, you often have to compete against competitors with far larger budgets. To get around this, you need to make the most out of your advertising spend. There’s no guarantee that spending a huge amount of money on marketing will slingshot your business forward. Why? Because customers don’t just shop for a brand and its products, they also want to identify with its core values.

Image by John Armstrong Photography
Image by John Armstrong Photography

Virgin StartUp, our not-for-profit entrepreneurial hub, is focusing on affordable marketing this month, so I thought I would share my tips for making a big difference on a small budget. 

1. Keep your message simple

If your business is focused on solving a problem that everyone has, it stands a really good chance at being successful. If you’re wondering how you can translate this to your business and its marketing, think of how you can communicate your core values in the simplest way possible. Know what makes your business stand out, and keep it concise.

2. Make people smile

One of our core values at Virgin is to disrupt industries while providing heartfelt service – all the while having fun. Whether we’re selling holidays or mobile phone contracts, we always make sure fun shines through in our products and services, by placing it at the heart of our marketing. This approach has paid off in dividends for us; because like laughter, fun is infectious.

One of my favourite examples was Virgin Atlantic’s Shiatsu campaign. 15 years ago, we had launched an in-flight massage offering that we wanted to promote. But rather than simply highlight our own services, we decided to have a little fun ensuring everyone knew how superior our service is to our main rivals. We ran the following poster far and wide, including just outside Heathrow Airport: BA Don’t Give a Shiatsu. The ad showcased the challenger brand taking on its stuffy bigger competitor, and illustrated the vibrancy, cheekiness – and superb service - of our brand. All in five words.

3. Don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself

When we launched Virgin Atlantic, we didn’t have the budget to take on British Airways’ marketing campaigns. Luckily my mentor at the time, Sir Freddie Laker, gave me some very valuable guidance, “Use yourself. Make a fool of yourself. Otherwise you won’t survive,” he said.

I took on his advice and put myself front and centre of the brand – giving Virgin a personality that British Airways didn’t have. Ever since then we’ve been thinking up fun ways to stand out from the crowd and draw the media’s attention to our company. We’ve done everything from breaking world records to pulling competitors’ tails – I can’t even remember how many costumes I’ve worn – and our adventures have created waves. Despite our size and budget, we’ve consistently made headlines by having fun.

If you’re looking at how to market your next venture on a small budget, I hope these tips have given you some inspiration.

Head over to Virgin StartUp to find more advice, events and opportunities to help your business grow and thrive.