With the ongoing uncertainty of Brexit and the identity crisis that Britain faces, perhaps there’s never been a better time than now to reflect on our past, consider the present and most importantly, plan for the future of Brand Britain.
Taking sides on Brexit – or commenting at all – is something most brands have shied away from. However, in their latest campaign HSBC have put forward their vision of a diverse and inclusive 21st century Britain.
Not so long ago, HSBC had a hugely successful line in “The World’s Local Bank”. But in 2011, a massive cost cutting exercise signalled the end for this position. Smaller branches and in fact entire territories were eventually wrapped up, which meant that by 2016 HSBC was neither spanning the “world” nor was it as “local” as its strapline suggested.
This latest campaign, particularly amidst the current climate, forms the perfect vehicle to launch HSBC’s new position, “Together We Thrive.” But for all its astute and inclusive observations, it does leave the viewer wondering what Britain does well, other than buying things in from other countries. If you were being particularly difficult you could say the ad is more of a eulogy for the decline of manufacturing in Britain rather than a celebration of its post-Brexit future.
In years gone by, Britain was known for its industrial clout and worldwide exports that were largely owed to its sprawling empire and murky industrial revolution. In fact in 1870, the UK accounted for a massive 9.1% of the world’s GDP. But times have changed, and ever since the second half of the 20th century our influence on the rest of the world has wained. No longer are we the home of manufacturing or a land rich in natural resources. Industries such as textiles, steel and shipbuilding have long since faded from major employers and the heartbeat of communities to simply remnants of a bygone era.
But there is progress, in 2018 the land that once built the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the QE2, is now more likely to be creating groundbreaking apps, delivering orders the same day or providing world-class financial services.
While industries and demands have changed, Brand Britain has remained relatively strong and stable. The same principles of craftsmanship and innovation that have resonated with importers for hundreds of years, are now being utilised through different products and services.
In the same way that ‘made in Germany’ is synonymous with efficiency and smart production lines (okay, we’re generalising here), ‘made in Britain’ has its own unique meaning and symbolism within the global marketplace. As a hallmark of quality, sincerity and honesty, ‘made in Britain’ heavily contrasts with the perception of countries such as China and Taiwan.
Even away from traditional manufacturing, service-led offerings from British based businesses provide a certain quality and luxury guarantee that is largely absent from most other cultures. Importers know they are buying into something that has been tried and tested to specific standards, and delivered by people with time-served skills and hard-earned qualifications.
However, for all the Harrods, Cadbury’s and Jaguars, Britain is failing to deliver in terms of the Global 500. Not one British business sits in the top 50, and just a solitary three appear in the top 100 of the world’s most valuable brands. This highlights the perception rather than value of Brand Britain, but while it doesn’t make good reading for monetary value or global influence, it does highlight that Brand Britain is effectively Brexit and recession proof. How long that will last for is another debate for another day.
Holding the key to intellectual property
With heavy industry being resigned to just a few sporadic sites across the UK, new businesses and start-ups hold the key to intellectual property and sustainable growth.
One aspect that recessions, legislations and tariffs can’t impact upon is human creativity and ground-breaking ideas. Even countries where workers are exploited and poor conditions are common place, can’t compete with the creativity and ingenious minds of artists, designers and inventors.
You don’t have to be a die-hard patriot to know that no matter how simple or complex, Britons have been responsible for some of the world’s most important inventions. Think cats eyes, light bulbs, televisions, telephones and the humble toothbrush. All have been thought of and put into production on these shores.
Where today we see China lead the way in production, we are still seeing the UK and western countries lead the way in intellectual property. This all adds to Brand Britain, and if we can spread these positive creative possibilities, we should be at the forefront of new ideas and industries for years to come.
Thoughts for the future
The beauty of Brand Britain is that it hasn’t being forcefully created or contrived by a team of marketing gurus in an office with a SW postcode. From family businesses and corner shops to cutting-edge design and national chains, Brand Britain has been authentically built on centuries of quality and innovation, and that’s one thing that can’t be manufactured. And it’s this time-served reputation that will stand the UK and its industries in good stead, regardless of the political landscape, exporting constraints or industry changes.
British business and Brand Britain as a whole can’t rest on its laurels or rely on history and heritage. We must ensure our products and services remain relevant to demand and are of significant, market-leading quality and value. And while under the current conditions businesses can’t compete with the price tag of many lesser developed countries, we can compete and excel in quality craftsmanship, innovative processes and first-class service.
If we were to undertake a refresh of Brand Britain, we would of course start by interviewing those who work most closely with Britain. If this were the case, we might well be talking to our nearest neighbours and inevitably we would unearth both positive and negative soundbites.
The French have an interesting phrase about Britain, “La perfide Albion.” It suggests that we ultimately cannot be trusted or relied upon because we’re fundamentally selfish as a nation, at a very deep level. There are times in our history where Britain, at its worst, has shown a tendency to be short termist, inward looking, opportunistic.
But at our best, Britain is bold, accepting, pragmatic, entrepreneurial, inventive and ultimately we are fighters. Without us there wouldn’t have been an industrial revolution. If we can continue to harness these positive values to our modern skillset, Brand Britain could stand for a hell of a lot more than the world’s number one customer of things made in other places.
Agree with our take on Brand Britain in 2018? Let us know your thoughts by joining the conversation on Twitter by tweeting @better_studio with hashtag #BetterBrandBritain.