Coming in (brand) contact with Virgin Active

Coming in (brand) contact with Virgin Active

Virgin Active is a part of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, a brand that is known for being exciting, innovative, service oriented and transforming the way business is done in whichever industry they enter. Virgin Active is perhaps the most popular health club in South Africa and also operates in multiple countries around the world.

They understand that going to the gym is hard work and in true Virgin fashion, they focus on being innovative, and focused on the customer, making exercise more fun and interesting and making it easier for their members to live healthy lives.

For a long time, their tagline was – ‘Live happily ever active’ and now have a new campaign – ‘How will Virgin Active make you feel? Go There.’

Brand contact involves every point of contact that a consumer has with a brand. At these points or moments, the brand performs or expresses itself and influences stakeholder’s thoughts, feelings and beliefs about the brand. A great brand considers all these points and deploys them in such a way as to increase brand relationship with consumers. Successful brand contact planning however requires buy-in from the internal customer (the employee). A happy engaged employee will make a for a pleasant brand experience.

I am a member of Virgin Active and use their facilities fairly regularly. For this assignment, I went over and interviewed the receptionist about the process they took to onboard a new client. I wanted to glean some insight into how they are trained and what they are trained to do as employees. The first thing she did was call her superior to find out if it was okay to speak to me about the Virgin Active onboarding process. Which immediately spoke to me of well-established processes and chain of command within the company.

Right after she got the okay, two customers walked in looking to find out more information about their packages and how to get started. Just my luck! I took the opportunity to sit back and observe as she handled the requests. She was very helpful, friendly and clear, explaining the different options available and the different processes to get certain things done.

A prospective member starts off with a sales consultant who explains the various packages available. After the package has been chosen, the customer is then handed off to a fitness consultant who then asks about the customer’s goals. Do they need meal plans? Are they training for something, or seeking to gain weight? The consultant also shows the new member the facilities, explaining how the machines work and getting them settled.

Virgin Active staff is trained to be exceptional at customer service. After your first visit to the gym, you even get a call from the company asking if you were helped properly. They are trained to always be helpful, to not take things personally (from difficult clients) and to treat each client respectfully regardless of how the last interaction before went. Every time you swipe into the club, you get a ‘Welcome to Virgin Active, enjoy your workout’ from a smiling receptionist.

In addition to the service, the facilities are always of a high standard, and clearly branded Virgin Active, the walls alternate between white and red which is the Virgin color, clear signs and a clean modern aesthetic brings the look together. There are also very visible banners and posters that highlight the latest campaigns encouraging gym goers to work out hard and have fun.

There is always high energy music playing in the gym while working out which keeps the tempo up, the television screens usually play sports or some kind of general entertainment to provide distraction between sets. The entire facilities are well laid out into sections for various activities – weights, treadmills, classes, and so on which make it easy to navigate and move from point to point. And there are always at least three trainers on the floor to help you if you have a problem. However, the brand contact on the gym floor could be increased a bit. I would suggest that the floor trainers engage a bit more with clients and be proactive with providing help or tips.

In addition to the gym facilities, at my branch, there is also an internet café area with computers, and a kids area where parents can drop off their children for supervised play while they enjoy a workout.

Even outside the gym, as a member, you receive email newsletters informing you on the latest classes and offerings, competitions, sporting events and cool giveaways. The website and app also allow you to track your workouts and see if you reaching your goals.

At the end of my interview, I asked the receptionist if she liked working at Virgin, she said she enjoyed what she did, and she enjoyed working for the company. Virgin Active is a well-managed brand, and it is no wonder they are the top fitness health club in the country.


8 ways having a solid brand identity and strategy will propel your business or career to the next level

8 ways having a solid brand identity and strategy will propel your business or career to the next level

As a designer, my most requested service is creating corporate (visual) identities. My clients are usually entrepreneurs in need of a logo, some marketing material, and a website to hit the ground running. And it usually works out well enough. The client gets in touch, they tell me their brief and what they are looking for. I get some information on the client and their business, I design options, we refine until approved and it is all done.

All good and well. But the results tend to be shallow. In many cases, it doesn’t matter, it’s just another business, and most people don’t care too much about aesthetics or presentation, the level of design sophistication in business is not always high this side of the globe. But…

‘Design is the silent ambassador of your brand’. – Paul Rand

So does your design accurately depict your brand? Or is it just adequate? Do you even know what your brand is? Your brand is probably languishing as an untapped or underutilized asset in your arsenal as an entrepreneur. Stop thinking only about the aesthetics and start thinking about what your brand stands for.

When most people hear the word ‘brand’ the first thing that comes to mind is a logo. But a brand is not a logo. The brand is the meaning the logo eventually becomes associated with. The brand is the sum total of the experiences and feelings your audience has towards your business or product, or even you as a person. And this ‘meaning’, this ‘key idea’ is what you should trying to express when you commission design for your business.

The promise of a good brand is this –

with a solid and well exposed brand, your dream clients and stakeholders will know you, they will seek you out, and if you do your job right and deliver on the promise, they will love you and bring more friends.

Can a business really benefit from work-shopping their brand, defining their values and vision and modus operandi? Or is it just simply another way for consultants to milk money from you? You are an entrepreneur on the go and you are more concerned about sales funnels, revenue streams and growth hacking. You are more concerned with being profitable and staying in business.

A good entrepreneur in my mind is always seeking to grow past the startup stage into a fully-fledged sustainable company. Theoretical models – business models, operational models, organizational models and so on, even though they sound very business like and academic, they are useful patterns for thinking about and understanding how businesses work. They allow you to scale from the early stages to a mature business. Your brand identity is one of these systems. Understanding it could transform your business and very well change your life. Investing in the process to develop a solid brand strategy and design comes with many advantages and here are 8 ways it would help you.

  1. Clarity. As a business owner, it helps you understand your story, and the story of your brand and how it came to be. It helps you understand what you believe in and what you are really in business for. Too many people get into business and get lost, not seeing the forest for trees and not working with purpose.
  2. Direction. It gives you direction on your goals and how you could achieve them
  3. Edge. It gives you a unique edge and competitive advantage by playing to your strengths and what makes you tick.
  4. Empathy. It helps you know understand who your customers are, what their needs are and how to connect with them. It also allows you to let go of unnecessary activities and focus only the tasks that help you deliver your brand promise.
  5. Stand out. The stronger a brand you have, the more it sticks in the mind of your customer, eventually, you become the only solution they want.
  6. Tribe. A well-executed brand strategy helps you build a loyal following and develop deep relationships with your audience that allow you to grow and evolve over time, responding to their needs in real time.
  7. Building. It is terrific for onboarding new employees and motivating partners and stakeholders. If everyone is bound by a unifying compelling vision, you have a winning team and a winning brand.
  8. Opportunities. Having a solid idea of your brand allows you to discover and exploit opportunities that you may have never been able to see otherwise.


With a clearly defined brand identity and strategy, your business or organization would know what it is, what inspires it, and where it was going. It would have a clear sense of whom it needed to be speaking to and how to manage and execute its communications. It would know what it believes and what makes it unique. It would be more effective and efficient in its business development efforts and delighting customers. It would have the strategic advantage and a roadmap for growth into the future.

And those are all wonderful things.

A look at the brand positioning of Beats by Dre

A look at the brand positioning of Beats by Dre

Before Beats came along, everyone used headphones, the product itself was not a new invention. However buyer concerns in this category were mostly about performance. The average consumer just wanted something good enough to listen with. Beats by Dre was the first brand to transform the headphone into a lifestyle product. Born with its roots in hip-hop and pop culture, a culture that celebrated luxury, celebrity, and aspiration, Beats created the headphone equivalent of fancy clothes, fancy liquor and the pop lifestyle, it made the headphone answer to Nike and the iPhone.

For a brand to succeed, it needs to secure a unique place in the mind of the consumer. Differentiation and positioning not only helps brands be “unique” but they also can transform an ordinary brand into an extraordinary one (Klopper & North, 2011:91). ‘Beats by Dre’ has successfully positioned itself in the luxury headphones and speakers industry as the go to choice amongst its target market. It has done this through a mix of positioning strategies including brand endorsements, features, benefits, emotions, price, quality and aspiration.

The brand identified its target market as music lovers with a taste for culture and pop culture consumers as a whole, giving them a way to consume music on a premium level. It seeks to bring the energy, emotion and excitement of playback in the recording studio to the listening experience of music lovers wherever they may be. It really understands its consumers love of culture, fashion, luxury, sport and of course music and provides a brand that speaks to all of that.

The critical benefits of Beats by Dre include the sound quality, which is noticeably different from regular headphones. It is heavy on bass giving a heavy intense feel to the listening experience. It is also very stylish; many of the consumers proudly wear them as part of their outfits.

Although some brands outstrip it in actual listening experience amongst audiophiles, Beats brand strength draws from its focus and positioning with the culture. Its about the music, but its also very much about the lifestyle. Competitor brands such as Bose, Sony and Sennheiser position themselves on technical prowess and features. Beats takes a different route by appealing to the lifestyle aspect of consuming music, its differentiation is its ‘coolness’. Their product range even has simpler and more accessible names than the other brands mentioned, for instance Beats Solo3 Wireless vs Beyerdynamic T90. If you looked at a positioning matrix plotting cool factor against quality of product, Beats by Dre wins by focusing on the high cool factor and high product quality quadrant.

The Beats by Dre brand is not afraid to think big and go beyond the usual arena for headphones. It is focused on producing premium products but also on staying on the pulse of culture with its brand associations with the biggest music and sports stars. It stays connected with influencers and tastemakers, seeing through their eyes and working hard to stay ahead of the curve and meet trends as they arise. It has even spread its wings all the way to new cultural spaces such as the Rugby Word Cup. Its brand affiliations and collaborations with artists and sports stars also spread its reach far and wide. Its presence at huge sporting events also extends its impact globally.

There is no luxury headphone brand quite like Beats. As the first mover in the luxury headphone market it quickly gobbled up the market share with the strong brand association with Dr Dre, a producer who had achieved great success in the music industry and was known for his exacting attention to detail. Many more celebrity driven brands have popped up over the years including Soul by Ludacris, SMS Audio by 50 Cent, We The Best Sound by Dj Khaled, but none have had the same amount of impact that Beats by Dre has had.

Their great positioning allowed Beats to grow from strength to strength and eventually to be bought by Apple in 2014 for $3 billion 8 years after being founded. It is now available at all iStores worldwide and exposed to everyone who uses the Apple brand. With this new platform and integration with one of the leading brands in the world, they have the opportunity to continue to innovate and strengthen their brand position, creating products that are exquisitely designed, engineered to the highest standards and extremely desirable to its target market.

How Beats dominated the headphones game with killer branding

How Beats dominated the headphones game with killer branding

Unless you have been living under a rock over the past decade, you would not have escaped the ‘b’ branded oversized headphones that became all the craze in the late 2000s. Retailing at an average of $200 per headset, the advent of Beats marked the rise of the luxury headphones market.

The company was founded in 2006 by super producer and hip-hop luminaire Dr. Dre (of NWA fame) and music mogul Jimmy lovine. In the 8 years from its inception until eventual acquisition by Apple in 2014, the brand enjoyed a meteoric rise controlling the lion share of the luxury headphone industry. And it did this by crafting a compelling brand and deploying aggressive unconventional marketing tactics.

What makes a brand a brand is not just the logo, even though the logo is a key part of the brand identity. A brand is everything associated with the product or company. Keller (2008:39) defines brand identity as the “DNA of the brand”. A brand identity defines what the brand stands for and encompasses the brand’s vision, mission, values, internal mantra, tagline, logo even the verbal and visual language. ‘Beats by Dre’ has masterfully created a distinct and powerful brand identity.

Beats launched with a mission to help music listeners ‘hear what the artists hear, and listen to the music the way they should’ by bringing studio quality audio experience to the ears of everyone who bought audio products from Beats by Dre. Prior to this, the rise of piracy and the mediocre audio quality of Apple’s plastic earbuds meant that music was more available than every before but most listeners heard the music with crappy headphones. For Jimmy and Dre, people who had made their name in the music industry, it was simply unacceptable. In the words of Dr Dre, ‘People aren’t hearing all the music’.

Visually the aesthetic of the Beats by Dre brand is very clean with a focus on the products. The ‘b’ logo is very recognizable whether it sits on the headphones or on the speakers, on a laptop, phone or car; it is a symbol that has come to mean premium high quality audio experience with strong cultural cachet. The Beats brand is really more high fashion than high fidelity; audiophiles often criticize the headphones for being notoriously bass-heavy. However, the design and brand power of Beats have made their products highly desirable. They are slick, and bold, often in bright rainbow hues and metallic finishes. They come in distinct red, black and white packaging. It is not uncommon to see owners proudly wearing them either on their heads or just casually hanging around their necks. Wearing Beats by Dre signals that you are cool and that you take your music seriously.

The brand positions itself firmly within the pop cultural landscape, connecting with music, sports and massive cultural moments. Beats products feature prominently on popular music videos and with the numerous collaborations with leading artists from Lil Wayne to Justin Beiber, the brand is heavily endorsed and comes with a lot of celebrity clout.

The verbal brand is centered on the experience of ‘hearing’ and what music does for us. Music is linked with lifestyle. The brand kicked off its launch with the promise that listening with Beats will finally allow you to ‘hear what the artists hear’. Other campaigns have included ‘Colour’ which evoked vibrant individuality speaking to Beats as fashion, and ‘Hear what you want’ a campaign that illustrates shutting out the negativity and noise of the world and listening to what you want – your music.

Their 2014 Rugby World Cup campaign saw the brand entering unfamiliar markets and cultures by connecting the spirit of Beats to the spirit of the game with The Game Starts Here campaign. This campaign told the pregame stores of rugby’s biggest athletes, showing them using Beats to prepare themselves mentally and physically to perform on the world stage. Further boosting the brand as one that is firmly focused on delivering inspired top performance, winning and authentic stories.

When the movie about the early days of NWA (Dr Dre’s former group) Straight Outta Compton movie released in 2016, Beats by Dre ran a digital campaign with a Straight Outta Somewhere meme generator that that allowed fans to customize the movie title and represent their heritage, where they are from and share their story. This further cemented the heritage of the brand as hip-hop royalty and as a brand that was all about authenticity and creativity.

Beats by Dre is a prime example of branding done well. Now owned by Apple, we look forward to what this brand does in the future with this new platform and scale.

Determining and articulating your personal brand

Determining and articulating your personal brand

In my post Surviving the Future I mentioned the idea of living from your personal genius. Discovering your passions, your talents, exploiting that and intersecting that with what people want. The greatest tool in this quest is your personal brand.

 What is a brand? It is the prevailing idea, or feeling associated with a product, company or in this case a person. Branding differentiates you from everyone else in the market. It articulates what you are all about and how that would be of value to other people.

 You need to ask the following questions in determining and articulating your personal brand.

 1.       What is the prevailing major idea of your life?

 This is the basis of your brand, the core idea. What you are all about. Steve Pavlina defines his brand as providing personal development for smart people, specifically exploring and distilling knowledge on various parts of life into core principles and ideas. Chris Guillebeau explores unconventional ways of living and solving problems while travelling the world. Jay Z’s personal brand has evolved from street hustler/ganster to hiphop maturity and global business man. Steve Jobs centres around innovation, creativity and coolness. My personal brand? Well my core idea is the intersection of youth and popular culture, design communication and life paradigm shifts. I hope to create things that speak in the language of popular culture effectively changing the way people think and live, creating a better world for humanity.

 Your brand can be highly specific or it can be loosely broad. But if it is broad, connect the pieces together under a theme.

2.       What channels will you communicate your brand through?

 How will you get your message across to your audience? Will you be centred around the internet and cyberspace. Or will your brand expression be predominantly in tangible products, goods and services. This is entirely up to you. We have seen a great proliferation of bloggers who communicate their ideas via the internet – websites, blogs, social networking media, and with the creation of intangible assets like ebooks, seminars, and so on. Others create organisations that provide a service or seek to change the world in some way. Some people design, dance, create music, write poetry, etc. Others build businesses.

 3.       Who is your audience?

 Who will listen to you? What is your target market. Which group of people will receive the most value from what you have to offer. Focus on these people. Do not try to cater to everyone, it is one of the fastest ways to failure in any endeavour. Focus on your right people. Those who are attracted and interested in what you have to offer. Analyse them, interact with them, figure out their needs and fulfil them. For instance, Chris Guillebeau writes for people, artists, creatives, travellers who want to live an unconventional life, profiles them and provides resources and ideas for them. Mark McGuinness speaks to creatives and helps them make a living from their craft.

 4.       Why should your audience listen to you?

 What sets you apart from everyone else, what value do you bring to the table. Why should your audience listen to yo? Why should they come back time and time again?

 5.       Nurture your audience

 Now that you have your audience, and have determined why they should listen to you in the first place, take care of them. Nurture your audience, keep on creating value for them. Provide only those services that will actually be of value to your clan, your tribe, your band of merry men. Give them a reason to be loyal to you.

 6.       Grow your network

 No dream worth pursuing is ever pursued alone. You will need to interact with many other people, within your field and outside of it. Ideas are transferable across niches and categories. We need various skill sets and personalities to create whole functioning systems and products. Connect with people, especially the best in the fields. Get mentors, collaborate, partner with people and learn from one another. With the internet these days, it is easier to connect and work with people from all over the globe.

 7.       Put the time in

 Create the product. You have to put the time in to write the articles, make the art, write the poem, build the organisation. Whatever it is that you bring to the table, you have to create it. Ideas are no substitute for action and tangible products.

Surviving the Future

Surviving the Future

We have all said it before, and I’ll say it again, this is not your grandfather’s world. From the many technological advancements, to the incredible upheavals in business practices and realities to paradigm shifts in the meaning of life and how to live it. Life is very different from the way they used to be. Gone are the days of company loyalty for 30 to 40 years, climbing up a corporate ladder for a gold watch and a handsome retirement. Chances are, you will shift through at least five different careers over your lifespan. So, since external circumstances are always shifting, we must look beyond them to internal principles, skills and mindsets that will ensure we thrive no matter what is happening out there in the world.

 Let’s look at the big picture for a second, and rediscover the amazing fact that each of us has been born with a specific set of personality traits, innate talents and interests. We have been engineered to function in a specific niche. This means that we can all provide unique value to the world that no one else can in quite the way that we do it. This is why its so important to be you. One, because everyone else is taken, and two, because no one else can be as good a you as you. You have complete monopoly in the area of being the wonderful, unique you.

 You are going to have to take time for self-introspection and meditation. Rediscover yourself. The sad thing about most institutions of education, business, education, etc is that in passing through them, we learn to surpress our sovereignty, deny our personal genius in favour of taught techniques and established ways of doing things. But this one thing stands true, there is something that only you can do in the way that you do it. Do it. The world needs it.

 You may have to unlearn a lot of things and get in touch with yourself. Make some changes, course corrections, etc. But it is the best thing you could do for yourself. Because once you start living who you are, you will begin to operate in a high level of excellence. You will also experience a joy that comes from living with passion, and doing that which you were made for.

 To survive and thrive in the future, everyone has to be entrepreneurally minded, regardless of what field you are. This essentially means taking responsibility for your career. Don’t give your personal power away to another entity. It means being comfortable with taking risks, being creative, spotting opportunities and providing value. Think of yourself as your own company, and you are the president of You Inc. Look at the space where what you love to do and can do intersect with what people need and you have found the sweet spot. The place where work becomes play and you rake in the money J