Two Invaluable Lessons I Learned From Working With The World’s Leading Brands

Posted on November 12, 2012

 Virgin Brand Branding

I’ve spent the past 25+ years working with world-class brands like Virgin, Pantene, Heinz, Intel, TDAmeritrade and Orbitz.

And I’ve learned some invaluable lessons from these “big boys”, that I believe are critical drivers of profit and growth for businesses of any size, in any category.

Click to Tweet ★ 2 Invaluable Lessons I Learned From Working With The World’s Leading Brands

Put them to work for you, and I promise you’ll see amazing results.

First: Nail your Brand Promise

You need to get crystal clear on what your brand stands for. Not “almost got it figured out”. Not “sort of” clear. Crystal.

Not only will it help you communicate clearly and convincingly with would-be customers – incredibly valuable in and of itself – but it will serve as a powerful decision-making lens.


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A Strong And Clear Brand Promise

A strong and clear Brand Promise helps you make decisions more quickly, with more impact. Big and important decisions, like who you target, what benefits your offer and who you hire, all the way down to the smallest decisions, like what kind of holiday card to send out and what to wear to an important meeting. Brand should influence every decision you make; strong brands make that easy.

Remember: Brand building is not a luxury for marketing-rich Fortune 500 fat cats. On the contrary, it’s even more important for entrepreneurs and small businesses, with plenty of great ideas, but only enough time and resources to follow up on a few of them. When you can’t afford to fail, but need to get it right the first time, a strong Brand Promise is your secret weapon.

Learning First-Hand At Virgin

I learned this first-hand as VP of Brand at Virgin. Virgin has grown to be a global powerhouse with successful companies in sectors ranging from mobile phones, media and even space. And it has gotten there by operating like a 40-year-old … uh … start-up.

Ever the challenger brand – leanly staffed, with marketing budgets half that of the market leaders – Virgin companies make the most of every dollar by focusing on a simple and powerful Brand Promise: Richard Branson’s vision of going into tired markets where the consumer is getting a raw deal, shaking things up and delivering something better.

But it’s not enough to identify a powerful Brand Idea. The hard part is delivering on this promise day in and day out, in every single customer interaction and touch point.

Which Brings Us To The Second Lesson Learned

Second: Never Compromise

How do brands like Virgin successfully convey their brand promise? They apply the brand lens to every aspect of the brand experience.

We all think of websites , logos and advertising as touch points to let people know about our brand. But all brand touch points leave an impression on customers, employees and stakeholders, whether you want them to or not.

Have you ever been to a restaurant that promises high quality and attention to detail, only to find yourself questioning that promise once you visited a not so tidy restroom?

A Toilet As A Brand Touch Point?

Yes, even the toilet is a brand touch point for many businesses.

So how does a brand like Virgin do it? First and foremost, they use their actual products and services to communicate their brand promise. Sound obvious? Think of all the companies who make promises but don’t follow through. Like airlines who promise they are a “better way to fly”, but when you board the plane, it’s the same old, same old: Same uncomfortable seats, same grey décor, and same cranky stewardesses.

Virgin Atlantic, the trans-Atlantic airline, doesn’t just tell you it’s different. It shows you. For example, its Upper Class customers are picked up at home in a limousine, checked in right from the car and whisked through a dedicated security line just for Virgin customers. They can spend their flight seated at a real bar in the cabin, and on the ground they get access to a Revivals lounge with breakfast, showers and spa treatments to fight jet lag and start the day.

Reenvision Even The Boring To Become Brand Engagement

Now, Upper Class is admittedly a bit pricey, but Virgin reinforces its brand promise of a “better way to fly” throughout the economy section, too. As exemplified in its safety video – an animated and engaging cartoon that’s become quite a hit on YouTube. Safety demonstrations may be required by international air safety standards, but they’re not required to be boring.

What’s your brand’s equivalent of the safety video? What things are standard fare in your industry, but could be made more interesting or distinctive to work harder for your brand? An invoice? A delivery box? Think about the smile on the Amazon box. It’s a small touch, a simple image that reinforces their Brand Promise at the all-important moment when you are excited to receive your order.

No matter what your business size, take a lesson from the playbook of great brands: Spend the time and energy up front nailing your Brand Promise. Then be maniacal in making sure that every moment in your customer experience supports that promise.

My promise? It’ll pay off.


Special Announcement

To learn even more about brand building, check out her new 8-week online course, Brand School, that gives you all the knowledge and hands-on exercises you’ll need to build a profitable brand.


About The Author

Julie Cottineau, founder of the brand consultancy BrandTwist, is a noted speaker and advisor on branding, has been an executive at Interbrand and VP of Brand for Virgin. You can receive regular posts free with valuable, insightful, actionable branding advice like this from the BrandTwist blog and newsletter