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Virgin Success - how Usain Bolt led Virgin Media to generate £1bn in revnue

Last week, Virgin Media announced that it had achieved £1bn in revenue through an increase in broadband and TiVo sales during the first quarter of 2012. The company cited one of the reasons for this success as being its successful marketing campaign featuring athlete Usain Bolt and Sir Richard Branson. JR Little, senior consultant for The Brand Union considers why the campaign was such a success.

Sir Richard Branson formed the Virgin empire on a few branding best practices: do things differently, do things compellingly, and do things with personality. Virgin leadership understands how consumers make decisions, especially in commoditised markets like telecommunications infrastructure. When buying, consumers compare tangible characteristics to narrow their options, but they make their final purchasing decision based on emotion. This is the case in almost every imaginable category. The recent success of Virgin Media after an ATL campaign is clearly the result of an emotive brand message connecting with consumers' motivations.

The adverts were not successful solely because of Usain Bolt, the athlete just grabbed consumers' attention. They worked because they had personality; they made consumers smile. Consumers are fully aware of the tablestake attributes of a broadband provider (speed, consistency, and affordability). But, we all know it takes more than the basics to sell a product in today’s market. That's why we never hear Coca-Cola talking about taste, colour or fizz; these are a given in the soda category.

Virgin Media, through the use of humour and their well-respected and humble leader Sir Richard Branson, communicate a warm friendly face to the brand. In a way, they make BT look dull and corporate. And, when inviting a service into your home, you do not choose a dull and corporate brand. Sir Branson's presence in the adverts also helped remind consumers why they like Virgin; this is a brand that likes to do things differently and with personality, even more reason to have it in your home.

When companies are exploring their brands through traditional research, they should always remember to not measure the obvious characteristics, but to dig deeper into consumers' motivations. For example, if both companies provide fast broadband, what else would make you choose one over the other, and why? Understanding deeper emotional motivations can help build truly compelling communications that create culture change. This methodology is often referred to as Choice Mapping; it explores the characteristics, benefits, motivations and personality traits that play a role in decision making.

The Virgin empire epitomises this approach; long has it used subtle differences in products and services, and huge differences in personality to sell. And, it works. The Virgin brand has been around for almost forty years, using the same tactic: personality sells. Is it not time other brands learn the Virgin lesson?

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