• Transform magazine
  • October 22, 2020

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Get your brand strategy right – it’s a key driver of business growth and durability

David Campbell

Creating businesses that stand the test of time is about bringing consumers on a journey with you. David Campbell, founding CEO of Virgin Radio and The O2, explains why you need a brand strategy that’s agile enough to remain contemporary – but still endure for decades

It may feel counter intuitive to talk about things being contemporary and standing the test of time in the same breath, but some of the most successful brands out there are the ones that have achieved just that.

Authenticity and the ability to evolve without losing identity is what makes a strong and enduring brand. If it’s rooted in truth, it should be able to flex and grow successfully as the environment or story changes. That’s because successful brands are a bit like people. Our appearances might change a little as we grow older. We may alter the way we dress. But deep down we’re still the same person. If a brand is true to itself from the outset it should be no different.

When we began work on the launch of Virgin Radio back in 1993, a key concern was creating a brand that would be strong enough to stand on its own two feet. Back then, the umbrella Virgin brand was very well recognised, and while you might think that would be a great asset for a fledgling business, in some ways it was more of a problem. How do you capitalise on that Virgin notoriety but be seen as your own enterprise?

Collaborating with the right brand strategist for you is essential. At one end of the spectrum you’ve got brand designers who are very much driven by what things look like and don’t think that deeply about your business needs or culture. And at the other you’ve got the guys who want to get heavily involved in strategy and tend to overthink everything. But when you put together a strong team and you work together and grow ideas in stages, you get the most authentic results. They’re the effective brands, and the ones that last. 

I've worked with brand strategists Thinkfarm for decades, including on major projects like the launch of Virgin Radio and The O2, and the brand strategies are the same today as they were when they were created 27 and 15 years ago respectively. 

I’ve never been interested in being told what the problem is, and then being sent away before a solution is presented to me at some big reveal. I’ve always looked to brand partners to be part of the home team.

For Virgin Radio to forge its own identity, the brand needed to work internally and externally and become part of the station’s DNA. We wanted people – employees, consumers, advertisers, stakeholders, everyone – to feel they were part of Team Virgin. It was ‘brand as culture’, and 30 years later, the brand remains the same.

That’s important because, apart from the obvious cost efficiencies of creating a brand that lasts for a long time, it lends gravitas. The most successful brands are laser-focused and self-aware. They have a clear understanding of who they are and what they stand for, and how to get that across to the people that matter. Too much change is unsettling and can look like a lack of commitment on your part. So it’s important to establish those brand pillars from the word go so you can persuade your target audience to join you, and stick with you for the long haul.

Agility is important if your brand is to remain current as digital technologies and cultures advance over time, but the core should remain the same if it’s been well thought out. When we transitioned the Millennium Dome to The O2 back in 2005, the entertainment world was a very different place. But as the business has developed and expanded all over the world, the brand has remained true – 15 years and counting.

I’ve heard business leaders talk about brand as decoration, the icing on the cake. To them I’d simply say that it’s how to tell your target consumer that you’re the one for them. And what could be more important than that?