October 5th 2010
These are points Sir Richard Branson made while at a marketing conference in Indianapolis, USA. Branson's ballsy motto is, “Screw it, let’s do it.”
1. On big companies vs. small companies
"Small is beautiful. This may seem like a peculiar boast, but size is not a competitive advantage." Branson said.
Virgin Records is not the biggest music industry label, but it signed the Rolling Stones in '92. Virgin Airlines runs 37 airplanes vs. the 1000+ ran by competitors. Branson believes smaller companies can stay nimble and customer-focused. They can also maintain style and “cheekiness”.
2. Foundation of a brand
Branson says "outstanding brands are built around great people who deliver consistently great customer service every day. You can’t kid people."
Brands are only as good as the products and people behind them.
3. Inspiration in nature
Branson compares Virgin to bumblebees "[We have a] lot in common with bumblebees. The aerodynamics of the bee’s biology suggest that it shouldn’t be able to fly. But it just goes out and does it."
4. See things through your customer’s eyes
Branson decide to tackle the airline industry after his personal poor experience on commercial flights. Branson qualifies it as a "dreadful service.Virgin went against the well-oiled marketing machines of the big, boring competition. We didn’t know how much we didn’t know. We had no idea how serious airlines were supposed to be run—so we looked at it entirely from the passenger’s perspective.”
5. Brand positioning
Virgin's Unique Selling Point is the service rather than price—that's how Virgins chooses to differentiate from the competition. Brasnon comments "Virgin focused on what we knew best—entertainment. We positionned Virgin Atlantic as a well-priced product that would make flying fun again via perks like onboard bars, massages, power plugs at every seat, the flexibility to order food in your seat when you want it, and so on. We weren’t out to be the biggest, but definitely to be the best."
6. On hiring
Companies look for staff with relevant experience. Virgin chose to hire friendly staff over experienced staff. Staff with fresh perspectives, positive attitudes, and staff keen to have fun, and then trained them to do their jobs. Those with experience from other air carriers were the ones who had learned how to not do their jobs.
Branson believes in promoting from within. “We try to take people on from within, because we know their weakness and strengths. Hiring from within doesn’t demoralize people in companyWe often promote people above the position they expect. We take a risk. You can start off as a cleaning lady and go to the top.Hiring from within doesn’t demoralize people in company"
7. Listening carefully to customers and employees
Branson is famous for his management style. He is opened to customers. At times, he randomly calls Braselect customers to inquire about their experience on his airline, for example.
Branson says: "Have a fearlessness of engaging with people, because conversations can change the world. We like to listen to our customers, because it’s an opportunity to be creative".
8. Social media
Branson comments: "For businesses, social media offers both challenges and opportunities. For example, an unhappy Virgin passenger might use the megaphone of a social media platform to complain, when a push of an onboard call button would resolve the issue. But at the same time, social channels can help your customers find one another and allow them a change to interact, which makes an onboard community on an airplane, for example, a “smaller, warmer, friendlier” place."
9. Have a sense of humor
Branson comments: "Approaching business playfully, and with a healthy sense of humor and fun, is critical. Virgin built its business on free advertising, and largely with a sense of humor. A “cheeky” approach to business and fun, gentle digs at competitors help put your name on the map".
" Entrepreneurs take risks, as such “mustn’t be afraid of failure. Failure doesn’t damage a reputation as much as some fear. And anyways, it’s more fun to challenge yourself to succeed than to not act out of fear of failing, especially as success begets success. If you can run one business well, you should be able to run any business well. True entrepreneurs love challenging themselves, and love challenging the people around us, especially when it comes to succeeding in otherwise established markets, where most businesses are diabolically run." Branson says.
11. On his fascination with space travel
Branson said, "I assumed I’d be going into space when i saw the moon landing in 1969. Decades later, i worked to develop a reusable, safe spaceship that could make suborbital spaceflight a reality. Now commercial space travel is only a year or so away"
12. The importance of company culture
Branson says: " Everything comes down to the people you hire to run your company. Those running the company have to love it, and they also have to believe in the products you sell. The CEO must care as much about the cleaning ladies and switchboard operators as well as the company's other directors. The Virgin Group tries to maintain an equal number of men and women on its boards and in it’s staffing. Too often corporate boards are overwhelmingly male, i believe companies benefit from a more equal split."
13. Partying with employees
Branson comments: "It’s important for higher-ups to get to know people on a personal level, outside of work. We encourage as much partying as possible. For executives, that means staying at the same hotel where your staff stays, and hanging out at the bar with them, after hours. You’ll get the honest feedback at a bar."
" With success comes wealth and fame, but also enormous responsibility to help other people and improve the world we live in. I now spend most of my time on humanitarian and social issues." Branson said.
15. Which business is his favorite
Branson has become an expert at the “art of delegation,” he says. Businesses that interest him most are the ones that are struggling.
"The businesses I become closest to as those that are like a child getting bullied; I tend to spend more time with them than with other businesses to help steer them onto the right track."