How to build a brand like Virgin

Virgin wasn’t always a huge global group. Richard Branson started his business career from humble beginnings with a magazine that he launched in his teens, but how did it grow into the global empire it is today?

Richard, himself, admits that when they started Virgin Records in 1972 they knew very little about marketing or branding. "We just knew we wanted to create something that disrupted the status quo and challenged people’s perceptions of what a company could be,” he says. “We did this with both our product and service offering and with our brand attitude."

They set out to deliberately cultivate a tone of voice and a visual identity that was very different from what other businesses looked like in the 1970s – all jackets and ties and rigid communications. This meant that when Virgin decided to move into the airline industry in 1984, with the launch of Virgin Atlantic, the brand was still recognised and relevant.

"Most people laughed at the idea that the guy who brought them the Sex Pistols and the Rolling Stones could create a high quality airline," Richard says. "At the time aviation was known for its rules and regulations and most major airlines had lacklustre characters."

But that’s what Virgin has done best throughout its history – gone into an industry that’s in need of disruption with it’s distinctive brand and shaken things up. Having often gone up against much bigger companies with much bigger budgets, Virgin has always focused its efforts on offering something completely different to what already exists – especially when it comes to customer experience.

But how, after more than 40 years of business, does Virgin maintain that same cheeky, disruptive image? "With companies in multiple sectors across the globe, the brand is driving innovation through being purpose-led," Fiona Ross, Virgin Group brand director, says. "Virgin is intent on ‘changing business for good’ and redefining the relationship between staff, customers, communities and shareholders. Virgin Money’s purpose of ‘making everybody better off’, a novel concept in bank, is a good example of this."

The number one thing that Richard says keeps the brand as strong is the people behind it. “Your staff are the ones who will help you grow your customer base and keep your clients loyal," he explains. "They are the ultimate brand ambassadors. By hiring people who understand and are excited by this brand, it will continue to evolve and excite."

For more on building a brand that customers will love, check out the highlights from Virgin Unite’s Google Hangout about how to create a red hot brand.

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