Fortnum & Mason boss, Ewan Venters, claimed “brand Britain has been firmly damaged” by Brexit and the uncertainty it has brought.
It’s evident that the political and economic picture painted during the aftermath of the referendum is not an edifying one. However, it may not be accurate to tie ‘Brand Britain’ too closely to British brands. Brand Britain is a signifier for a set of values and qualities whose influence on products and services created in the nation may be far more tenuous.
Looking at the world in general we see a social, political and financial turmoil which does not seem to impact brands. Germany, USA, Japan and others are hardly enjoying a smooth ride on the world-stage, but brands such as BMW, Apple and Toyota seem relatively unaffected.
It is curious that national cultural characteristics are often associated with brands, yet political dimensions seem to be overlooked by the consumer, except where they impact norms of social responsibility. While the use of child labour, endangering life and limb or flouting environmental legislation may result in brand damage, governmental disasters or ineptitude appear to inhabit a separate realm.
I worked on major UK brands during past economic storms more damaging than those that Brexit portends – yet none seemed to suffer in terms of brand stature. That is not to say that profit performance was not affected by political climate and activity, but brand values and attributes were little affected.
In the consumer’s mind, brands exist in a different emotional category to that of national brands – such as so-called, ‘Brand Britain’. Fortnum’s do not seem to be suffering so far, despite Mr Venters’s warnings – posting a 14% rise in sales to £113m in the previous year with pre-tax profits rising 23p% to £7.6m.
International appetites for quality British brands are unlikely to be diminished by either the complexities of negotiations in Brussels or their outcome.
While politicians and economists negotiate, ponder and speculate, businesses and brand stewards will just get on with the job. It’s time for them to get on with brand dimensions they can affect. Businesses can be far more responsive to change than governments ever can.