Regardless of where you stand on it, and on the 11 Conservative MPs who rebelled and handed Theresa May her first Brexit defeat this week, we all have to come to terms with the impending reality of our exit from the EU and its impact on our reputation and image as a nation.
Brand Britain’s strength lies in its resolve and ability to ride the storm and continually punch above its weight.
For some, Brexit signals an abandonment of what we’ve built into our brand: that we are rich with diversity, creativity, and worldliness. For others, it is a sign of our growing strength and determination to stand apart as a confident, independent nation.
The most important market for Brand Britain is to those beyond our borders. A weaker pound has therefore opened us up to more business, resulted in booming exports and crowds of international visitors.
However, Brexit obviously means more for us on this island than it does to the rest of the world. At home, we still feel the uncertainty and nervousness about what’s yet to come. At home is where the impact of Brexit will be felt the most.
As a brand, we need to reestablish our sense of pride and solidarity in the face of growing distance and disconnection with each other and the wider world.
When it comes to British brands, they must avoid navel-gazing.
Yes, we know it’s coming, and yes, it will make an impact, but it is critical in these times that our brands look ahead, raise their game, and demonstrate the strength and stature of what Brand Britain is capable of.
Just as our politicians need to wake up to realities of the British people, so too do the brands that communicate and engage with us.
First up is the social imperative for British brands to stand firm. Consumers value reliability and predictability during times of change, and a brand that holds its nerve and stays true to its message can offer a sense of stability to its customers.
People remain loyal to brands because they are good at what they do. Brexit won’t demand a reinvention of our brands, but it will present a new landscape that they will need to navigate where product quality trumps provenance.
Quality, service and craftsmanship are crucial.
Fortunately, in the case of some of the most loved British brands – Sainsbury’s, M&S, Burberry, BBC, Cadbury – those attributes are intrinsically linked. They demonstrate leadership and expertise as well as being familiar and safe, but there is the opportunity for British brands to build upon and develop positive associations for a new era, inject more ingenuity, eccentricity, rebelliousness and wit to tap into a fresher notion of Britishness.
The biggest change I’ve seen so far has been from brands like Sainsbury’s, in creating a spirit of optimism and playfulness, that is the precise antidote we Brits need to the seriousness we’ve faced in these highly political times.
With the right attitude, British brands can not only survive Brexit, but turn it into an opportunity to do what we do so well: put our best foot forward, and engage with the world.