image for Two sides of the same coin: Virgin's Internal and external brand

Two sides of the same coin: Virgin's Internal and external brand

Two sides of the same coin. Virgin: the importance of the internal and external brand by Richard Roberts

Published on Friday, 19th May 2017, contributed by en:Rich HR

Amy Sawbridge, Head of People Strategy at Virgin Group, was our keynote speaker at the first meeting of the Bristol Media People Forum on Thursday 11th May. Speaking to a packed room at our hosts, OVO Energy, Amy covered the importance of the internal brand and employee experience throughout Virgin Group - an organisation I know well.

The talk demonstrated just how much emphasis Virgin put on their people as brand ambassadors and I felt there were a number of messages worth sharing. We can all learn from Virgin’s approach to their people.

Be careful who represents your brand

Amy started by using the very recent case of United Airlines dragging a customer off one of their planes last month. Societal expectations of brands are high and anything that’s out of kilter will be spotted and shared on social media. But her key point was that the security guards who forcibly removed the customer didn’t even work for United.

The lesson here is, your customers will share their perceived experiences so be careful especially if you partner with other organisations that may represent your brand.

A holistic brand identity

Continuing the theme of high brand expectations, Amy then drew the parallel between bad experiences as a customer - and bad experiences as an employer. They both have the same effect - they damage the brand and people will again feel entitled to share this experience. That’s why Virgin views its brand as a holistic entity - and realises that people have particularly high expectations of the Virgin brand.

I view this equal approach to employees and the internal brand as ‘two sides of the same coin’. Sir Richard Branson has made countless references to the importance of Virgin employees in creating the customer experience. His simple quote sums it up perfectly - and was used by Amy in her presentation. “If you look after your staff, they’ll look after your customers. It’s that simple.” 

After all, the appeal of Virgin’s employer brand is down to a leadership style that recognises that happy employees equal happy customers. And, with an eye on the bottom line, that an unhappy employee can ruin the brand experience for not just one, but numerous customers.

Playing the love outwards

Amy is responsible for overseeing a consistency of approach to Virgin’s 71,000 employees and described a “red thread” running through the internal brand. Describing the Virgin employees as a “customer base” Amy called them “brand ambassadors that play their love for our brand outwards.”

There are two initiatives that no doubt contribute to this love. Amy explained that Virgin started giving unlimited leave two years ago. “We believe everyone has a life outside work - and that our people will do the best they can at the right time.” She also mentioned the use of internal platforms that share the brand and help employee engagement, one being Virgin Tribes - a portal for employees to enjoy discounted Virgin products and experiences. All of this is designed to strengthen the internal brand.

As Sir Richard Branson says, “Some 80% of your life is spent working. You want to have fun at home; why shouldn’t you have fun at work?”

Recruitment for personality and culture fit

Finally, of interest to the recruiters in the room, Amy described how Virgin recruit based on personality and culture fit to the Virgin brand - rather than skills and experience. If the brand experience is delivered in part by personality then it makes sense to ensure that the right personalities are recruited into the business.

Join us

If you’d like to be part of the Bristol Media People Group and be the first to hear about our next event, simply visit Our next event is prsented by Gabby Shaw from ADLIB about the “Future of work” and takes place on 15th of June.  Tickets are £10+VAT for Bristol Media members and £20+VAT for non-members.  Email to secure your place.

The People Forum will operate on an informal basis allowing members to network, share practical experiences and make connections. It complements the services that Bristol Media already offers its members such as South West Creative Jobs and the Employers Hub.

Rich Roberts

I am an experienced HR and Employee Engagement expert, passionate about building a positive, can-do, values based culture in companies.