It’s all about the brand.
If you are embarking on a new venture, how should you envision and develop your brand? Let’s start with a quick sketch of what a brand does.
Brands exist as a means of communicating what to expect from a product or service. Subscribers to a magazine or newspaper expect a certain perspective and subject matter; families look forward to taking their kids to see the new Pixar movie, regardless of whether it’s about animals, toys or cars. The Virgin brand tells you that using this credit card is rather like using this airline, which, in turn, is rather like using this health club, staying in our hotels, and paying into this pension fund. It is a guarantee that you’ll be treated well, that you’ll get a high-quality product that won’t dent your bank balance, and you’ll get more fun out of your purchase than you expected.
Should you follow the Virgin formula and focus your new company on providing a certain customer experience? It really depends on the type of business you are in. We are in consumer-facing sectors where service is key. You need to assess what is core to yours.
When you are creating your first ads, designing a logo and reaching out to potential customers for the first time, you may be tempted to create a brand that’s very corporate and remote. Too many companies want their brands to reflect some idealized, perfected image of themselves. As a consequence, their brands acquire no texture, no character and no public trust.
In contrast, Virgin wears its sense of humor on its sleeve. It has to do with our wanting to be honest about the ups and downs of our business and to share what we think with the people who matter most to us — our customers. The people who see our ads are the same people who read about our tussles, our setbacks and our mistakes. So why would we want to pretend the real world doesn’t affect us?
Almost everybody in Britain knows of our run-ins with British Airways over the years. We had a lot of fun when we introduced onboard massages on Virgin Atlantic, running an advertisement in the newspapers saying “British Airways doesn’t give a shiatsu!”
Whatever you and your team decide that your new brand will stand for, you will have to deliver on that promise. So when you’re having these discussions, be honest about what it is you’re offering.
Don’t promise what you can’t deliver, and then deliver everything you promise. That’s the only way you’ll ever control your brand. And beware: brands always mean something. If you don’t define what the brand means, your competitors will. Apple’s ads contrasting a fit, happy, creative Mac with a fat, glum, nerdy PC tell you all you need to know about how that works.
So, what’s next? For any business building a consumer brand, speaking to journalists is part of the deal. Be prepared! Know what you stand for and be certain that you’re delivering it. Then you’ll be able to answer every question openly and frankly, building your relationships with your customers and the media.
Exerpted from “It’s All About the Brand” by Richard Branson
Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. He maintains a blog at http://www.virgin.com/richard-branson/blog. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/richardbranson. To learn more about the Virgin Group http://www.virgin.com.