I recently finished reading Richard Branson’s autobiography – finding my virginity. There are two powerful messages I took from his journey. First, personal brand can add enormous and long lasting value in business. The impact of personal brand is much more profound and has the capability to give disproportional returns, something traditional advertising / PR will almost never match up to. Second, the most successful personal brands are truly organic – with genuine heart and soul. Their values remain their own and unabashedly consistent, even though evolving with time in manifestation, and effortlessly become those of the brand.
Quite possibly, no another personal brand in a customer centric business has brought the immense value as Richard Branson. Richard has a very unique mix of outlaw exuberant personality that is as adventurous and fun as it is daring. In Europe, USA and Australia customers have come to see Virgin as a brand that revolutionizes the category it enters, with this very adventurous and daring spirit. It does so with a great deal of innovation, elevating the level of product and service, giving them a brand experience that turns their customers into revelers.
Since launching Virgin Atlantic (making long haul travel in UK more human and affordable at the time BA monopolized the skies with abysmal service and insane fares), Virgin has remained true to its promise. RB and therefore Virgin have always taken extreme risks, often taking the biggest incumbent heads on. They have demonstrated more might with their personality than through the financial muscle. Virgin has famously painted their planes to protest unfair merger in competition, built no-transaction lounges for Virgin Money customers and called their airport lounges – Clubhouses. Richard has also jumped off the buildings, posed naked with models and served customers on board, dressed as a flight attendant.
Virgin Lounges for Virgin money customers
Virgin quickly put this up in the air when BA plane failed to erect the London Eye
Virgin and Richard have a unique place in their customers’ minds. Customers see them as risk takers, perceiving them as a brand that will go to great lengths to provide a drastic elevation in product and making their experience stylish and fun. It is worthy of noting that Richard didn’t “create” this personality after doing a competition analysis to identify a gap. He grew up taking risks, not afraid of failures. He takes decisions as much emotionally as cognitively and places his people above bottom-line. He ensures they enjoy a great deal of autonomy, can speak their mind and build experiences that are as human as their customers. He has used his stature to go beyond his businesses and build the magnificent group of elders, fought for drug policy reforms and have worked with several governments to create job creation platforms.
These are all characteristics of great leaders who dedicate their time and cause to the society, after having succeeded immensely in building empires. However, no one can argue the kind of positive impact the product brands can have from their leader’s value systems and actions. Customers love businesses that can make them smile, make life easier for them, tell them things as they are and most importantly run them with real emotions. Richard and Virgin have both exemplified this, making them a 100+ company empire and a series of social enterprises for greater good.