Virgin Company Analysis

free essayThe chosen brand is Virgin founded by Richard Branson and Nick Powell in 1970. The major focus of the company is travel food and drink, media and television, retail stores, entertainment and lifestyle but by now, Virgin Group holds shares in almost all product and service types as the conglomerate includes over 400 companies throughout the world. Virgin remains a private equity company, which allows its financial statement and operations not to come in the way of the company’s image perception (Aaker, 1991). The name comes from the perception of the founders who viewed themselves as virgins in business. Apart from the name Virgin written in italic, the letter V is also used separately to create an association with a checkmark for a completed task or a positive perception (Aaker & Keller, 1990).

There are several variations of the brand logo, and they vary according to the industry of Virgin’s branch company. The Virgin Group covers travel, finance, leisure, financial services music, mobile, health, and wellness. Red and white are two basic colors of the logo and marketing materials. However, sometimes, the logo is also completed in black and white colors.

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The personality of Richard Branson, the founder and frontman of Virgin, has also played a sufficient role in building the brand (Keller & Sood, 2004). His lifestyle, easy attitude, and challenging behavior influence the perception of the brand. Over the years of Virgin’s existence, Richard Branson has given the media and the public enough new hooks and reasons to discuss him. For example, Richard Branson’s cameo in Friends series added more popularity to his figure and strengthened the brand providing advertising and brand awareness without any mentions of the brand (Keller & Lehmann, 2003). In the last five years, the focus has shifted more towards innovation and helping smaller businesses to find their place on the market.

Brand identity is closely tied to brand elements that make the brand look exquisite and original, identifiable among other brands and facilitating brand associations and enhance the differentiation. Keller separates six general criteria for brand elements that are divided into two groups. The balance between different brand elements is the key to brand success and maximization of brand equity thanks to effective integration.

The offensive role of the brand element implies that brand elements should be distinctive, easily recognizable, and recallable in the first place – these elements stand for the brand stickiness. In this section, brand elements are also meant to describe the meaning of the content. For instance, the customer should be able to recall the brand correctly in terms of the product category, which is also a way to evaluate brand salience and awareness. The offensive brand elements also reflect on brand persuasiveness, its unique positioning on the market and distinctive features, benefits and attributes of the branded product.

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Keller’s Brand Equity Model

Source: Keller & Lehmann (2003).

Table 1. Discussion of brand element options (Keller & Lehmann, 2003):

Brand elements

Criteria Brand names

and abbreviations

Symbols and logotypes Characters and public figures Jingles and slogans Signs and packaging
 

 

Memorability Improves brand recognition Useful for recognizing the brand in general Useful for recognizing the brand in general Improves brand memorability and recognition Helpful for recognizing the brand in general
 

 

Meaningfulness Powers up almost any type of recall or association, even though sometimes indirect Powers up merely any type of association, sometimes only indirect Helpful for non-product (personality) related image and brand identity/personality in general Conveys almost any type of brand association explicitly Adds explicitness and direct associations with the brand
 

 

Likability Can inspire many verbal images Provokes visual appeals Humanizes the brand Can inspire many verbal images Combines both verbal and visual appeals
 

 

Transferability There are some limits Very good There are some limits There are some limits Satisfactory
 

 

Adaptability Challenging Redesign will be sufficient Redesign will be sufficient Modifications will make it Redesign will be sufficient
 

 

Protectability Good but has limits Very good Very good Very good There might be close copies
 

The memorability of the brand Virgin is rated ‘high’ for several reasons. First, the provocative name with ambiguous meanings as well as bright contrast color scheme (red and white) makes the name memorable. Virgin has become popular because of its challenging style, for the most part, and its better, different, and out-of-the-box product and services.

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Meaningfulness of the brand is a little blurred as the range of products branded by Virgin is very diverse, and the meaning of the word does not fully reflect the essence of the marketed products in terms of content and essence. However, the brand name reflects on the marketing message of the company: the “maverick” and “nonconformist” approach regardless of the industry or product type.

Likeability of the brand is mostly associated with the distinctive features and the essence of the marketing message behind Virgin. Richard Branson’s personality and media attention paid to him also play its role. The likeability is also measured with the help of customer surveys. It also reflects the aesthetic side of the brand, brand themes, and brand style. Virgin uses unusual calligraphy and it has good potential for being liked by its target audience (innovators and rebels).

The defensive features of the brand reflect on the way the brand can be transferred to product lines, different product packages, market segments, cultures, geographic, political, and cultural boundaries. The relevance of the brand can be guaranteed by its relevance. The legal and unauthorized usage as well as the need to register the trademark and all corresponding brand elements is resolved by high brand protectability and competitiveness. Virgin has high transferability, and the brand is well protected from the unauthorized usage, which is explained by its long successful history of existence and globalization of the brand (Kotler, Armstrong, Brown, & Chandler, 1998). The adaptability of the brand is aimed at overcoming religious, geographic, and cultural barriers, and Virgin successfully overcomes all these obstacles. The risks come from the Virgin Group using the same name for all kinds of products (brand branches such as Virgin Mobile, Virgin Atlantic, and Virgin Records are used), which means that brand damage in one sphere also impacts other spheres as well but in fact, sub-brands significantly fortify each other for the most part (McLaughlin, 1996).

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Target audience of Virgin is slightly different for each continent and product type. However, the global message transmitted in all product categories is innovation and challenge for perfection of the existing products and services by means of breaking stereotypes. The target customers are mavericks, pioneers with a tint of adventure in their personality. They are not afraid to be leaders without the typical fears (Aaker & Keller, 1990). The product and service offered by Virgin are always cool and fun, unusual and unforgettable as compared to other brands (Armstrong & Kotler, 2003). For instance, Virgin is one of the few airlines that offer a massage or nail clean up on board of the plane. The tone of the marketing communications is friendly, intimate, courageous, fun, and nimble.

Depth and breadth of brand awareness for Virgin is estimated as ‘high’ because since the very beginning of Virgin, the company has paid much attention to customer advocacy from fun advertisements to social media hashtags and objectifying their products and services. Contests and unusual activities make the marketing communications of the brand exceptional. For instance, one of the latest Facebook case studies was the time when a sad customer was found, and Virgin bought him a pair of rainboots while documenting the entire thing. This simple gesture enjoyed great success among customers and social media users. Another case was bringing cupcakes to a tired queue at a local DMV. In addition, the website of Virgin is always fun to browse even if the customer is not interested in an immediate purchase.

The brand rankings for Virgin have stayed high over the years, even if they have not bet the positions of the top FMCG brands. In 2015, it won 31 position in rand Finance Australian Top 100, 51st position in global Brand simplicity Index, 3rd position in the Official Top Business Superbrands, the 20th position in Official Top Consumer Superbrands, the 8th position in the World’s Most Innovative Companies, and the 22nd position in the World’s Most Innovative Companies. Even though Virgin has rarely won the first places in brand rankings (in fact, only once as the UK’s most admired brand for 2007), Virgin preserves its position on the market without spending abnormal budgets on advertising like the top brands do.

The depth behind the brand positioning is that it focuses on very specific values and a very particular type of personality, which is a rebel or an outlaw who is not afraid to introduce innovation and break stereotypes regardless of what the majority says.

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The associations behind Virgin brand include the following: freedom, innovation, having fun, forbidden grounds, breaking the laws, breaking bad, enjoying life, breaking stereotypes, changing perception, and changing the landscape. One of the latest Virgin advertisements was rather risky: a young man sitting on a bench suddenly saw a brick falling on his head and death coming right next to him. The man’s life started to come up in front of his eyes, and he saw all the amazing, fun, and crazy events that had happened to him while he was travelling by plane. The list of these events coming up was so long that the death fell asleep. Dangerous playing with depicting death in relation to flights is what sets Virgin apart as the rebellious and liberated nature of its target clients totally fits the image that the brand presents on a global scale. “Flying in the face of the ordinary” reflects on unconventional and denominative marketing approach that Virgin adheres to (Aaker & Keller, 1990).

Brand associations are important for introducing goods in a new category. One of the few Virgin’s failure was the introduction of Virgin Cola that was a high quality and appealing product but that just could not fight against sufficient budgets spent on a centuries-old feud between Coca-Cola and Pepsi.

To build the connection from the actual self to the ideal self of the customer, Virgin puts the right accents on innovation in combination with breaking the ordinary, unnecessary, and excessive rules that the public imposes upon individuals. The actual self can be regular Joe, boring and tied by the barriers inside society. Meanwhile, the ideal self is a romantic and rebellious hero, innovator with a sense of adventure and no fear in front of the new. The ideal self knows how to have fun and increase the number of crazily happy moments in his life. Breaking the rules constructively is one of the main methods.

Virgin succeeds in this connection, and the strong customer advocacy is one of the justifications for this conclusion. Virgin has been preserving its stable positions in the market for almost thirty years, which proves that the brand has found its stable and loyal target audience, even though brand expansion was not as impressive as with Apple or Google. Investing into customer personality connection is very important for Virgin because, in fact, the company offers the same product and service types as many other companies do. However, it is the unconventional and untraditional approach that makes the company stand out. That is why appealing to the innovation and adventure hunger in customers is crucial for a brand like Virgin. Maybe, Apple and Google with their focus on the product itself and the revolutionary innovations in it do not need to tie in too much to the personal traits and emotions (even though Apple has managed to make its product an irreplaceable part of the modern and successful self of the customers).

The parent organization holding the brands is Virgin Group, and below is the scheme of the top brands inside the brand architecture scheme.

It is notable that Virgin Atlantic brings 50% of the company’s revenue, and the rest of the sub-brands bring the other 50% (Meyvis & Janiszewski, 2004). Therefore, all other brands assumably fortify the position of Virgin Atlantic on the market and in the eyes of the clients.

The Virgin Group’s brand architecture is the branded house. Virgin is the family brand while the rest are sub-brands with product descriptions. What sets the branded house apart is the sub-setting of all products and services under the primary brand. A singular name is used across all business activities (Goldberg, 1997). There are different divisions and product categories but everything falls under a united branding strategy. Branded House is one of the best choices for smaller companies that gradually introduce their products and services to the existing audiences. The history of Virgin’s development may be the reason why this strategic approach has been chosen.

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Possible implications for Virgin brand management might be the following:

  • Revival of the brand and logotype. Virgin is more associated with non-conformism of the 1980s and the 1990s. Nowadays, innovation is bred up by the majority of world brands. Modern digital technologies have made unimaginable things possible, and the position of Virgin as a brand might be at risk because it might get lost in the crowd, losing the connection with the customers’ personalities. As for the logotype, it should also be slightly renovated, just like Apple and Google logos are gradually changed without shifting the main concept. Maybe, introducing a more minimalistic and clear typography would make the Virgin brand look more up-to-date.
  • Introducing a new public figure instead of Richard Branson. Sir Richard Branson has greatly contributed to the forming of Virgin’s brand identity, and he has kept on causing news hooks and attracting media attention to everything related to his figure including his company. Meanwhile, since Branson has come into respectable age, it looks like he is much more interested in space research and charity rather than breaking the rules and fighting against stereotypes. Therefore, it is important to introduce a new public persona who would correspond to today’s challenges and problems interesting for the younger audiences. For instance, a comedy actress Amy Schumer might be a good choice because of the media attention she has gathered after taking part in movies and Pirelli calendar sessions (Meyvis, 2004). Amy breaks the stereotypes of a perfect woman’s body; she is bold, young, humorous, and charismatic. She would also fit the recent trend of “girl next door” appearance popularity that has outplaced the glamorous swank of luxurious super models in the 1990s and the 2000s.
  • Finding another niche for innovation. As compared to Apple, Google, Yahoo, and many other technology companies that have evolved in the last 5 years, Virgin might also look a little outdated. That is why supporting a branch of innovative products is important for keeping up the brand. Space research is a good choice but it is very narrow and most consumers would not be able to afford space trips. In addition, Virgin has always been a brand for the wide audience. For example, investing into robot technology and introducing a series of home robots or unusual droids would be a smart option for covering a much wider audience than those interested in space trips.
  • Shifting from branded house architecture. Although the authority of Virgin was always used to support new products, the strategy for brand renovation can also include moving into house of blends. This way, the retro authority of Virgin will support the new sub-brand but it will allow it to have its own identity without the focus on the Virgin Group.
  • Adding a responsible attitude to consumption and sustainability. The brand Virgin has been concentrated on breaking the stereotypes for the most part of existence, and this concept has also entered the modern mindset – society has become much more liberal in its view compared to the 1980s when the brand Virgin emerged. However, being different from everyone else and promoting one’s pathway, which is right for individuals as opposed to the public, is one of the concepts that Virgin can still cultivate even today. In fits the general brand strategy and it is not outdated. For instance, responsible consumption and deep thinking about the consequences of one’s actions is a rare trait that can be promoted by Virgin’s eco-friendliness campaigns. Right now, the company already addresses the problems of self-identification, social and entrepreneurial issues by implementing charity programs and actively describing the lessons of success that Virgin top managers can share with the potential businessmen. Adding more attitude like this will power up and revive the brand significantly.

In conclusion, Virgin is a great brand with rich heritage since it is one of the few brands that use such a deep connection with the customer’s personality and his ideal self. However, it is strongly recommended to renovate the brand by changing its shift slightly to technology and the most important socio-environmental issues such as women’s rights, climate change, corporate responsibility, and technological advancements in consumer products.

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According to the brand equity model and brand elements model by Kevin Keller, Virgin is a good-performing brand that can serve as an example of stable brand performance. Keller’s brand model has provided good insights on the essence of Virgin as a brand and answered the questions about the risks hidden in the brand specifics. However, there some recommendations have been made to renovate the brand and make it look more up-to-date: introducing a new personality to replace Richard Branson over time, renovating the logo, and shifting the brand architecture towards house of brands instead of the branded house.