The drop in sterling has been great news for UK exporters. Figures out last week show that foreign demand for British vehicles has boomed for example, producing the best August the automotive manufacturing industry has seen for 14 years. The demand for British goods is as strong as ever, and despite the doomsayers’ warnings our brand is thriving.
Sophie Devonshire, chief executive at The Caffeine Partnership, thinks “Britishness” will always be a selling point. “The heritage appeal of great British brands is still a solid basis”, she says. “One of the challenges of taking a brand international is that those which feel rootless can often look like they lack authenticity. Links to a British backdrop are seen as interesting, and have a confident association with a history.”
Rob Kniaz, an American venture capitalist at London-based Hoxton Ventures, has been in the UK for the last ten years and believes that “there’s a special charm of Britishness and a high quality of life that continues to attract business to Britain, and I think we’ve done a good job of adapting traditional values to global demands”. When it comes to technology in particular, the UK remains the face of Europe, with numerous companies exporting a British success story around the world, says Kniaz. He mentions, as an example, app-based takeaway service Deliveroo, which he was an early investor in.
Brexit has delivered some uncertainty, however. Another American, India Garry-Martin, a former JP Morgan managing director who went on to found luxury cosmetics brand Only Fingers and Toes, is taking her business stateside after living in the UK for 25 years. She says that investment in the British brand has been tarnished by the prevailing uncertainty of Brexit.
“Joe Public has been lulled into a false sense of security” she says, and “a lot of investors have put on pause – if they don’t know what’s going to happen, the UK is suddenly not as attractive – and I don’t have the luxury of waiting for Brexit to pass”.
“The full impact on Britain’s global reputation following its vote to leave the EU will take some time to filter through”, says Ben Page, chief executive of pollster Ipsos Mori. “So far, of 16 major economies, only in Russia do a majority of people think it’s a good thing for Britain.
“Of course, if the UK manages to continue rapid economic growth and to support a vibrant arts sector and outward-facing diplomatic posture, all these anxieties may be proven groundless – we just don’t know yet”.
So what can marketers and businesses do to ensure that Brand Britain retains its talent, investment and success? Devonshire believes the #Londonisopen campaign is the right approach. She says “it’s a great example of pride going hand-in-hand with openness – and it was done fast. We must be responsive, creative and open to the future.”
Britishness is an enviable export – a sense of heritage and identity that much of the world will always want a piece of. As we negotiate out exit from the EU, we to need to remember what the British brand means not just to us, but to those that visit and take a slice home.
India Gary-Martin and Ben Page will be appearing at the Festival of Marketing on 6th October, to discuss 'Brand Britain' - What does it mean now.