The Virgin brand is one of the most recognizable brands in the world. Founded in 1970 by Sir Richard Branson as a mail order record business, the brand grew to a portfolio of over 200 branded companies at some point, with more than 50,000 employees in 50 countries. Presently, there are over 60 Virgin businesses in the world employing 71,000 employees in 35 countries.
The Virgin brand portfolio follows the endorser model being made up of individual and distinct product brands, which are linked together by the endorsing parent brand ‘Virgin’. What makes Virgin quite unusual is that its portfolio brands come from very diverse fields. In fact every year, Virgin enters and pulls out of multiple markets. Virgin Companies have included Virgin Money, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile, Virgin Trains, Virgin Active, and many, many more.
What ties all of this together in an unlikely mix is the core brand idea behind Virgin. The name Virgin is used to represent the idea of the company being a virgin in every business they enter. Virgin’s brand promise is to be the ‘champion of the consumer’ going into categories where the needs of consumers are not well met and innovate those spaces with a strong focus on customer service. Such a high-level brand promise has potential relevance across an array of industries, and having such a diverse portfolio of brands comes with its advantages and disadvantages.
The Virgin brand is very strong and closely linked with its founder Richard Branson. With charming charisma and numerous publicity stunts like crossing the world in a hot air balloon, Sir Richard Branson and the Virgin brand have become cultural phenomena. The lending/endorsing power of the brand name allows these new business to kick off with a firm foundation of high brand equity. However, delivering on these promises can be challenging. Sometimes Virgin ventures into industries where the customers are already quite satisfied or the space is already full of irreverent rebel brands and thus the promise to provide a new innovative customer experience holds no merit. There have been many busts, such as Virgin Cola, Virgin Clothing, Virgin Brides and so on. These failures are counter balanced by the many successes within the Virgin portfolio, which give these new brands a fighting chance to become successful over time. But these failures if they occur frequently would eventually lead to a weakening of the Virgin brand.
The brand led by Richard Branson has proven adept at handling crises, as shown in the Virgin Galactic test flight disaster in 2014. Branson was quick to go to the site of the crash as well as speak to the public and media taking full responsibility and vowing to find out what went wrong so Virgin can ensures such doesn’t happen again. In the face of tragedy, Branson and the Virgin brand showed accountability, transparency and strong leadership.
As far as ethical practices and sustainability goes, many of the Virgin intiatives and companies have the mission of making the earth a more sustainable and better place to live. These include Virgin Earth Challenge and Virgin Pure
So back to the question that kicked off this post, is Virgin overextended? Is having such a diverse portfolio of brands a wise strategy in the long term? What are the possible long-term effects of having a brand that is so closely tied with its founder?
The Virgin brand has already pared back its portfolio retaining the most successful brands as well as the brands with the most potential within its main portfolio. These brands should leverage off the core competencies of the Virgin brand, which are innovation, great customer service, as well as a deep understanding of lifestyle and entertainment needs. They have the power to make seemingly mundane services exciting. For this portfolio to succeed, the role of each brand should be clearly defined in relation to the whole, and the goals of the portfolio as a whole should be clearly defined.
Newer and more diverse company interests could be grouped under a Venture Capital portfolio that serves as an ‘explorer’, looking for opportunities in markets that are underserved or otherwise locked into false monopolies by dominant players and disrupt those sectors. That would be the most effective application of the Virgin brand with the potential to create more ‘stars’ that can move on to the main portfolio.
The Virgin brand and way should also be firmly embedded within the corporate structure and supported on every level to ensure the brand promise lives beyond its founder.
Virgin. About Us. Available: https://www.virgin.com/virgingroup/content/about-us [2017, May 16]
Lennox, A. 2014. Smart brand extension allows Virgin to keep up appearances. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/media-network/media-network-blog/2014/oct/23/virgin-success-brand-extension-easygroup [2017, May 16]
Keller, K. 2015. The Branding Logic Behind Google’s Creation of Alphabet. Available: https://hbr.org/2015/08/the-branding-logic-behind-googles-creation-of-alphabet [2017, May 16]
Wisdom Jobs. An extension-based business model: Virgin. Available:
Feloni, R. 2014. Crisis Management Expert Explains How Richard Branson Can Bounce Back From Virgin Galactic Crash. Available: http://www.businessinsider.com/richard-branson-virgin-galactic-crisis-management-2014-11 [2017, May 16]
Aaker D. 204. Brand Portfolio Strategy. Simon & Schuster, Inc: USA.