There are too many articles out there about Sir Richard Branson and his marvels of branding.
Analysts yank his work history to pieces and deduce all sorts of lessons about how you should use social media, innovate, build cohesive organizational communities (and so forth) in order to brand like Branson. The truth is that when looking at the sources, Branson would probably disagree with some of these conclusions.
His own opinions on branding, as said in his own words, are simple and cheap: Build your own brand; you’ve built that of your business.
Sir Richard Branson on branding
We knew very little about marketing or branding when we started Virgin Records, back in 1972. We simply formed the business around our personal values, and went from there. Virgin's success can be attributed to a lot of different things. However that was the best decision we ever made.
(Virgin: My top 10 quotes on branding).
This seems to confirm those who say that branding is for cows and only serves to distract you from what really matters. Businesses are a reflection of their owners. They reflect their qualities, behavior, and quirks. If you want your business to be remembered a certain way, change your values, not those of the company. The various Virgin ventures piggybacked on the person of Sir Richard Branson and absorbed his personality. This became its brand.
Authenticity: Your brand copies your personality
First-time entrepreneurs tend to twist themselves into knots over how to brand their enterprises. “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,” wrote Branson in Business stripped bare.
Branson, in contrast, colored his business in his image. He delighted clients with his colorful, zany personality. “Almost everybody in Britain,” he wrote, “knows of our run-ins with British Airways over the years. We had a lot of fun when we introduced onboard messages on Virgin Atlantic, running an advertisement in the newspapers saying “British Airways doesn’t give a shiatsu!”
There was no need to pretend. Branson’s brand was he because he stayed true to who he was.
Focus on providing consistent service
In Business stripped bare, Bronson writes that first-time entrepreneurs should focus on what they want to convey, in contrast to conventional business advice that tells you to stick with what you know.
Nineteen of the top 20 brands in the world ply a well-defined trade. Coca-Cola specializes in soft drinks, Microsoft in computers, Nike in sports shoes and gear. Branson twists all over the place. At the end of the day, the billionaire says his doing so was immaterial since he focused - constantly focused - on what he wanted to give to others “We offer the Virgin experience, and make sure it is consistent across all sectors.” This Virgin experience was his brand.
According to Branson: “Brands exist as a means of communicating what to expect from a product or service [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.”
Focus on that.
Honesty is the bedrock of branding
People talk about brand consistency, brand honesty, all those other synonyms, but really when you stick to your principles, your brand instinctively follows suit and becomes whoever you are.
For instance, some marketing experts point to Branson’s availability on social media and recommend social media as route to branding. They say Branson used Twitter (and so forth), therefore you should. The fact is, Branson monopolizes social media only because he wants to help others. He had promised young entrepreneurs his availability, and Branson follows through on his promises. There were no strategies or tricks. Social media happens to be his interface.
Purposeful brands win more customers
The brands that will thrive in the coming years are the ones that have a purpose beyond profit." It’s the great person who strikes a great business, because it's their purpose that transforms the business
"I particularly encourage start-ups to make a commitment to making a positive change in the world… So choose your cause, and put your purpose at the forefront from the start. If you make it part of your story, both your business and the world will reap the rewards…. Business can – and should be – a force for good. This mission makes us innovative in ways we could never have anticipated."
Persevering through adversity builds your reputation
“Adversity in business is inevitable, but it’s how you deal with hardship that helps your brand stand out from the competition. People – both customers and staff – rally behind brands that learn from their mistakes and rise above challenges.”
In the 1970s and again in the ‘90s, Branson propelled the Virgin brand through some rocky patches. Had he whined or stalled, Virgin may have disappointed. As it was, Virgin accumulated stellar fame as a feisty company because its flamboyant founder was so.
Branson writes that it was his employees that made his brand red hot. Maybe so, but the people follow the leader. It was Branson who persevered through mass risks that almost resulted in near-disastrous setbacks. Missteps included Virgin Brides and Virgin Cola. Naysayers discouraged him. Branson’s response? "Screw it, just do it", which led to a record company beating British Airways.
In 2005, Branson said he’d turn Virgin into “the most respected brand in the world.” He did it by being himself. Two years ago, Branson told Guardian, “The key thing is never to do anything which discredits the brand, like ripping off the public or doing something which you'd feel uncomfortable reading about.” In other words, discrediting his own personality would have simultaneously discredited his business, because his brand was himself.
Lessons? There’s no need to put money or sweat into forging a brand. The brand is you. Shape that you, forge a higher purpose, remain honest to yourself, persevere, and focus. Your brand will succeed because you will succeed and a memorable brand will naturally appear. There’s no rocket science about branding. It’s you.