Virgin Money expects to hit the five million customer mark by the end of the year, quickly establishing itself at the cutting edge of a new breed of ‘banks’. I say ‘banks’ as Branson refuses to acknowledge the term, preferring to call his branches ‘stores’. And having won the race to acquire Northern Rock’s 75 high street branches, these will complement three existing ‘lounges’ in Edinburgh, Manchester and Norwich, where customers have access to free WiFi, as well as the use of iPads and iMacs.
Key to Branson’s continued success is that he is a master of tapping in to public opinion and turning it to Virgin’s advantage via innovative communications campaigns. In this case, it’s the well-publicised view that traditional banks have in the main failed to acknowledge the role they played in contributing to the financial crisis of 2008/9, or made any significant changes to their business practices and corporate culture as a result.
This was again highlighted last week, with the news that Brits would rather bank with John Lewis or Amazon than their traditional high street counterparts. Virgin Money has fully exploited the public perception of banks by positioning itself as a more accessible and customer-focused operation.
And it’s not just Virgin Money that has benefited from this type of approach. Virgin Airways for example, has piggy-backed on negative sentiment towards other major carriers and budget airlines by promoting itself as providing a value-for-money alternative to the major carriers, but also a high-quality experience in comparison to the budget airlines. Similarly, Virgin Trains’ petition in protest at the loss of its West Coast Main Line franchise to FirstGroup has exceeded 150,000 individual signatories, despite it having the worst punctuality record of any train operator over the 2011 festive period.
Above all, Virgin’s ability to enter new markets proves just how far a strong brand and clever PR can travel in enabling innovators to exploit opportunities and grow their business on the back of public opinion.