How does a brand like Virgin remain relevant after so many years?

Throughout this month we’ve been hearing from entrepreneurs, branding experts and business leaders on how they approach the task of keeping their brands desirable, authentic and relevant for the modern consumer.

Having been around for almost half a decade the Virgin brand has gone through a few changes itself, from the punk spirit of Virgin Records to its current iteration that sees a diverse range of businesses - from Virgin Money to Virgin Galactic - all proudly call themselves members of the Virgin Family.

To get a better understanding of how the brand has evolved we spoke to Lucy Howard, Virgin's Brand Director, about why Virgin is so unique, why evolution is crucial and the trends that all branding experts should be keeping front of mind.

How does a brand like Virgin remain relevant after being in the public consciousness for so many years?

The Virgin brand has been built by breaking into markets to offer consumers a better deal, a better service or a fresh, innovative way of doing things. Virgin has always (mostly!) been seen as the consumer champion. This is not a role that will ever go out of fashion or become obsolete.

However, as the world changes, so too must we. For example, by finding new areas where consumers are underserved or the experience is lacking.

Virgin has also remained relevant because it fascinates. It’s the most paradoxical and unusual of brands; generalist and specialist, behemoth and start-up, deeply irreverent and yet highly trusted. There is no other brand like Virgin (and nor would we ever seek to be like any other brand).

Virgin is also not ‘perfect’, it’s a human brand with vulnerabilities, which arguably contributes in great part to appeal and relevance.

Is it important for brands to constantly evolve or do you think they need to stay as true to their origins as possible?

Smart brands believe in evolution, not revolution. They refresh but they don’t reinvent.

Brands who change with the prevailing wind lack credibility and authenticity. Brands that refuse to adapt get left behind. Successful brands understand their fundamentals - the things at their core like the letters in the centre of a stick of rock - and they stay true to them whilst adapting aspects of their offering to meet the changing needs of consumers. Good examples of this are McDonald’s and Lego.

How has the internet and social media changed people’s relationship with brands?

The internet has fundamentally changed the power balance between people and brands. With everyone a reviewer, brands need to work harder to prove themselves - and they have nowhere to hide should things go wrong. Brands also have greater opportunities to engage, and to know their consumers. Even brands in purely transactional sectors can build a relationship with their customers.

Is the notion of branding now more relevant, less relevant or just different than say 20 years ago?

In a world where choice has exploded, brands help people to choose, and to know what they’re buying into. However, it’s getting harder to impress consumers… a recent study by Havas suggests that British people wouldn’t care if 74 per cent of the brands they used disappeared.

Are there any interesting branding trends or innovations that you think businesses should be thinking about?

Hesitate to treat this as ‘trend’ or ‘innovation’ as it should be a fundamental… but clearly businesses should be building brands with purpose at their heart.

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