Two sides of the same coin - the Virgin internal and external brand


Anyone running a customer facing business - and that’s most of us - can learn valuable engagement tips from Virgin’s approach to their people. So I was pleased to hear one of my former HR team at Virgin Mobile give a talk on the importance of the internal brand throughout Virgin Group. 

Speaking recently in Bristol, Amy Sawbridge, now Head of People Strategy at Virgin Group, demonstrated just how much emphasis Virgin put on their people as brand ambassadors.

There were a number of messages worth sharing - starting with a word of caution…

Be careful who represents your brand

Who can forget the recent coverage of United Airlines dragging a customer off one of their planes? This was an event that put the United brand in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons - but the security guards that did so much damage to their brand didn’t even work for United.

In covering such a high profile PR disaster, Amy made the point that customers will share their perceived experiences on social media - so be careful if you partner with other organisations that may represent your brand.

A holistic brand identity

Continuing the theme of high brand expectations, Amy then drew the parallel between bad experiences as a customer - and bad experiences as an employer. They both have the same effect - they damage the brand and people will again feel entitled to share this experience. That’s why Virgin views its brand as a holistic entity - and realises that people have particularly high expectations of the Virgin brand. 

I view this equal approach to employees and the internal brand as ‘two sides of the same coin’. Sir Richard Branson has made countless references to the importance of Virgin employees in creating the the customer experience. This hasn’t changed since my time at Virgin Mobile. His simple quote sums it up perfectly - and was used by Amy in her presentation. 

“If you look after your staff, they’ll look after your customers. It’s that simple.” Sir Richard Branson

After all, the appeal of Virgin’s employer brand is down to a leadership style that recognises that happy employees equal happy customers. And, with an eye on the bottom line, that an unhappy employee can ruin the brand experience for not just one, but numerous customers.

Playing the love outwards

Amy is responsible for overseeing a consistency of approach to Virgin’s 71,000 employees and described a “red thread” running through the internal brand. Describing the Virgin employees as a “customer base” Amy called them “brand ambassadors that play their love for our brand outwards.”

There are two initiatives that no doubt contribute to this love. Amy explained that Virgin started giving unlimited leave 2 years ago. “We believe everyone has a life outside work - and that our people will do the best they can at the right time.” 

She also mentioned the use of internal platforms that share the brand and help employee engagement, one being Virgin Tribes - a portal for employees to enjoy discounted Virgin products and experiences. All of this is designed to strengthen the internal brand. 

“Some 80% of your life is spent working. You want to have fun at home; why shouldn’t you have fun at work?” Sir Richard Branson

Want to find out more about employee engagement at Virgin?

I’ve covered Virgin and Sir Richard Branson’s employee engagement approach in other LinkedIn articles.

Employee engagement the Virgin way

5 strategies for GEE (Great Employee Engagement) by Sir Richard Branson

See Amy’s talk on the Virgin internal brand

Amy Sawbridge was a keynote speaker at the inaugural Bristol Media People Forumevent in Bristol in May 2017. 

She also gave an earlier version of the presentation at Changeboard's Future Talent Conference for business leaders. Held on 1st March 2016, you can watch her presentation here:

Author: Richard Roberts
Posted on: Tuesday 11th July 2017

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