From the top · 24 February 2017

Lessons in business from Richard Branson you can’t ignore

Branson at a launch of a new fleet of Virgin Trains
Branson at a launch of a new fleet of Virgin Trains

Generate publicity

In a blog for Virgin.com, Richard Branson revealed a marketing trick that he attributed to the success of Virgin Atlantic’s first advertising campaign.

“When we were starting Virgin Atlantic we could only afford one billboard; we put it up and told the press that it was going to be a massive nationwide media campaign. The reporters turned out in force and wrote all about the billboard – enough so that we never had to launch the massive campaign at all.”

By tipping off the press, he leveraged a single investment into a campaign that kept rolling, allowing the media to do the rest of the work.

On the more eccentric side, the Virgin founder has become known for the personal stunts that are often more memorable than the venture he is promoting. Few could forget the image of a heavily made-up Richard Branson in a wedding dress to commemorate the launch of the Virgin Brides wedding store.

Richard Branson
Richard Branson’s publicity stunts have become an anticipated aspect of every new Virgin venture

With any new business carrying the Virgin brand, expect the maverick to be at the forefront of the publicity campaign. The lesson for budding entrepreneurs is to not only live and breathe your business, but to ensure that your company is defined by its owner personality.

A human touch

Richard Branson has consistently looked forwards, and for better or worse seeks to make investments in new technologies and markets. But one area where he remains a traditionalist is in communication.

“The quality of business communications has become poorer in recent years as people avoid phone calls and face-to-face meetings, I can only assume, in some misguided quest for efficiency,” he has said.

The business builder is a believer in picking up the phone to solve a problem rather than allowing it to escalate through a text or an email. Wires can be crossed and messages can be left unread. Taking the traditional approach could put business owners ahead in a world increasingly losing its voice.

Set yourself out from the status quo

The extroverted entrepreneurialism of Richard Branson feeds into every facet of his companies.

A look inside the Virgin Money bank branches reveals sofas, cushions and lighting more fitting of a bar than a high street bank. The “lounges” even feature pianos and artwork on the walls.

The idea of challenging tradition has become as much a part of the Virgin brand as the man himself, and he has consistently incorporated the Virgin “experience” into each business. For even the smallest businesses, offering a significant point of difference is crucial to getting ahead of the competition.

“Every business we have was set up to disrupt a market with products or services that make a real difference to people’s lives. We will always pride ourselves in being a challenger brand, and retain our entrepreneurial spirit,” he wrote in a recent blog post.

It is an outlook that has come to define Richard Branson and Virgin.

Meet the two entrepreneurs who turned a marketing nightmare into a successful brand

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Simon Caldwell is a reporter for Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and communications from the University of Liverpool, and previously worked as a content editor in the ecommerce industry.

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