“Eleven cutting-edge companies are setting standards for design practice that offer valuable lessons for business and the design industry” says the Design Council, http://www.designcouncil.org.uk/en/Design-Council/3/Press/Design-Council-research-uncovers-secrets-of-design-success-in-global-corporations/ and one amongst them, is the Virgin Atlantic. This report offers a case study of Virgin Atlantic’s design and brand strategies over the years with a glimpse of its future strategies and plans. Virgin Atlantic, after the initial setbacks and debacles, has been one of the greatest success stories in the aviation industry, thanks to the guidance provided by its Chairman, Sir Richard Branson. It is one of the companies which have proved the importance of brands and designs. More than that, it also proves that brand and design both depend on the humans who manage them, who live within those brands and represent the company every moment and in every space. In the modern business region, creating brand significance, keeping in mind the consumer psychology has become highly significant. Companies have to invent innovative methods of brand preference keeping the social change and requirement in mind, without compromising their own business objectives, as the importance of brand and designing has to stand out in the competing business world.
Both secondary and primary sources are used for this project. For the secondary sources, this project depends upon the books, internet sources, reports, business speculations, marketing knowhow, etc. In addition, it has drawn from the journals, online material, conference reports and business media. Particularly, this brief project has benefitted from the marketing sites, online material, advertising details and the vigorous design strategy information that is available in the books, reports, conferences and internet material of Virgin.
For the primary sources, the report has used the information and the interview that could be partially attained from the administration and design sections of Virgin, as it was not possible to get an extensive interview from the busy and rather private company administration. Hence, instead of meeting the design chief, the research had to be content with the questionnaire sent to his department, and the meeting of one of the representatives. This situation is absolutely understandable in a company of Virgin’s stature and the Report has definitely benefitted from the insights and knowledge it could receive from the company and is grateful to it.
In 2002, Virgin Atlantic Airways appointed Joe Ferry as Head of the Design, who will report to the Director of Marketing Alison Copus. Joe Ferry has been responsible for the design and brand strategy of various Virgin products and services, (http://www.stealingshare.com/content/1160504877375.htm)
Over the years, very often, Virgin has been accused of brand dilution and surreptitious dealings of having ‘no bar’. But, accusations apart, the fact remains that the company has taken a lot of trouble and has enormously focussed on its strategies, striding with great visionary ambitions and ultimate success.
Virgin’s brand strategy had been very strong from the Group’s beginning days and there have been arguments that the CEO and the Chairman of the Group, Richard Branson himself became part of the brand, and his personality and involvement in the Group as part of the Group’s design and brand strategy, with a large amount of truth in it, despite 49% participation of the Singapore Airlines. Started by Randolph Fields and Allan Hellary (Chief Pilot of Laker Airways) in 1982, in the name of British Atlantic Airways, which was eventually bought out by Virgin group, and today it has become the main rival to British Airways, despite a very tight financial position in 1990s. It has, for the first time in British aviation, showed genuine consumer concern, and became famous as a genuinely consumer-focused branding, intent upon creating and maintaining its own market share. In the world of aviation, where cutting costs have been the caption line, Virgin tried and succeeded in being different, by attaching immense glitz to the customer significance. “Virgin Atlantic wanted to make flying fun and enjoyable again, treating their customers as guests rather than cattle, as the majority of the industry has done. By listening to their core customers, the international business traveller and the self-labelled “jetrosexuals,” Virgin has created a brand that is an actual reflection of those who use it,” http://www.stealingshare.com/content/1160504877375.htm
Our conversation and questionnaire with the representative went on these lines:
Q: Are you using the brand to advance your business strategy?
A: We think of brand as the strategy because any organisation is as good as the brand that represents it. Hence, here in Virgin, tremendous significance is attached to brand and design.
Q: In what way this has influenced your human resources and recruitment policies?
A: It is the cornerstone of our recruitment and human resources policies as we need people with visions of high-tech brand strategy and innovative thinking.
Q: What importance do you attach to the design power, design identity and brand strategy in the altered business and aviation circumstances that have been enhanced by the global tourism?
A: The design power is immense today in every company for the success of the brand and command in the market. Every company adopts one principle or other for the competence of its design and there lies its business strategy for the ultimate success.
The design identity becomes the marking face of every company now and hence, the strategy is given paramount importance. Design is considered to the company’s visionary DNA, and we attach great and sustained significance to it.
Q: What are the responsibilities of the staff in this area?
A: They work on their logos, brand identities and brand strategies. They are aware that the extremity of corporate standards and the connected legal jargon are killing the brands and they have guard themselves against such happenings.
Q: How important is the human factor here?
A: The importance of human connection and natural repartee will always work hands down with the customers than the stiff and unbending corporate attitude.
Q: Can you provide us some small examples?
A: It’s ‘Hello, Gorgeous!’ greeting headlines, staff that gives more importance to humour while solving difficult problems, the human touch that accompanies it,
Q: How difference is the Virgin approach?
A: It has learnt to convert most of the details into amusing brand experiences that go a long way in removing the boring impersonality and customer rapport instead of a constrained, tightly shut corporate style.
Q: Can you name some other design policy examples?
A: Some of them are the results of the stand taken by our Chairman, whose vision is represented in our brand growth. We have also tried to bring a great difference in small things in as subtle a way as possible. Our staff is aware that these subtleties even might go unnoticed; but there is always a chance of its getting noticed and that off-chance can bring a lot of attention to us. For example, the design challenges to the university of Derby like events, placement competitions, and the celebration of the concept that “Your holiday Begins now” when the passenger enters the airport itself, have earned a legendary live brand.
Q: You say that mainly you are concentrating on people, that is, on the staff and the customers. Why do you think that the human connection is more important than all the rules, practical advice, theories, logos, declarations etc.?
A: We have taken this stand with ample psychological insight after studying the customer reactions on many occasions and also its far reaching effects. Customer is never a single person. You have to take the customer chain reactions into consideration before making any decision. A customer can write, comment, publish, tell his friends and families and remember a small instance of either good or bad treatment forever. We have come across people who could narrate you a terrible experience of their great grandfather, or an ancestor of a neighbour or friend. It shows how important human connection is in any trade. Mechanical service with the motto of ‘our rules allow us to go this far; but not further’ days are limited now. Actually they never existed; the corporate houses thought they did.
The design motive has been creating people who can live and breathe the brand in a practical way, and not represent a distant theory.
“The best brand manuals are people, not books. A dynamic, humorous, human brand is dynamic, humorous and human because of one single person who’s running the brand, owning the brand, and setting the vision for the brand,” http://www.brandingstrategyinsider.com/2007/05/the_living_bran.html It is very important to realise for the companies that the corporate culture has to be replaced by a more mutual and personal approach where the customer feels that the company is working for him, and him alone. According to the company declarations and the interview with the representative of the design department of Virgin Atlantic, this has been their policy which will continue with full vigour in future.
Reiterating the company policy, the design statement of Virgin Atlantic goes like this: “As Head of Design for Virgin Atlantic, Joe Ferry has challenged the conventions of the airline industry, setting the brand apart from its competitors. He is best known as the vision behind the £105M product of Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class Cabin, unveiled in late 2003 and since rolled out to all of the airline’s fleet of aircraft,” http://www.globalexec.com/pdma2007/about.php?speakerid=12
In addition, Paul Dickinson, the Sales and Marketing Director of Virgin Atlantic, declared that he was considering recruiting people to work on a global advertising by creating a global hub of advertisement. He has shown interest in transferring some of the brand and design activities to the local market of each place where Virgin is hoping to create its own space by drawing the local customers and tourists into its hub firmly. The representative thought that every company has to work towards achieving a brilliant brand personality and it is a continuous work of every moment that should never be slackened by any one, in any corner of the world. The company has to be careful in allowing the brand to grow without killing it with the conventions.
In addition, the company has taken the initiative for environmental priority combined with innovative features at every step has impressed passengers over the years. “In his letter to aviation industry leaders, Sir Richard writes, “We need to accelerate the pace at which we reduce aviation’s impact on the environment. We cannot ignore that aviation does create environmental problems (around 2% of global CO2 emissions), although equally it produces significant economic and social benefits. (8% of the world’s GDP)” http://www.aredi.org/_coreModules/content/contentDisplay.aspx?contentID=2586
On envisioning a customer-friendly customer experience, The Engine Service Design, who is working closely with the Virgin on the research, says: “To help drive Virgin’s internal decision making process, we constructed passenger journeys as storyboards and scripts to both validate and communicate a service vision. These visualisations have proved so successful that they are now used to direct Virgin’s design teams and to communicate what they want to achieve for passengers in their ongoing negotiations with the architects and the airport authority,” http://www.enginegroup.co.uk/projects/pcs_page/envisioning_a_customer_friendly_terminal_experience
The brand dedication of the Virgin Atlantic has been praised by design theorists too. Gelderr (2003, p. 213) praises Virgin Atlantic: “Virgin Atlantic Airways shows how ground and air crews needed to be imbued with the brand’s dedication to consistently providing better service than its competition.”
Design and brand strategies are ruling most of the corporate world today and we again and again come across the significance of developing, improving and maintaining excellent human relationship between the staff and the customers. The importance and concern accorded to the customer is usually never erased from the customer memory. It is a sad mistake of the corporate world if it sticks to its manuals, rules, regulations and rigid responses. A humourless, disinterested, barely understanding and almost deaf attitude of the staff in any part of the world can reflect upon the entire company, and can kill a fully flourishing brand. In recent years, with design and brand management professionalism taking over most of the brand and design maintenance work, a remarkable change has come over the business world, and now it could be seen that the new attitude is going to stay. In a way, global tourism and vast connections have improved all the business, especially so, the aviation industry. In this light, it is difficult to see Virgin Atlantic as a loser in the near future. With the present policies and future strategies, it should go from strength to strength.
- Gelder, Sicco Van (2003), Global Brand Strategy, 7th, London, Kogan Page.