When we deliver Virgin Start-Up branding masterclass we always start by asking: What’s the most successful brand in the world ever? As we go around the room the usual suspects are named: Apple, Coke-Cola and Google. The surprising answer is God.
A brand is an emotional feeling or reaction to a service, product or organisation. It’s far beyond the logo, advertising campaign or the number of social media followers – it’s that magic something that makes us love it. Let’s go back to God or Gods. No one has actually encountered God (certainly not with recorded evidence). Yet millions have died for him (or her) throughout history and continue to do so today. The emotional power of the God brand is literally out of this world.
Without a brand you’ve got a very limited point of difference – such as value, logistics or technology. And sadly, over time, something will always supersede it. So your brand is essential to the sustainability of your business – especially once your product’s unique selling point has expired. Start-ups need a strong brand proposition from the very beginning; as they develop their product or service offering, the brand has to propel them beyond the competition.
Virgin is one of those outstanding brand stories that effectively is only a brand, as the majority of the portfolio of larger operations are run by others. One of the most impressive things about the brand is its constant evolution, with the businesses moving from vinyl records to space in just over 40 years. It’s one of the few organisations in the world with a figurehead who’s never stopped championing the brand.
We were lucky enough to have Sir Branson as our special guest at a recent masterclass. I asked him how far he’d gone for the business; the answer was 3000 miles off course in a disastrous air balloon flight that nearly cost him his life. We talked about the significance of failure and agreed that it should always be celebrated and spoken about positively. Virgin Cola and Virgin Radio are two great examples of failures that strengthened the brand, primarily by taking on the big guys. And even though they lost, it demonstrated fearless ambition that had a positive effect on the overall brand.
Building your brand is essential to the success of the enterprise. Why you do what you do, how you do what you do and what you actually do are questions that constantly demand answers. Your brand will never stop evolving as time and relevance are constantly in flux. You’ve got to be prepared to make changes, take bold risks, befriend and trust the unknown. But most of all, a brilliant brand has to have the emotional qualities we admire most in humans, such as integrity, honesty and humility. Which, coincidentally, are central themes in the teachings of God, and have proved over many millennia to be extremely powerful persuaders.
By Scott Leonard