1 June 2017

Aligning Corporate and Employer Brands: How does Virgin do it?

We caught up with Virgin Group’s Brand Director & Head of Employee Experience, Amy Sawbridge to hear how Branson’s behemoth brand aligns its corporate brand with its employer brand.

“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”

You might be familiar with these words from Richard Branson. With 60 companies, across 30 countries employing 71,000 people, Virgin has built its brand by providing an industry-leading customer service experience, driven from its employee experience.

Obviously we’re big advocates of getting the employee experience right, so we were excited to hear Virgin Group’s Brand Director and Head of Employee Experience, Amy Sawbridge was coming to Bristol to discuss how Virgin aligns its internal and external brand to allow employees to deliver an authentic customer experience.

Brand transparency

Amy spoke about the importance of transparency and the merging of customer and the employee – everyone is now so quick to share their experiences of a brand that you can’t craft one proposition for the customer and one for the employee.

These propositions have to be aligned and will merge into one. Your internal brand is more than a catchphrase; it should represent who you are and what you do. To succeed, internal branding efforts must be consistent with external branding but all too often they operate in silos.

Amy believes your internal and external brand are two sides of the same coin and with the increased transparency that exists in this hyper-connected world, employers need to be much more mindful that the culture and experience that they create for their employees has to be congruent with what they’re positioning externally to their customers.

Attraction and Recruitment

People nowadays expect more from the brands they work with. They expect their employee experience to mirror the customer experience. When it comes to attracting and hiring the right people, Virgin’s most important goal is to bring in people that will bring the brand to life.

  • Virgin’s brand values are:
  • Insatiable curiosity
  • Smart disruption
  • Red hot
  • Heartfelt service
  • Straight up
  • Delightfully surprising

They’re unwavering in living by their people-first mantra. As an example, the introduction of unlimited leave within Virgin management was a bold move but totally reflects this proposition.

Reward & Recognition

Amy shared with us ‘Virgin Tribe’. This used to be called ‘Dicky’s Deals’ and was a discount site for employees for Virgin brands and has now become a strategic brand asset across the group. In addition to discounts, it’s used to bring the brand to life, share stories, insight and connect the entire Virgin employee community. They use profiling techniques to ensure relevant content is delivered, with insight derived from the site data used to shape people strategies. So you can see the little extra touches Virgin adopts when treating their people like customers.

 

Staying with this theme, Amy said it’s important to translate the values into the employee experience and embed these into HR policies, benefits, processes etc. Much more powerful than any marketing campaign.

Working across the entire group can be a huge task – Amy gives local frameworks yet provides freedom for adaptation by local teams. Different territories will dial-up certain values more than others. With lots of networks across the organisation, it’s a great way of sourcing and filtering ideas.

D&I at the heart of Virgin

Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is core to the employer brand and, although they focus much less on D&I wording, it’s all about allowing people to be themselves.

Virgin also understands data and gaps in their recruitment approach. They’re using a variety of sources including leveraging the apprenticeship levy as an opportunity to bring in new recruits.

Virgin doesn’t want to go down to linear a route with D&I – they’re driven by data and measure impact. When bringing in people with diverse backgrounds, managers need to be trained on how to carefully navigate opinions to encourage and invite different opinions, and manage them effectively.

The future

When asked about what Virgin will look like in 20 years time, Amy said that they do think about life after Richard, starting with nurturing and developing the right kind of leaders. Philanthropy is of big importance to Virgin and Richard, and the role the business plays in society is key for ‘fair and healthy societies’. Richard’s vision is taking Virgin that way, and as a result, Virgin needs to align leaders to continue his legacy.

Our take

Virgin demonstrates perfectly the intrinsic link companies should make between their corporate and employer brands – the two are one and the same.

As consumers, our brand expectations of Virgin are high, so imagine if, as candidates, our experience of application, recruitment and onboarding, delivers a different or conflicting experience. If it’s dull, process driven or cumbersome – not only would you be switched off as an applicant, you’d feel let down as a consumer for Virgin not delivering their brand promise.

Rather than running companies day to day, as the face of Virgin, Richard Branson is really a brand investor across them – when this network of companies bears the Virgin name through acquisition, they must adopt the brand ethos and values. Of course, this brings with it a huge task of aligning values and creating a consistent experience, whilst giving companies the freedom to do things their way, essentially accepting they know their markets and employees best.

So our advice: make sure your employer brand is aligned with your corporate brand, don’t treat the two in isolation. Embed values throughout every stage of the employee journey and remember to question each touchpoint; “Is this what we stand for? Is this ‘our way’ of doing things?”

Virgin has shown that if a massive brand with 60 companies and 71,000 people can do it, anyone can.

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