Business strategists who analyze Sir Richard Branson's methodology for opening new businesses might think it consists of "Throw it against the wall and see what sticks." They might be right. Branson, the iconoclastic founder of Virgin, a name that represents almost anything you can imagine these days, continues to confound business media, impress investors, and delight consumers with one unusually innovative, breakthrough idea after another.
In addition to launching a new media brand, the aptly-named Maverick, exclusively for the iPad, Branson and Co. have been busy on the branding front across a staggering 360-plus companies.
Virgin, as ever, is spreading its wings with some novel brand exercises. Witness the latest batch:
• Virgin Wines announced a major social media initiative that will concentrate on using Facebook, YouTube, and other social media to promote the brand, and more importantly, "to use every channel to its full potential to allow every customer to communicate with us in a way that is most suitable and convenient to them," says Jay Wright, Virgin Wines' managing director.
• Virgin Mobile India just introduced "Music Unlimited," marking the first time cell phone users can access a giant library of music to download as ringtones or full songs, free of charge. M. A. Madhusudan, Virgin Mobile India's chief executive, said, "Music is an integral part of the lives of youth and their mobile phones are their newly evolved 24/7 music stations. ... Through this service, we at Virgin Mobile aim at changing the way music is consumed and reinvent the ways youth experience music every day."
• Virgin Gaming, a tournament game start up, is partnering with Ubisoft, a major video game publisher, to offer its multiplayer tournament service for several of Ubisoft's games. Virgin Gaming will provide social networkng and competitive gaming, including results verification, secure payments, and a community reputation management system.
• Virgin Atlantic is rolling out new livery, signage and branding across its fleet.
• Virgin Trains has produced a video game for Google Street View and Facebook as a tie-in to a quirky promotion called "Don't Go Zombie, Go Virgin Trains." The campaign proclaims that commuters should consider traveling via Virgin Trains or else they'll be "zombified" by commuter traffic. The latest addition to the game is Sir Richard himself, who will appear as one of the game's zombies this month. (Remarkably, the CEO, a tireless promoter for his brands, describes himself as shy.)
• Virgin Blue, Branson's domestic airline in Australia, has Qantas execs nervously watching the skies as the budget carrier prepares to relaunch down under.
All that is well and good, but if there's anything Virgin will be remembered for, Branson thinks it will be commercial spaceship travel.
Recently Branson told Forbes, "Something like stars with a dream. As long as 10 years before I had dreamt the name Virgin Galactic Airways. I'd dreamt about the fact that we could create a commercial spaceship company. Of course people told me I was nuts, but that's been true my whole life. I had to go and prove people wrong."
Indeed, Virgin Galactic has already created working prototypes and plans commercial space travel next year.
Virgin is one brand that keeps stretching the limits of reality -- and with Branson at the helm, there's no doubt that it will continue to do so.