Virgin elastic finally snaps

When Richard Branson first launched the Virgin brand I don’t know whether he saw it becoming the global phenomenon it is today (after all he has a bright bunny and he might have learnt about “Brand Elasticity”) but today his brand is highlighted as an example of an elastic brand – This shouldn’t be a surprise to the reader as Branson captured the hopes and aspirations of a generation who wanted something a bit different from the norm, a little bit (but not too) radical! And he did it brilliantly.

However I wonder now how many people like me are suffering because we’ve bought the brand but it’s failed to deliver – from my own experiences I would have to say that the “Rock Star” treatment promised by Virgin Holidays feels more like the treatment aspiring bands might get as they hammer up and down the M1 in their Transit vans! And when Virgin Atlantic employees diss their own airplanes, or when Virgin Holidays employees give poor customer service it’s clear that the elasticity of the brand has gone too far – it’s snapped.

Now you might just argue that it’s inevitable. That as a brand grows it loses focus and ends up doing a lot of things pretty averagely rather than one (or a few things) brilliantly. And whilst that may well be true of large corporations which may have mission statements and elevator pitches but lack the ethos that Branson has installed in Virgin it shouldn’t have happened to Virgin – because delivering customer excellence was always at the centre of Virgin:

Here’s Virgin Holidays website: – We believe you should “Ask for the World” because we’re passionate about creating the best holidays in the whole wide world and going that extra mile to make sure you get exactly what you want, the way you want it.

Here’s Virgin Atlantic’s: – At Virgin Atlantic we always like to challenge the mundane and push airline innovation to give our passengers something a little special; why should getting to your destination be a chore?

Hmm. Not sure I can marry up my experiences with either of those! And that saddens me. I like Branson. I was with him all the way when he was battling British Airways, I had a email account, I bought stuff in his shops. I admire the way he throws himself fully into projects – dressing up for Virgin Brides.

But now I’m afraid Virgin seems to flatter to deceive and I’m about to consider a 3rd major investment and it may well not be with his brand. That all depends on whether Virgin can regain my confidence in its ability to deliver what it promises – can it overcome the following experiecnes (Nov/Dec 2010):

  • upper class seatback entertainment malfunctioning
  • economy class seatback entertainment malfunctioning
  • poor in resort customer service regarding regarding check in/chill out when travelling upper class
  • caribbean holiday rep not providing the correct information on check in
  • Virgin Atlantic in resort check in/chill out staff not having any information on the seating layout of the plane
  • ineffectual communication between Virgin Holidays and Virgin Atlantic teams
  • poor response from after-travel customer service
  • And that excludes issues such as no prior knowledge that the resort booked had changed hands in the interim – with accompanying changes of service provided!

    The bottom line, and it really does come down to this, is that I feel I paid for a certain level of service that I didn’t get – and as I get older quality and service are both very important – I value and I really really appreciate them. Hell I’ve paid for them!

    As customers our loyalty is openly courted by a range of companies operating in what is both a congested and pretty competitive marketplace. “Customer retention”, “loyalty” and “churn” are as important as profits (apparently!).

    So it’s sad to report that one of the darlings of the business world has been caught with its pants down, well when the elastic goes friends that’s what happens, or would that be termed “Brand Gravity” by scholars of business strategy?

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