In March, Alaska Airlines announced that they would be retiring the Virgin America brand, having acquired them in 2016 in a deal worth $4 billion. This is the kind of business news that would usually only garner interest from stakeholders and investment companies alone, yet the reaction from consumers has been sombre like they are saying farewell to an old friend.
This is interesting because, like any other business, Virgin America’s focus has very much been on profit, so why do consumers feel the need to send tearful goodbyes? That’s the power of branding – establishing a genuine emotional connection with the customer and thus ensuring brand loyalty. What formula did Virgin America follow to amass such a loyal following in their brand?
The first reaction most people have when they discuss Virgin America’s brand loyalty is to assume it’s all about service – their company strategy offers customer-convenience and comfort, being the first company to introduce features like seat-back entertainment systems and on-demand food. This is an excellent point – one of the key factors that define a brand is its service. In fact, it’s fair to say service is one of the key elements in the formula to branding success.
Good service is hugely important from a brand perspective – it is the opportunity to properly demonstrate key brand values, build trust and confidence. When done consistently, good service will ensure a positive experience for all stakeholders.
Despite the importance of service, it alone isn’t a brand. Look at the tragic story of Roy Raymond, the founder of the lingerie store, Victoria’s Secret. The initial idea behind this store was to provide a place where men could shop for lingerie for their partners without feeling ‘like a creep’. The first store made $500,000 in its first year from an $80k loan but, as Raymond expanded the brand, it became difficult to maintain profitability, despite additional stores and a successful catalogue. His initial strategy of targeting men for women’s lingerie did not put Victoria’s Secret in a strong market position, even though the idea behind the store was one designed to help those who need it.
The branding, however, did resonate with female shoppers, with the Victorian-style interiors clad with red velvet giving a classy, sensual feel. Raymond eventually sold Victoria’s Secret to Les Wexner, whose vision for the brand was to utilise the brand strengths to move them into a better position. Sadly, Raymond’s story went downhill and, after a spate of failed businesses, he ended up leaping from the Golden Gate Bridge. But Wexner ensured the Victoria’s Secret brand would endure and thrive. He took steps to reposition the brand so that, instead of being for men to buy for their other half, he adjusted focus for women to buy lingerie for themselves and created lingerie for the ‘everyday’ woman (a business model that had already seen success in Europe at the time).
What Wexner did was develop a strategy that positioned Victoria’s Secret as an affordable luxury brand for women in the consumer mind. It wasn’t enough to offer a service that filled a niche – maximising customer relevancy and competitive distinctiveness is what brought real value to the brand. That’s the second part of a successful branding formula: positioning the brand where it can make a unique impression on the market. This applies as much to B2B brands as it does to B2C because positioning is about customer perception and differentiation, factors that don’t change for any market.
Building value in a brand is one thing, but it won’t last if a brand doesn’t also create value for their consumers. Back in 2015, Dusted wrote a blog praising Slack for the value they bring to the company – that’s not something we would do for any office tool. Slack’s value proposition is simple: making users’ working lives simpler, more pleasant, and more productive. But Slack isn’t all talk because it implements this proposition by offering incredible application integration. Twitter, Dropbox, Timetastic, Google Drive, and many, many more helpful, work-related apps merge seamlessly into Slack, meaning pretty much any workplace can integrate the tool into their workflow with increased productivity.
Slack go out of their way to address as many user pain points as possible and constantly update their service, but also maintain their simple, easy-to-learn interface. That’s how Slack ended up being one of the strongest business team collaboration tool brands on the market. If a brand wishes to take centre stage in their market, they need to be willing and capable of delivering what the customer needs, listening to feedback, and addressing any issues that make the user experience incomplete.
The most recognised global brands all have one thing in common: they all fulfil their key promises. Even if there are problems, delays, incidents, or any trouble at all, no one can deny they fulfil their promise. Coca-Cola always provides a drink, Ferrari always delivers fast cars, Oracle Cloud stores data, and so on. Every brand needs a promise to its customer that it must keep because that’s how to establish trust and a foundation for a brand.
Establishing a company promise is not an easy milestone to reach. The promise has to be one that a company will absolutely, 100% deliver on, without fail. It also needs to be something that’s making the customer’s life better one way or another. The ideal promise would be simple and eye-catching; credible so that the brand can’t be accused to misleading the customer; memorable for customers but also for employees so they can act in the best interest of the brand; differentiated from the competition; and inspiring enough to encourage an emotional connection.
Of course, it doesn’t matter how well a business follows a formula if the company isn’t unified in its brand. Designing the look and feel of a brand has a direct impact on an audience’s emotions and getting that right is no small task. As branding specialists, we can confirm that developing an identity that is consistent with the brand values takes a lot of research, insight, and discussion. But, once a brand identity is established, it’s important to keep it consistent throughout the brand. Consistency, in this case, refers to a unified brand vision, set of values, and voice, which can be established by the client and design agency working together to explore key messages, emotional triggers, tone of voice, and much more. Being consistent with across the entire company generates greater recognition and a stronger brand.
If your business is interested in increasing its brand value, Dusted has the specialist skills to escalate a brand to the next level. Feel free to get in touch via our contact page if you have any questions or are interested in a free website audit.
Image by Jeshoots