OK, I have a major brand crush on Virgin America. Huge. I swoon when I see their logo at the airport, thrill when I’m able to fly them on quick trips down to San Francisco, and dream about hanging with Richard Branson over cocktails sometime. I talk about them a lot in my new book, Branding Basics for Small Business: How to Create an Irresistible Brand on Any Budget.
There’s a lot you can learn about branding effectively from Virgin America (and Virgin in general for that matter.) And these are lessons you can apply to your own business, regardless of your size or budget. You may not be as big as they are, but you sure as heck can practice these principles to better connect with customers and stand out from the competition.
1) Keep your mission simple, concise and relevant: “Make flying fun again.” Boom. That says it all. And every decisions they make, big or small, is tested against this simple mantra. How inspiring is this for employees? How deliciously irresistible is this to frustrated and road-weary travelers? How different from the other airlines who tout generic, irrelevant platitudes like “best customer service” or “biggest value”? This mission has meaning and even just the wording tells you a little bit about their personality and the type of customer they want to attract. They are not just after those who can afford first-class or private jets who may not share the same flying frustrations as the rest of us. They are FOR the rest of us! Their mission is crisp, clean but still specific enough to their actual products and services. Is your mission something you can actually act on that will guide all of your decisions, or is it some lofty, esoteric statement that is not relevant to customers or employees?
2) Little things mean a lot: They extend their brand into everything from their color scheme that extends to the ticket counters and the airplane cabin to the cheeky wording of their standard airport signs (“While impressive, if your bag is bigger than 24” X 16” X 10”, it must be checked”) to their clever in-flight safety video. Rather than a stiff actor giving me the same instructions we’ve started to tune out on every other flight, Virgin America shows a stylized animated video with all sorts of crazy characters – even a bull calmly reading a magazine next to an anxious bullfighter. The company’s sassy, humorous tone carries over to the script as well: “For the 0.0001% of you who’ve never operated a seat belt before, here’s how it works.” These are simple things (and stuff they need to spend money on to produce anyway), but Virgin makes the most of every single solitary customer touchpoint in order to convey their brand and make their target customers fall in love with them. What opportunities are you wasting to really surprise and delight your target audience? Perhaps well-worded email opt-out policies (If you’d like to unsubscribe, we’d really miss you!) or a memorable voicemail message (We’re out helping our clients be superheroes today) or even a branded email signature can really make a difference. Such hidden delights will surprise and enchant and get people telling others about you, like I’m doing here. Just ensure that these flourishes match who you really are in your DNA and what your brand is all about. If your brand audience is more conservative and formal than playful and snarky, then don’t try to go there.
3) Deliver on your promise: Virgin America directs all its brand efforts on convincing me they will make flying fun again. But if I didn’t experience their confident and polished employees, rapid check-in kiosk process, glorious discount prices, or the private TV’s at every seat that also allow me to order food at any time with my credit card – not just when they decide I should eat – then we’d have a problem. They would not be delivering on their mission and would then suffer from a brand identity crisis. Are you living up to what you are promising to customers? If you say customer care is your number one priority, do I get rapid response to my support issues and easy access to a live person? If your colors and website are all slick, modern and progressive but you only offer the same-old, same-old, what am I to think? It’s worse to go out there and talk the talk if you can’t walk the walk – worse than not promising it in the first place. Don’t just slap a coat of brand paint on your business. Make a promise and ensure your operations, employees, and customer experiences are set up to deliver on it.