Brand Britain – an interesting article in Catalyst

An article in the latest edition of “Catalyst”, the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s quarterly magazine for members, spoke to various marketing people about “Brand Britain” after Brexit. Unfortunately, it’s not available online – but here’s a quick summary from me and a couple more thoughts. It would be great to hear what you think.

So here goes – don’t shoot the messenger. I’m only relaying what was written in the article.

What the article says

  1. British identity is changing and there is no single “Brand Britain”.
  2. Brands can take a role in reshaping British identity post-Brexit.
  3. Some see Brexit as an opportunity to reboot Brand Britain;
  4. … others counsel caution – because Brexit is very divisive within Britain.
  5. What Britain stands for is unknown – what the government does from now on could derail Brand Britain.
  6. Whatever happens, borrowing Brand Britain isn’t as simple as before: you have to communicate clearly which “British” values your brand shares.
  7. People are looking for reassurance, continuity and familiarity after all the upset of the past year.
  8. Marketers within the UK could appeal to a surge in national pride to emphasise preferring local suppliers, boosting skills at home.
  9. “Brand Britain” is one of the “most recognisable, enduring and powerful identities in the world.”
  10. Oh, and all the uncertainty around changing regulations possibly cutting the UK off from its biggest market.

What I think

There’s a lot I could say about this, but my main point is that Britain possibly has a disconnect between its identity and its brand in the world at large. Yes, I believe people do associate Britain with positive virtues, which possibly differ from one country to the next. I also think this will endure despite Brexit (Iraq, the Suez Crisis and centuries of empire have left Britain’s brand still largely positive).

But there are negatives. It’s a famously British trait to brush bad news under the carpet and some people are doing that now. Some argue that not understanding Britain’s perception in the former colonies (i.e. many resent the Brits) has led to an overconfidence in our ability to negotiate trade deals to replace the trade we do with the EU. So thinking we have a global, outward-looking perspective might actually prevent us from having one in the long run. Also, Britain’s empire mentality means it’s not used to listening to what others think about it, but instead shouting loudly on the world stage and expecting others to listen.

Another publication by the Chartered Institute of Marketing shows that marketers are reflexing to an inward-looking appeal to British pride: 55% see Brexit as the biggest challenge for 2017 (followed by 46% who fear a Brexit-induced recession) and 54% think we will see more proud-to-be-British-type marketing; 19% are already working on such campaigns. Doing so is clearly a lot easier than reflecting on Britain’s role in the modern world. In my opinion, this may work internally within Britain, but it’s not the global, outward-looking mentality that Britain seeks to embody. There is a danger that this will bleed into Britain’s global image. Germans, for example, seem more ready to wave and wear the British flag than their own. But if Britain becomes seen as inward-looking and nationalistic, this will begin to clash with Germans’ staunch Europeanism and discomfort with symbols of national identity.

My final point would be a bit of advice for people using Brand Britain, especially abroad. If you’re thinking about your marketing strategy for the next three or five years, I’d be cautious about overusing Brand Britain. I think people still react positively towards the UK, but there’s such turmoil at the moment that nobody knows which way things will go.

If you’re addressing non-British customers, then make sure you accompany your claim to Britishness with a strong affirmation of whatever values you have. As mentioned in the Catalyst article (point 6, above), don’t assume everyone knows which Brand Britain you’re talking about.

If you’re addressing Brits abroad, bear in mind that Brexit and British politics are very divisive at the moment , so unless you know what you’re doing it’s probably best to steer clear of it.

What do you think/know about Britain as a brand? Tell me in the comments, or on my Facebook page: https://facebook.com/johnheavenmarketing.