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Meet Virgin’s brand director

Meet Virgin's brand director
My name’s James Tipple. I’m the brand director for Virgin Group looking after the European region. Virgin’s a fascinating business. From starting as Virgin Records, we now operate in over 30 countries around the world with over 60 businesses over 50 million customers and 50,000 members of staff. What we do at the centre here is fundamentally about defining, developing, and protecting the brand so that we can help the businesses that we currently work with and currently supply have more value to them but also look at where we can take the brand in the future.
And a lot of what we do today is driven by Richard’s purpose of setting up Virgin in the beginning, which was to make a difference in the world and to make people’s lives better. And we still take that purpose through to what we do today. There’s a big difference between brand and marketing. Brand is about, like I said, really understanding why you exist, what you’re here for. What do you come to work to do every day? And that impacts, like I said, culture. It impacts your business strategy. It impacts what your office environment might look. It impacts how you communicate. It impact your marketing communications.
Whereas marketing is very much around how do you communicate what your purpose, what your why is, what your brand’s all about to the people that you want to talk to. And what you find more and more is that marketing is, particularly in the digital age, expected be very, very ROI-driven, very, very driven within the financial year. I think the trick for the marketers today is to make sure that they are helping their business, hitting their business objectives but not getting too short-term in their thinking, that they’re working with the brand team to understand what their purpose looks like in 3, 5, 10 years’ time. A typical day in my life. OK.
I would say I probably spend about half of my time travelling. And a typical travelling day might be that I’m meeting with some Virgin companies in the morning to go through what they’re working from a business point of view, look at how they’re thinking about marketing the brand and using the brand in their businesses, but then also sharing some ideas from what I’m seeing about where the brand is working well across the world, and maybe bringing that to bear and looking at examples of how we can use best practice across the group to support those businesses. It might be then going to a meeting with a new business partner we might be thinking of getting into a partnership with.
And again, that would be to understand their business and their ambitions from their business and seeing how the Virgin brand may or may not complement what they’re trying to do, whether it’s a partner we’d want to work with or whether we’re a brand that they’d want to work with. I would then also probably spend some time with the central team. And that could be any number of people across the centre. It could be working with our digital team, who are responsible for making sure the brand is represented and reflected in the right way in the social space. And of course, they look after Richard’s social space as well.
And then it could be having a conversation with some of my colleagues around the world, just catching up with them about brand strategy. Again, it could be sharing best practice or preparing for our next group get-together, which could be getting a forum of CMOs together. It could be getting a bunch of social people together to do a hackathon. And so that would probably be a fairly typical day, so something that probably touches on working with the operating businesses, something that touches on working with the business development or the investment team, and then something that touches on what we do at group and what we’re thinking about at a group level.

Meet James Tipple, brand director for Europe, at Virgin. James is based in Geneva, but we caught up with him at Virgin’s offices in London. As you hear about his working life, think more generally about the role of the brand director, or chief brand officer.

How much do they need to get involved in their company’s wider social purpose?

How does their job fit in with that of the marketing director?

And what’s their dominant style of interaction with colleagues: directing, reviewing, facilitating, persuading, or what?

(Since this film was made, James has moved on to start up a completely new business in the Virgin family.)

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The Secret Power of Brands

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