How to Be the Cheeky Newcomer to the Market

How to Be the Cheeky Newcomer to the Market


Sales Builder

I’m an avid follower of Virgin inventions as well as a marketer. How do I improve my sales? I sell life insurance and would like to build a company from scratch. Maina Gachanjah, Kenya

The key to improving sales is to make sure your business or product stands out in the marketplace. We have always tried to ensure that Virgin products are innovative, that they offer good value and that there’s a great attitude about service.

When you have those basics right, you need to make sure people know about your business: Too many great businesses remain ‘well-kept’ secrets for too long and never get the attention they need to grow and thrive.

Make sure your advertising, your public relations and your general marketing are direct and believable. They also need character.

From the early days of Virgin we always looked to surprise, entertain and sometimes shock people with our advertising. One reason was that we had lower marketing budgets than most of our rivals.

Another was that we always felt we were the newcomers – the underdogs. In music, this approach was easier than in some other businesses, since we had edgier bands and were willing to take risks on acts that others were not.

For our fledgling airline business – a totally new area for Virgin, and one where people wanted to know we were going to survive and be safe – the approach was a bigger risk.

Still, we needed to get the best bang for our buck, so we used me to make the headlines with stunts and stories. We also made sure our advertisements were funny and attention-grabbing. It worked.

Immediately we created a personality for the airline that was cheeky and irreverent. We have used this tone for many of our businesses ever since.

Of course, cheek and fun are not appropriate to all industries. We used a very different approach in the early advertisements for our financial services. Those messages were memorable for their directness. They were very hard-hitting. To win people’s trust, we emphasised our transparency and openness.

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Break Through

What are the key considerations for a new participant entering the market where a lot of sharks are swimming and holding their areas? — Gerda Stokmane, Latvia

A new business must be well thought through and have a clear service, product or plan. You should be able to demonstrate a real difference to the existing ‘sharks’ early on and keep driving that message home to your potential customers.

At Virgin, we look for markets where the customers are not well-served by the dominant player and where we can make a difference with a well-priced service – one that usually has a bit of edge.

Our airline businesses are a prime example of swimming with sharks. Look at Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Blue and Virgin America.

All compete against much bigger rivals and hold their own pretty well. The Virgin three have distinct character, great products, cheeky advertising and loyal customers.

Virgin America has been named ‘best domestic airline’ twice in a row by readers of Conde Nast Traveler magazine, thanks to its modern planes, excellent service and fabulous crew.

This is a winning formula that allows a new player to thrive and survive in even the most fiercely competitive markets.

Richard Branson
Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. He is the author of "Business Stripped Bare: Adventures of a Global Entrepreneur."