Virgin: Flying High with Disruptive Innovation

Virgin: Flying High with Disruptive Innovation

Virgin is one of the most iconic brands built in the last century that has changed how we view business. With a focus on the customer with a twist, Sir Richard Branson has disrupted a multitude of industries since launching Virgin Records in 1972.

Taking risks across all sectors has led to some failures such as Virgin Cola, Virgin Cosmetics, Virgin Megastore and Virgin Brides. However, those failures not only taught valuable lessons to those involved but led to incredible successes that are integral in building Virgin’s brand to where it is today.

These standouts include Virgin Mobile, Virgin Produced, Virgin Atlantic and America, and Virgin Active. In total, Branson has started more than 400 companies serving more than 60 million customers worldwide and generating $24 billion in annual revenue.

Clever Marketing Stunts

As the business landscape has shifted in the last 45 years since Virgin launched, so have the marketing tactics to scale companies to global domination. Before present-day communication, which is as easy as a tap on the screen and disseminated to millions, Branson utilized marketing stunts to create a splash for each of his business launches.

These publicity stunts included dressing up as a bride for Virgin Brides, as a Zulu Warrior for the new South Africa route for Virgin Atlantic, and driving a tank through Times Square in New York pretending to shoot down the Coca-Cola sign for Virgin Cola.

It is through Branson’s brilliance and vibrancy that Virgin Group’s brand ethos includes the following traits:

  • Heartfelt service
  • Delightfully surprising
  • Red hot
  • Smart disruption
  • Straight up
  • Insatiable curiosity
Sir Richard Branson dressed up as a bride to promote Virgin Brides
Sir Richard Branson dressed up as a bride to promote Virgin Brides

The Artwork

These brand traits are then brought to life through the Virgin logo – which is one of the most recognizable logos in the world. In the words of Branson, the concept for the logo came about as such: “The origins of our now iconic logo were so simple… a young designer came to meet me on my houseboat, and while we were talking scribbled the design on a paper napkin. That was it. I loved it immediately. It looked like a signature. It had attitude. It had energy. It was in-your-face simplistic.”

And, the color is red to embody “Virgin’s red-hot attitude that is sophisticated yet playful, glamorous yet cheeky, stylish yet flirty.”

This logo has shifted over time as Virgin’s focus on innovation and forward thinking is mirrored in the logo, and has gone from the “iconic signature” to “blobbing out” to the “Nasa script”.

Just as the logo has evolved, so has the way Virgin communicates to their consumers. Being at the forefront of digital innovation, the Virgin brand was one of the first to start on social media.

Branson now has over 30 million social media followers and is the Guinness World Record Holder for “Most LinkedIn Followers” with 13.6 million. With being so early to market, Virgin has 80 million social media followers and an in-depth digital strategy that yields incredible results for brand positivity and website conversions.

Several iterations of the Virgin logo over the years
Several iterations of the Virgin logo over the years

Digital Content Marketing

With content being the driving factor in illustrating how Virgin is “changing business for good”, there are a variety of ways that this comes to life. Greg Rose, Head of Content at Virgin, explained this in an interview: “The main form this takes is through content, whether that is digital, through events, partnerships, written content, videos, podcasts, social, or campaigns combining all of the above. We’re not driven by any particular platform or channel. Rather it’s by the audience. This enables us to experiment with the type of content we produce, how we get it out there, and use the right amount of data insight to inform both.”

This focus on content creation and strategic distribution alongside data-driven marketing have led to the incredible content being delivered to audiences across the board. An example of this was through the Virgin America Safety Video:

The Virgin America team understood that safety videos were stodgy and boring, so they spiced it up with their rendition known as the ‘VX Safety Dance’. With their target audience being business travelers who are young, hip and fun, they produced the video with the up-and-coming director Jon Chu, and included rising music stars like Todrick Hall.

They integrated social media into their launch plan with a teaser on Instagram, utilized Facebook and Twitter advertising to promote the video to a large-scale audience, and continued sharing the behind-the-scenes content on their social media pages throughout the launch to educate their audience into all that went into the production. In doing so, the video was a viral hit, it won a Shorty Award, and had over 13 million YouTube views.

By knowing their target audience and crafting engaging content for them on the channels that they consume, Virgin can deliver their messaging effectively, leading to commercial and financial success.

Traditional Marketing Elements

Present day marketers know that you need to supplement digital marketing with traditional marketing. And, of course, the Virgin brand has been strong for many years even before digital took off. They have always invested in traditional PR blitzes and stunts, billboards viewed all over the world, and newspaper ads that generate tons of brand awareness.

Taking the example of Virgin America, they knew they had to mass market to business travelers and not all find their information online. To do so, they implemented out-of-home advertising and billboard campaigns highlighting new flight routes. Investing in out-of-home advertising takes a strategic mindset, communicating the message in the right places and to the right people.

The best real estate that they invested in was a billboard close to San Francisco International Airport on the freeway to Silicon Valley and they had digital billboards at bus stops all over San Francisco. Capturing the attention of prospective travelers over and over again is smart business practice because when they go to book a flight, they’ll remember the value of Virgin America via the creative messaging.

By implementing these ads, they’re able to take their brand message and flight deals to a broader audience, supplementing the digital marketing execution.

An outdoor billboard for Virgin America
An outdoor billboard for Virgin America

Brand Image

As Virgin continues to expand its empire utilizing digital and traditional marketing avenues to scale, the most substantial part of Virgin is brand loyalty towards all things Virgin. Whenever a new venture launches, customers know that if it’s part of the Virgin brand, it’ll exemplify those fundamental brand values stated earlier.

A recent example of this is Virgin Hotels which is expanding in the UK and US. With positive brand sentiment and a focus on the consumer, this has allowed for early success. When booking a hotel, customers will know that the hotel has innovative features, a fun-loving and cheeky atmosphere, and exceptional customer service.

Moreover, the design of the hotels mirrors that of the Virgin logo with red everywhere and a zest for fun. In doing so, guests share their love for Virgin Hotels on social media, creating a great feedback loop for the brand to spread and find new customers.

With the Virgin logo and brand being one of the most recognizable globally, with each new business launch, they have to stay true to the ethos of the brand. This strategy has served them well as they can connect with the audience that loves all things Virgin, and can continue to provide an excellent experience.

The Power of Personality

Overall, the Virgin brand has been successful largely because of Branson’s star power and strong values. He is globally known as a risk taker with forward-thinking ideas which permeate to all that he touches.

For the millions that follow him daily on social media, he is now much more accessible than ever before. Each day, there’s a new social post about his travels and initiatives, whether it’s about space with Virgin Galactic, spending time with his family and grandchildren on Necker Island or his focus on global impact with his work with the Elders.

Also, when he travels around and speaks to huge audiences, he always takes the time to meet with fans and takes plenty of selfies.

An example of a visually impressive LinkedIn post from Branson
An example of a visually impressive LinkedIn post from Branson

The Impact of Virgin

With a long history of disrupting industries and creating a brand adorned by millions, Virgin has changed the global business landscape for the better. They’ve been able to focus on customer needs with innovation of the center of their thought processes.

Always inclined to take a risk, each company within the larger brand aligns with Virgin beliefs and ethos. And, of course, for each new business launch, Branson, with his larger than life personality, is there to make a huge splash.

Looking to the future, Virgin is at the forefront of global initiatives for space travel, reducing climate change and human rights equality. Time will tell how these investments turn out, but one thing is for certain, Branson and everyone at the Virgin Group will have a fun time shaking up the status quo.


Kate Talbot

Kate is a freelance content marketer, author and entrepreneur, with a focus on helping brands to engage Millennials. Based in San Francisco, she writes a monthly column in Forbes, and is the author of the bestselling book 'Oh Snap! You Can Use Snapchat for Business', which IBM named as their Book of the Month. She has been featured on NBC News, CNBC, Huffington Post, Newsday, TechCrunch and VentureBeat.

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