Speaking at the World Business Forum, Mr Branson – the founder of the Virgin group of companies – outlined examples of how his group and staff make a difference in the lives of customers to deliver genuine value and a point of difference from established players.
“The best businesses, I think, come out of frustration and a feeling that ‘Damn it, airlines do bump people, airlines do treat people badly’, and just get out there and give it a try,” he said.
“The important thing is that you instinctively feel you can do it a damn sight better than everybody else; you just get out and do it, and if it’s that much better, more money is going to come in than is going out.
“That’s the simple thing about business – just come up with an idea that is really going to make a positive difference to other people’s lives and the figures, by and large, will add up. Sometimes they won’t, but ... if you’re creating something really special, it’s very rare that special things go bust.”
Mr Branson spoke about his experience starting an airline with a single second-hand 747 against behemoths like British Airways, and the tactics he employed to ensure his airline stayed front of mind with prospective customers.
“You need to take the mickey out of your competitors,” he said.
“One day I got a call saying that British Airways had been sponsoring this massive wheel that was going to go up outside the Houses of Parliament [the London Eye], and they had technical problems. They had all the world’s press there, it was lying flat on the ground, and I’d been woken up at six in the morning to be told this.
“I thanked the person and then rang up our airship company that was just outside London, and I scrambled the airship, and I think we might have a picture... [a picture was displayed showing the airship directly over the London Eye, with a message reading ‘BA can’t get it up!!’]. Anyway, we got the front pages, not British Airways!”
Yet it’s not just about product or image; making a real difference in the lives of your customers and the world at large delivers the greatest success in business, Mr Branson said.
“Most companies make a big difference to other people’s lives, otherwise they wouldn’t exist,” he stated.
“Businesspeople are generally much more entrepreneurial than politicians or the social sector, and I think businesspeople can see problems in this world with much greater clarity sometimes than the social sector or the politicians.”
He added: “If it’s a small business ... find out in your local community who is suffering, who needs to be helped, and make a difference in your local community. If you’re a slightly bigger business, make a difference nationally.”
Image courtesy Virgin Group.