BC tip: Virgin Group - Taking a view

A UK CEO’s blog post on Brexit offers lessons for other companies wanting to cut through online noise.


The Site

Richard Branson, co-founder of the Virgin Group, the UK investment conglomerate, has a blog on the company’s website, called ‘Richard’.

After the UK voted last week to leave the European Union, he wrote a post, ‘Calling for Parliament to take a second look at the EU referendum’. He criticised the UK’s Leave campaign for misleading the public, said that the vote was based on ‘false promises’, and urged people to sign a petition calling on Parliament to re-run the vote.

The Takeaway

Branson’s post takes a clear position on a controversial political issue, something many companies will be hesitant about. Branson’s forays into social media are not always so interesting, as we have noted here.

However, several companies we know are grappling with the question of how to gain traction for their online content amid all the noise. Addressing issues with a defined ‘point of view’ is one of the ways to do this, and ‘not being boring’ is another, both of which Branson accomplishes with his Brexit piece.

Organizations struggle to take clear-cut opinions for cultural reasons (reticence to stick heads above parapets) and practical reasons (no time to blog, worried about backlash). Your CEO does not have to go as far as having a public view on Brexit to be interesting – a clear-cut and compellingly argued take on, for example, an industry issue can be just as valuable for getting attention online.


Brexit: the online communications challenge

The web is awash with comment, analysis and downright hysteria about UK voters' decision to leave the European Union. But how, I wondered, are companies at the potentially sharp end of Brexit using their corporate websites to explain the implications and calm customers' and investors' nerves? I had a trawl to find out...


This UK-based bank takes an unflashy but clear and effective approach - devoting the top half of its global home page to Brexit (see the screenshot below). The headline is clear, while a crisp standfirst includes a quote from Jes Stanley, the group CEO, designed to assure clients that Barclays is unruffled.

A clear call to action button - ‘Read more from Jes Stanley’ – leads to a cleanly laid out extended statement from Stanley, plus a short FAQ covering Barclays’ Brexit planning and its potential impact. Good - though the images on both this page and the home page are rather pedestrian.

Goldman Sachs:

Like Barclays, this investment banking giant also puts Brexit centre stage on its home page. But rather than promoting an article about it, Goldman Sachs invites visitors to listen to the latest edition of its regular podcasts, in which the firm’s chief European economist is interviewed in depth about the implications of the UK referendum.

While Barclays’ communications priority is reassuring customers and investors about Brexit, Goldman Sachs’ goal is to show off its knowledge and expertise on the implications for the global socioeconomic environment. The audio interview format works well here.


Thanks to an embedded Twitter feed, visitors to this banking behemoth's global home page (and News and Insight section landing page) are presented with quotes from chairman Douglas Flint on HSBC’s willingness and ability to steer itself and its customers through the post-Brexit world. But during our visits on June 29th, there was little other prominently signposted material on the topic.


Visitors to this UK-based bank’s home page looking for reassurance about Brexit will be disappointed: there is nothing at all about the issue. Users must visit the site’s News and Opinion section to find relevant material. But even here all they’ll initially find – buried below the scroll line on a standard desktop monitor – is a comment piece on the impact on the economy at large: nothing on RBS’s response, or the implications for customers. Scrolling down even further is a two-sentence June 24th press release assuring customers that daily banking won’t be affected. But as of June 29th, no more detail than that. Poor.

Lloyds Banking Group

This bank takes silence on the EU referendum a step further than RBS – there is nothing at all on the home page, or in the Media & Resource Centre.

As it has among politicians, it appears that last week's referendum result caught some online communications teams unawares. 

- Scott Payton

'Vote Leave' or 'Vote Remain' – who has the best campaign website?

A few months ago, I had a trawl through the campaign websites for Hilary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz to see what lessons corporate web managers could learn from them. As a referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union fast approaches, I decided to do the same for the ‘Vote Leave’ and ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ campaigns.

First up, the campaign for leaving the EU:

The official site is easy to find – it was the top hit in a depersonalized UK Google search for ‘Vote Leave’.

The first thing visitors see on arrival is an embedded YouTube video that automatically starts playing. Potentially fine – but the site’s designers assume that visitors have their audio switched on. If they haven’t (because they’re sitting in an office, for example), the video doesn’t make any sense.

Below the video is a more successful feature: a twelve-digit figure showing ‘UK contributions to the EU’, which shoots up at an appropriately alarming rate as the visitor stares at it.

Further down the long-scrolling home page, things fizzle out.

A horizontal panel of graphical links to articles and videos is difficult to scan due to unwise use of white font on light images.

Text-only ‘facts about the EU’ are too wordy to digest quickly.

A heading ‘Tell us why you are Vote Leave’ is grammatically inelegant.

Yet deeper in the site, there are some nice touches.

A ‘Briefing Room’ section makes clever use of icons to label links to specific topics, such as ‘Security’ and ‘Immigration’.

A ‘Get Involved’ area houses a pleasingly straightforward application form for those who want to help with fundraising and campaigning.

And the entire (fully responsive) site is looks good and works well on a mobile phone. Indeed, it displays better on a small screen than a big one.

The 'Vote Leave' home page

The 'Vote Leave' home page


On now to the less snappily-titled ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ campaign:

This name is a drawback on search engines. Our Google searches for ‘Vote Remain’ failed to bring up the campaign site on the first results page; users must type in the full campaign title to find it.

There are plenty lessons for corporate web managers on the home page – but mainly on things to avoid.

The main headline is in a white font, overlaid across rotating images that often make it hard to read. (Like Vote Leave, this campaign seems to be struggling with making a red, white and blue colour scheme work well on a screen.)

A mobile-style hamburger icon hides the primary navigation menu, even on a desktop screen.

Multitudes of block-capital headlines clutter the page, compete for the visitor’s attention and drown each other out.

A still image in an embedded video panel is blurred.

Britain may well be stronger in Europe, but it’s the Brexit campaign that is strongest online.

The 'Britain Stronger in Europe' home page

The 'Britain Stronger in Europe' home page

By Scott Payton