Richard Branson’s Virgin empire incorporates a broad range of brands and companies that take in travel, TV, music and spaceships.

All these disparate businesses have their own websites, but the overall corporation is represented by

This site has undergone a huge transformation in the past 10 years, morphing from a simple web portal into a content-rich site that aims to epitomise the Virgin brand experience.

At Econsultancy’s JUMP conference last week, which formed part of the Festival of Marketing, Virgin’s Bob Fear described how the site was redesigned by the content team working hand-in-hand with data scientists.

Fear’s team consists of journalists and writers, so the thought of working with big data appeared somewhat confounding at first.

However after working with an external agency, Fear’s team was able to create a new content strategy based on analysis of its audience behaviour. 

The data analysis formed the foundation of what we were doing, but my team then put the creative spin on it and worked out the stories we needed to tell to appeal to our target audience.

Here’s how they did it...

The brief

At the outset the brief for redesigning needed to satisfy three criteria:

  1. Incorporates all of the Virgin companies and its heritage.
  2. Brings to life the brand purpose in a way that resonates with current social conversations.
  3. Unites Virgin’s diverse offerings under a single unifying theme.

From 2003 too 2009 the site was simply a portal to Virgin’s other companies, but it was then relaunched with a focus on content – however it made no use of data, "the team just wrote about what they felt was important for the brand."

To try and improve the situation and come up with a more targeted content strategy, Fear’s team began working with Beyond who set about understanding’s audience.

The initial phase involved creating an interest graph for the site’s users based on:

  • What people search for.
  • What they follow on social platforms.
  • The views and interests they express online.

Beyond then analysed conversation and interest graphs to understand the audience’s needs, motivations, emotions, frustrations and goals.

Further to that, the data team conducted conversational analysis to assess:

  1. Which conversations drove traffic?
  2. What content and messaging converted most effectively?
  3. What audience segments have the most potential for increased traffic?
  4. Where the brand love is around Virgin?
  5. Which conversations align with the brand purpose?
  6. The importance of Richard Branson’s social presence.

The findings were then collated to inform what type of experience would serve the needs of distinct audiences: influencers, partners, existing customers and potential consumers.

The result was this flow chart:

Content & conversation analysis

The next step was to run content and conversation analysis around

On the content side, this involved looking at:

  • What content areas associated with Virgin and its brands are currently resonating with customers who are active online?
  • Which blog content resonates with those who view it?
  • Who is viewing blog content and how do they arrive at the site?

Then the research questions for conversation analysis were:

  • Which content themes are most frequently discussed in relation to Virgin in organic conversation?
  • What is the sentiment towards Virgin in each content area conversation?
  • Where and why are these conversations occurring?
  • How associated are different conversations with Virgin vs. Richard Branson?

Analysis of the content and conversation data resulted in five recommendations for how Virgin should reorganise the new site:

  1. Organise more clearly around social.
  2. Explore what is resonating within entrepreneurship, music and sustainability conversations.
  3. Use space travel not as an overall content strategy, but as a buzz-generating tactic.
  4. Design campaigns that get people involved with sustainability.
  5. Explore travel as a potential ingredient in Virgin’s content proposition, but not fitness as conversations tend to be short-lived (e.g. “I just had a great workout.”)

Target groups

The next phase of Fear’s work involved identifying which content areas and target audiences are strategically important for

This then allowed the team to come up with a content strategy that would appeal to its target market.

Entrepreneurship and music are two categories that one would readily associate with Virgin thanks to Richard Branson and his history in the music business, but Fear also discovered that space travel was one of the main conversation drivers around the brand.

As a result, the content team targeted three different audience segments:

Virgin has different content strategies for each of these groups:


  • The content involves insight and advice from entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs, inspired by Richard’s values and Virgin’s purpose.
  • The strategy also involved working with influencers in this area, such as @kevinrose, @mikebutcher and @missrogue, and brands including TechHub and Seedcamp.


  • Backed by Virgin’s musical heritage, the content is focused on the emerging technologies, trends and artists that are changing the industry for the better.
  • Influencers in this area include @soundboy, @sparker and @stevenlevy, and brands such as Spotify and Songkick.


  • In the wake of Virgin’s spaceship business, the team aimed to focus on outstanding travel and tourism innovations that will benefit the customer’s experience.
  • Influencers in this area include @elonmusk, @peterdiamandis and @Cmdr_Hadfield, and brands such as Tnooz and Virgin Galactic.

Finally, Bob and his team came up with an overarching, unified content strategy:

The aim is for Virgin’s content to “become the catalyst that spurs people into action- to change the game of music, travel and entrepreneurship for good.”

Bob Fear’s full slide deck, which includes further details of the methodology used, will be available on the Econsultancy website by the end of this week.

David Moth

Published 14 October, 2013 by David Moth

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn

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Comments (6)

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Cat Fyson

Hi David,

This is a great case study for any business formulating their content plans. As such a huge brand, they have a plethora of data to work with, but there's no reason why a smaller brand couldn't implement the same tactics on a smaller scale.

I'm glad that the piece highlights a few of the key influencers as well, influencer outreach and engagement is increasingly important and has close ties to content strategy.

Many thanks for sharing.

almost 5 years ago


Rob Sapp

Great piece. There is so much noise out there these days regarding web,search,data etc. At the end of the day the effective websites seem to the simplest and offer the easiest navigation by the user. Looks like Virgin provides us with a road map worth following.


almost 5 years ago


Veronika B

Finally, a clear case study to demonstrate the content strategy thinking process without unnecessary marketing jargon. A piece to share with those wanting to understand how content strategy works.

Look forward to the deck!

almost 5 years ago



Great insights!
Where can I find the mentioned full slide deck?

over 4 years ago



Hi David,

Thanks for this article, it made think however. What about the DIY specialist or the sme group of businesses? Do you think its possible to develop such highly structured strategies for the smaller guys?

Virgin competes against a few huge players in the market.. so the competition is limited in its own right, purely because the smaller fish in the proverbial pond simply are not up there along side them. For the smaller sme type companies its a LOT more competitive and

The principles above I do agree with but perhaps the smaller companies out there need to learn about customer experience and work more actively to collect this information to be able to create the right content strategies..

I would say that very few smaller companies have taken steps to collect data in the first place. Old school sales orientated strategies seem to be the order of the day.

Thanks again for a great article.. reposted and shared!

over 4 years ago


Christopher Breedlove, Director at Mr. Breedlove Media

Wish that I could view that slide deck.....2 years later....

about 3 years ago

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