politics

Will Brexit damage ‘Brand Britain’ or British brands?

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.

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Trust me, I’m a politician.

We are about to see the unedifying sight of our political parties trying to polish their brand images ready for an election. It brings me back to the two types of brand knowledge: the declarative, pragmatic knowledge that we handle consciously, by high-involvement processing and then the emotional, meta-knowledge that we do not handle at a conscious level but use low-involvement processing. The former type of knowledge is assembled by our perceptions and is susceptible to communications, including advertising and PR messages. But still there is our emotional view of the parties which cannot easily be manipulated even by the cleverest of campaigns.

As with all brands it is about core values, and I am concerned that our current distrust of politicians of every stripe may have seriously blunted the effectiveness of any brand communications in the coming round. Our emotional representation of their core values may prove to be more powerful than any overt messages.

It looks like being a very interesting few months and my gut feeling is that the successful parties will be the ones who take those core emotional values as a starting point and build their communications upon them. Anyone who starts with the approach of, ‘Trust me…’ is off on the wrong foot, I’m afraid.

Has everyone gone brand mad?

I love the way the world has embraced the concept of the brand – after all, it helps pay my mortgage, but at times I just wonder if the media has gone rather over the top?

The press is now full of the concept of ‘brands’: the latest I heard was in the US Primaries where they were talking about the Hilary Clinton ‘brand’. I found myself thinking about whether this is justified and are all the examples we hear really justified as brands? I started trying to arrive a sound working definition of a brand – without a great deal of success. As I marketer I understand the concept of a brand, its relationship to corporate personality, brand structure and products. But clearly, entities that exist outside the marketing framework (in its strictest sense) can be considered as brands. I battered my brain for a while considering whether the ‘Clinton brand’ is in fact a brand, or a product.

Finally I fell back on the concept of brand ownership – who owns the brand? The brand is, of course, owned by the public. So, it is logical to consider that brands are in fact emergent. If the public consider it to be a brand – if it looks like a brand, smells like a brand and tastes like brand, chances are it is a brand.