As the 9.20am from Milton Keynes approached platform 5 at London Euston station, the usual pre despatch routine began. Belongings were gathered, used coffee cups disposed of, and the train manager began his scripted monologue.
“Don’t forget to check you’ve got all your things…”
“Thanks for traveling Virgin Trains…”
And then came the improv…
“I don’t know whether you are in London for business or pleasure, I hope you have a good day but even if you don’t, hopefully you will remember the words of this song…”
At which point the familiar melody of Monty Python’s “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” began to play.
“Altogether now…” encouraged the tannoy as it hit the chorus and that oh-so-familiar whistling refrain.
“I can see your smiling faces” he concluded.
And he was right. As I looked around I saw some reluctant, some not-so-reluctant cheeriness on my fellow passengers faces. Some even audibly laughed.
It was a lovely moment at the start of the day. But it was also the result of great branding.
Virgin are one of the most recognised brands in the world. Their logo is emblazoned across trains, wine bottles, bank branches, condoms and aircraft. But it’s not the omnipresence of the brand that has built its success, it’s the foundations.
Virgin took time understanding their brand values.
Many organisations focus on an aesthetically pleasing logo and website, before they understand (or even without understanding) who they are as a brand. You can have the best design in the world, but unless that is placed within a framework of clear values and key messaging, they will lack impact. Richard Branson, founder of Virgin, says that every Virgin product and service, no matter the application should be fun and value for money. When you look at their communications, customer service and product development you can see those values play out.
Virgin have trained their staff to know what the brand represents.
Another trap organisations fall into is creating brand personalities, values, and mission statements but forgoing training for employees. Once you have an understanding of your brand, you must then train your staff in why you see those values as important, what it means to them, and how they should apply those values day to day. Virgin can spend £7m on a sleek advertising campaign but if a customer calls the service line and receives poor customer service, that £7m is a waste of money.
Virgin have given their staff freedom to own, inhabit and express the brand values through their own individual personalities.
Your brand personality needs to be flexible enough and natural enough to be owned and expressed by your employees in a way that is authentic to them. The outworking of those brand values may be different depending on the individual but those key messages remain at the core of how your staff engage with stakeholders and how customers perceive your brand. You have to be confident enough in your brand values to give your staff freedom to express them authentically.