Category Archives: brand Britain

London 2012 – the best Brand Britain could have hoped for.

As a Brit, particularly one who is keen on sports, I find myself swelling with pride at the performance of both the 2012 Olympic committee and the British athletes.  In short, from planning through building to competing, we nailed it!  However, as a marketer I’m even more delighted to see signs that whoever is driving this also knows what to do next – because, when you’ve invested 14billion quid in something there has to be a “next”.

I’ve said before that one of the reasons that countries like the US and Australia have in the past achieved such high national branding equity is that they have used their sporting successes as a vehicle for campaigns designed to boost national pride.  I’m a great fan of  events of any kind designed to generate publicity for my client’s brands and I have invested heavily over the years in initiatives designed to grab press attention.  To be honest I had not really expected the Brits to rise to this occasion.  After all, we are renown for not blowing our own trumpet.  However, London 2012 has been an astounding success and the media have been managed better than I think anyone could have hoped.  The UK habit of highlighting negatives like shortage of security personnel and drugs cheats, rightly failed to gain traction, and once the medals started flowing the PR guys were out of the blocks like Usain Bolt, steering the hacks in the right direction.  This is looking like  PR as it should be, but there’s far more mileage in this yet and managing the post-event campaign is a whole new challenge.

Its easy to see why, when the soccer-players of our football-mad nation are better at rolling around on the floor than they are scoring goals, the masses become cynical, but I think the great British public have received a really well orchestrated education in the last couple of weeks in the hardship, grueling challenges and absolute dedication demonstrated by champions worthy of the name.  We’ve had our attention drawn to the personal stories of real heroes we never knew we had.  We Brits have certainly had our values re-aligned and now the marketers have something to work with.

It will be interesting to see how government and commercial enterprises responds to this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build national brand equity.  There is nothing like sport to engage a community, kids love it, young adults rise to the challenge and even armchair sportsfolks get behind it, as we have seen over the last couple of weeks.  Will we have an even bigger squad of champions in 2016?  There’s no reason why not, but there’s whole lot more that Brand Britain can gain from this both domestically and internationally.  Its up to the marketers, politicians and organisers to rise to the challenge set by our new sports heroes.

Building Brand Britain

Over that last week or so, prompted by the UK riots, we Brits have listened to endless analyses and proclamations by local community members, civil servants and politicians centred on fixing our “broken society”.  As always with these situations, there has been plenty of scepticism heaped on the potential any new initiative has for success.  However, there is only one real obstacle to all the remedial plans announced by David Cameron and others and that’s motivation.

I believe that Dave is a good motivator and getting better, he talks sense, even though his opponent Ed Miliband, seems intent on trying to neutralise that with mindless and responsible political point-scoring.  (If I were him I’d shut up before people started to realise that it’s the left-wing, crap that his party has expounded for decades that has given certain sectors of society the idea that they have rights they haven’t earned and therefore created this disaffection).

The marketers among us will recognise the task facing us as brand-building and as anybody reading this blog over the last few years will know building Brand Britain is one of my pet subjects. The problem is that we have singularly failed to respond to the obvious need to develop Brand Britain and we still don’t have the right people in harness to tackle the job.  Forget the political masseurs, data-analysis’s and bean-counters, where are the marketers in the team?  Without them we won’t get past first base because the people who are currently in the driving seat simply don’t get it.

Over the past few years I have approached politicians, government departments, local councils and private enterprises with initiatives designed to help build Brand Britain.  In many cases, because I have always believed that unemployment and local business initiatives are both inextricably linked and critical to the cause, these initiatives have addressed local unemployment, been designed to strengthen communities and help the mid-sized local businesses who are the key to the future of our nation, shift up a gear and take on the world.

The responses I have received from the public sector jobs-worths in particular, though unsurprising have been nonetheless frustrating.  Unimaginative Job Centre Plus employees civil servants and local councillors have simply disregarded projects and initiatives as representing just another unwelcome task.  There’s no point and very little scope for public sector workers like these to adopt an initiative that’s not dictated letter by letter from Whitehall because their world isn’t a meritocracy.  Why should they take on something they aren’t compelled to?  There’s nothing in it for them.  Besides, these people aren’t employed for their creativity and they are entombed in a culture that actively discourages any kind of creative thinking, so expecting them to appreciate any concept is always an ask too far.

Life skills that should have been taught throughout a person’s school life, if not at the cradle, are belatedly outsourced by Job Centre Plus to HR and recruitment companies.  I’ve spoken to a few of these contractors.  They view these projects with the glee of a paedophile assigned to changing room duty at kids swimming gala and submit proposals that represent minimal input and maximum income for them with the balls-out cheek that comes from knowing the people assigning these projects don’t have the first idea what they are doing and are just relieved to have a tick in the “assigned” box.  When I have gone to these organisations to volunteer help and advice, the response has been eerily uniform and something to the effect that “…we‘ve managed to blag the approval of the JCP people for this half-baked programme, so there’s nothing in it for us if we actually do the job properly”.

These are the kinds of issues that will threaten any British brand development programme and unless someone wakes up pretty quickly and recognises that we ARE building a brand and therefore need to follow the appropriate process, we are destined to failure once again.  That means someone (Dave will do) having a clear picture of what Brand Britain looks like and starting with the mother of all internal marketing campaigns that will bring the public sector and government puppet masters into line behind the concept.  The public are motivated, the players are listening and we’re unlikely to find ourselves with a better promise of success for a brand building venture than now this side of World War Three.

Brand Britain or Big Society. Could Cameron use some marketing expertise?

It may be another word for the kind of national service the countries of Central and Eastern Europe have only recently abandoned, but it seems to me that David Cameron’s “Big Society” idea is missing a basic ingredient for success.

Those who have followed my comments on National Branding in the past will understand where I am coming from on this.  I’m all in favour of a self-supporting society and a move away from the nanny state that far too many of us have grown to rely on, but are those who are driving the Big Society initiative seeing it as a step towards Brand Britain or reliant on it?  My feeling is that in order to get there you have first to nurture a feeling of belonging among the populous and, judging from the debates on the Big Society that are currently taking place, this just isn’t there and the media are doing their usual best to divide us still further.

I see there are a number of facets to the Big Society.  There’s the need for us to stand on our own feet as individuals again, there’s the need to cut the cost of the services and resources that have supported the lazy and over reliant among us and there’s the belief that by focussing on community and encouraging people to participate, society and our nation can begin to realise the many opportunities that a community mindset opens up.  However, government is missing far too many opportunities to “big up” British and Brits’ achievements and, as I have said before, this is a key component of any Brand Britain development programme.

If I am reading Dave’s agenda right, I can’t see anybody grabbing and managing this initiative nor can I see what is being done, apart from a lot of talk (which has its place, of course) to get everyone on the same page.  If the “Big Society” is, after all just a money-saving scheme, then David Cameron is surely missing the bigger trick?  Anyway, ultimately it won’t work, because the people who are supposed to be implementing the programme at local level have neither the skills or experience to make the right judgements or the motivation that a real Brand Britain campaign would provide.

Cameron and the Tories may have come closer than previous governments to getting this kind of campaign right, but we need a whole lot more internal marketing and brand-building to be brought to bear if the Big Society is going to be the really worthwhile initiative I hope and believe was the intention.

The disappointing reality of Twitter

Twitter is a great tool when used creatively, but, don’t forget, it’s just medium like any other and the same rules apply.  There are a few brands that really work social networking and a few celebrities who bolster their brand by entertaining us in this new media space, but I find the majority of tweeters, in reality (because I think Twitter brings out the “real” in everybody) a bit of a let-down.  So, while we marketers push our clients into social networking, I can’t help wondering whether this isn’t a bit like giving a firearm to a toddler.

Quite smart people fail to fully understand what they are doing with Twitter.  For instance, I decided to follow the dragons from the TV series Dragons Den.  After all, they are accomplished business people so my expectation – reasonable I think – was that I might pick up a few business insights and maybe the inside track of a few Dragon’s Den stories.  How wrong could  I have been?  I can live with the fact that Deborah Meaden hasn’t used her profile.  At least she isn’t wasting my time or contradicting her on-screen brand persona.  Theo Paphitis started Tweeting, but gave up after a week.  Probably too busy counting his money – fair enough!  While James Caan seems to have grasped the golden rule of Twitter – If you haven’t got anything to say, shut up! Peter  Jones and Duncan Bannatyne, in contrast, must have done untold damage to their personal brands (although my guess is that Peter Jones’s brand equity had already been drastically diminished by his appearance on that ghastly TV commercial for insurance or something) by resorting to a drawn-out and vulgar public game of  one-upmanship – a constant barrage of claims and counter claims about whose holiday was most lavish and who had the most money.  A mistake on so many levels and very much in the realm of failing to deliver their brand promise, which, as any marketer knows, is the number one no-no for any brand.

You might argue that Stephen Fry, raconteur, wit and professional twit, has less to lose.  I’d expected a few one-liners maybe, clever use of 140 characters and elegant satire from him, but instead when opening my Twitter home page I was greeted each day with a torrent of meaningless and undecipherable text-speak, all from him.  I quickly “unfollowed”.

The BBC newsreader, presenter and journalist Susanna Reid might fall toward the “homely” end of the newsperson scale, but for heaven’s sake, a morning TV presenter is supposed to be smart.  On Twitter she appears decidedly dippy and spent three days last week canvassing advice on how to set up her i-Pad – hardly the place to get into a long forum-type discussion and definitely not one where a serious newsperson should be seen struggling with household appliances.  Very much out-classed by her co-presenter Sian Williams, who, at least, sticks to business.

Apart from shattering a few of my illusions, these Tweets, I have also just discovered, are having another more significant impact on my own brand.  Because my Tweet history is linked to my LinkedIn profile where they appear for everyone to see, I find I am inadvertently breaking one of my own basic rules for brands – “beware the company you keep”.  As I have said many times, consistency is the secret of a strong brand and the company it keeps, which means other brands, distributors, retailers, famous people and more, are taken as stong indicators of your values and beliefs.  The same applies to personal brands.  I should waste no time in acting on my instinct to unfollow the Tweeters that I have ben unimpressed by.

If I was disappointed by individual Tweeters corporate users have proven no better.  There are no brand communities more potent than those of retailers, but so few really get the Twitter and FaceBook thing.  I was talking about this to the head of marketing for one of the UK’s biggest restaurant chains a few weeks back and I’ve been sensitive to the way the sub-sector uses social networking ever since.  There are quite a few retail food chains that include Twitter and FaceBook in their communications portfolio, but the way they use the medium is very mixed.  For instance I have always considered Nandos to be a fun brand, ideally suited to Twitter, but a couple of weeks ago a bunch of international sportsmen were larging up Nandos on Twitter and there was no reaction from the company itself – an opportunity missed.  Similarly Taybarns had a load of  Tweets about a Carling promotion they were running and failed to leverage the opportunity.  This smacks of the old one-way communications habit that I thought had died out a few years ago and is the antithesis of what social networking is all about.  Twitter is for listening as well as talking.

Half using social networking is about as realistic as being a bit gay.  The fact is, either you are in or you are out and leveraging just some elements of Twitter doesn’t mean that the remaining elements aren’t working, it’s just that you aren’t controlling them. This applies to businesses and celebrities.  Maybe a Twitter account should come with a health warning “WARNING. TWITTER CAN SERIOUSLY JEPARDISE YOUR CREDIBILITY” or an induction course on how to, at least, avoid committing on-line hara-kiri.  The BBC at least seem to have spotted the dangers here and have sent Susanna Reid to it.  I know because she’s Tweeting the entire content live as I write this!  Probably the most interesting Tweets she’s sent so far in her Twitter experience.  I hope the first of many.

Oh, the power of the media and the innocence of those who don’t appreciate that the principles of branding apply to all of us!

Britain’s biggest ever internal marketing campaign

Image from BBC News. Click for full story.

As George Osborne announces the new government’s plan for its first £6billion tranche of public sector spending cuts, I am getting a distinctly uneasy feeling that there’s a spectre looming large in the shape of public sector employees, who could bring the county to its knees in an orgy of self-interest.

As one commentator put it this morning on the BBC, this isn’t just a plan to save £6billion+ is a plan to change the expectations we all have of government, in other words a re-branding and as with any other re-branding strategy, it has to start with the people delivering the promise.

I’ve worked with public sector organisations in the UK and elsewhere and I have to say that, certainly in the UK, despite their claims of having upped their game in recent years – and, to be honest, there’s a degree of truth to this – the sad fact is that the claim reveals the naiveté that is at the heart of the sector’s dire performance.  Frankly, most public sector employees, just don’t understand how out of kilter they are with their private sector counterparts.

I have sat at post-mortems for failed initiatives where the inadequacies of the people charged with the task at every level have been obvious.  I’ve heard people shrug-off any responsibility for watching colleagues fail or fall into pits that were perfectly obvious to all, but the person doing the falling, with comments like “that wasn’t my job”. I’ve witnessed total absence of any shared responsibility or common agenda, even seen people scramble over each other to assign blame to anyone who could be made to represent a target.  Worst of all, I have noted time and again the credence that managers give to this behaviour.  I’m not saying that stuff like this doesn’t happen in the private sector, but in the public sector its the prevailing culture.

I’m thinking of one regional public sector organisation in particular that is failing by a measure of two-thirds to meet its targets consistently, month after month.  It has employees at every level who may arguably have the ability to do their job, but simply don’t.  People who fill their day with an hour’s-worth of work and feel hard done by if they are ever questioned about their lack of progress.  Not only is the manager not managing the situation, there’s absolutely no consequences attached to the failure to deliver.  Each month he just turns up at a meeting and tells his bosses how much he’s missed his target by and they just nod and thank him.  I have first hand knowledge of a group of high-profile public sector organisations whose purpose is to provide specialist advice to the business sector whose “advisors” rarely have more than a grasp of the basics of their subject and certainly usually know far less than the people they are advising.  In the absence of expertise this organisation has fallen back on prescribed programmes, processes and practices executed by process-followers who force their “clients” into ill-fitting solutions, waste their time with totally unnecessary bureaucratic hoop-jumping and consider it a job well done.  The only real effort demonstrated by these and other public sector organisations I have encountered is in gathering tenuous data to support their continued existence.  This is what waste really looks like.

Apart from the blatant and intentional waste of time that goes on in these places there is inevitable consequential waste represented in the endless arse-scratching done by people who frequently just don’t have a clue what to do next.  But its the intentional waste, driven by the kind of self-interest we have seen demonstrated by Royal Mail, British Gas and now British Airways employees that will be the nail in Britain’s coffin.

I’m concerned that the public sector, being what it is, will put the usual knee-jerk interpretation on the message from Whitehall – reduced funds = reduced services – but that’s not necessarily the case.  Cut out the waste, the processes that waste time for all of us and do nothing, but keep people on the government payroll and, in percentage terms, the reduction in services will be nothing like the reduction in investment.  The public sector just has to stop putting itself first and start doing what’s sensible and right.

If the British people are to be persuaded to consider “government” in a new light, the Government must firstly define what their promise is and then undertake the massive task of getting the people responsible for delivering it committed to the task.  Only once they are confident that every employee is determined to play their part in delivering that promise to the full, can the promise be made with any credibility or any chance of success.  It’s a big ask, a massive challenge, its internal marketing on a scale that has probably never before been tackled.

Pitfalls lie on every side.  When the Labour party finally manage to get their act into any kind of togetherness their traditional support of trades unions like Unite might mean that they contribute to the obstacles facing any re-branding strategy.  Unions themselves are going to have to be realistic in their demands and employees at every level will need to be put straight on the need to contribute to a shared objective rather than perpetuate the self-interest that has been largely responsible for bringing us to this mess.  This requires transparency by the government regarding their agenda, sharing the brand vision and mission and the provision of the information that people need to understand for themselves why the strategy has been chosen and more importantly, what they must do to play their part in its delivery.

It’s about communication on every level embracing every media route – press relations, the internet and electronic media, direct marketing, corporate videos … you name it.  A fully integrated campaign the like of which we haven’t seen before, certainly in this country.  Maybe it’s an opportunity for the COI to really show us what they can do in terms of strategy and efficient project management, but more than that, its an opportunity for the best in every area of marketing and communications to contribute to a project that is really worthwhile.

Nick Matthew – A model for the new Brand Britain.

I don’t go in for hero-worship, but if I did a definite contender would be Nick Matthew, our (the UK’s) latest world number one squash player and it’s not just because he’s number one.

I’ve had a thing for Nick for a few years … no, not like that!  I’ve haven’t even met him, although I’ve seen him play many times, both live and on SquashTV.com and to me, he defines the term “sporting hero”.  Firstly he plays a real sport.  The most gruelling of all racket sports by far in fact (Its been proven many times).  A sport where men get sweaty battling on a physical and mental level that few people can even comprehend.  Squash isn’t an armchair activity for retired people like curling or darts, nor is it a namby-pamby, designer sport like football (or soccer to any Americans who might be listening).  This is a sport that’s played by millions of people all over the world with a genuine passion that isn’t fuelled by the promise of an in-your-dreams payday should they ever reach professional levels.

The training that professional squash players put themselves through is enough to provoke a seizure in any mere mortal who just thinks about it.  Peter Nicol, our previous great world number one, described his training regime in terms of  inching his body each day past the point where his brain told him he was going to die, just so he could prove to it that it wouldn’t.  However, as if that wasn’t enough Nick recently came back from a shoulder injury that would have permanently sidelined many lesser sportsmen, enduring twelve months of surgery and rehabilitation to take the crown that is so rightfully his – Bloody brilliant Nick.  Thanks for showing us how its done.

Nothing in this world that’s truly worth having is ever achieved easily.  That’s one reason why I have no sympathy for folks who, even when the nation is on its arse, don’t want to put in those extra hours, take that salary cut or change the terms of their contract.  As for those who would rather actually withdraw their labour altogether than make a few business-prolonging changes, I’d rather they just leave the country, or better still the planet!

I meet businesses and people all over the world who get to a point of comfort and just sit back.  Businesses that are happy to make a profit, people who just want to do the bare minimum, neither being interested in being the best in town or even just the best they can be and it makes me sad.  I can’t see the point in getting out of bed each day unless it’s with the mantra “Today I’ll be the best!” and in the new economy even that doesn’t guarantee you’ll even survive because making it to the top of the heap, is by no means “job done!”.  For a real winner, it’s just the start of the race to leave your competitors eating your dust.

Because he’s the champion he is, Nick Matthew, I am sure, will be spending the next few off-season weeks, working out to what he has to do to up his game.  He’ll know that there are players our there who he has inspired to take him on next season.  Equally dedicated, highly skilled players for whom he is now the target.

Meanwhile, if I were David Cameron and Nick Clegg right now, mapping out the Brand Model for Brand Britain, I’d be focussing on people like Nick Matthew as the pillars of the brand promise and trying to work out how the same energy and commitment that has made them the winners they are, can be translated to Britain as a whole.  Looking at the check-out queue in Tesco yesterday, its clear that it might be as big a challenge as coming back from the sugeon’s table to become the world’s number one squash player.