"Bad" businesses can be good for the brand.
Branson uses his "bad" businesses to promote his good ones. He's spending freely to remodel Virgin's music stores even though CDs may be obsolete. Why? With 15 million young customers, they're a marketing vehicle for profitable new ventures such as Virgin Mobile.
Be the brand.
Branson's success comes largely from personifying the Virgin brand. He's 54 and Virgin is in its fourth decade, but the man and his brand still act very young: They're cheeky, irreverent, and outrageous.
The brand is a big idea, not a narrow niche.
Experts say a brand should represent a specific product category. Branson infuriates them because he has made Virgin represent an image and a lifestyle that stretches across a spectrum of products.
Forget the "first mover" advantage.
The experts say that the first company in a category has a big advantage, but Branson consistently enters businesses late and finds ways to improve them.
A version of this article appeared in the October 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.