Category Archives: National Branding

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.


Latvians show Greece how to smile in the face of austerity – Its all just National Branding

As you contemplate the austerity that your government has wrought upon you, spare a thought for how national branding can make the whole thing both more acceptable and successful.  You don’t believe me?  Well try this.

So tied up are we with the dire straights that Greece finds itself in, we might forget that not so long ago Latvia faced a worse economic plight than Greece or Portugal are facing right now.  Latvia fixed it with extremely stringent austerity measures and bounced back to become a very successful economy, in a far shorter time than we are anticipate will be the lot of the Greeks.  What’s more, during the process their government was re-elected.  So, what’s the trick?

There’s a hint in the fact that at the time of their crisis, polls of the Latvian public revealed a marked spirit of shared endeavour or one-ness.  They were definitely meeting the challenge in the spirit of all for one and one for all.  Now, that’s a state of collective minds that only a strong national brand can generate.  While the Greek people (and to some extent pretty well all of the rest of us) play the blame game and try to lay responsibility for the mess on someone other than themselves, the Latvians kinda’ got the fact that arguing about whose fault it was, wasn’t going to fix it, and knuckled down to the task.  Result – they fixed it in record time and suffered far less than the rest of us are going to unless we wise up fast.  The big tick in the satisfaction box also makes the exercise self-perpetuating, serving to strengthen the community spirit and give the subject organisation or country the scope for more and bigger challenges.

The difference between Latvia and Greece or Portugal is national pride.  The Greeks, despite their claims to the contrary don’t have any.  If they did they would have been paying their taxes for the last few decades, which might have averted their current plight.  Greeks are largely in it for themselves.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they are any different from most of the rest of us, driven as we are by the belief that the only difference between happiness and abject misery is lodasamoney.  From that perspective it’s but a short step to topping Gran for her pension.

National pride, in turn, is a product of good national branding (A subject that I have been beating on about for years).  Once you have that sorted you can do some neat stuff – like win wars, bring home the world cup or sort one of the worst financial crises in recent history, in no time at all.

In fact, national branding is no different from any other kind of branding and the benefits it brings are no different either.  Contrary to what I sometimes think is popular myth among businesspeople, branding isn’t just for customers, it’s for employees too.  In fact, employees are where you start with any brand development programme, because unless they are on-board and have that feeling of belonging you aren’t even going to get to first base with customers.

A strong brand is represented, among other things, by a spirit of shared responsibility and those businesses that have set about building one have found that with the right guidance it can be channeled in any direction.  Southwest Airlines employees famously went to all kinds of extreme lengths to create one of the most successful airlines in commercial aviation history.  ABB Brown Boveri returned from the jaws of death and reduced their product development time from three years to three months.  A one-man-and-a-dog operation called Saatchi & Saatchi (The real one not the one we know today) did the reverse takeover trick on the monolith Garland Compton and went on to build the world’s biggest advertising agency and Apple have persuaded millions of people that lap-tops with iffy software are best thing since sliced bread.  I could cite innumerable others, but you get the idea.

So, if you are running a business or a country that’s facing a bit of a challenge right now, consider what the power of a strong brand can achieve and start building yours.  You’ll be able to achieve more with less, probably give your competitors a good kicking and could even do all of this with a smile on your collective face throughout.

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 building – Murdoch makes the connection.

Its been a weird week for brand associations.  In the UK the revelations over The News Of The World phone hacking, its peak intriguingly coinciding with the parent, Murdoch-owned News International’s bid for control of BSkyB, has led to Rupe closing down Britain’s oldest and biggest paper.

I wouldn’t suppose for a moment that this has anything to do with right and wrong.  He’s done this purely for reasons of value not values.  Its emerging that there were already plans afoot to launch a Sunday edition of TNOTW’s sister paper The Sun, so the empire isn’t going to lose its readers, just the overhead represented by the journos, administrators and printers who produced TNOTW.  My contacts tell me that a quick audit also unsurprisingly revealed that The News Of The World brand had been irreparably damaged by hack-gate and although I’m surprised if the paper’s average reading age was such that they possessed sufficient social conscience to boycott it, the overnight disappearance of its advertisers has to be a bit of a pisser.

Like the advertisers, politicians of all hues are desperately scrambling, with varying degrees of sure-footedness, to disassociate themselves with Murdoch (Although today’s press conference suggests that Dave’s penny is still teetering), who some claim has been their puppet master for many years.  The end of an era, if not the Murdoch empire some say – I doubt it somehow.

This event however, does serve to underline the influence that the brands other brands are seen with, can have on their success.  I’ve long propounded the notion that product brand perceptions are heavily influenced by the retail brands they are sold through and the other products on the shelves alongside them.  The reverse is also true and similar associations exist between football teams (soccer to my US readers) and their players and even national brands.  It’s not uncommon to hear individuals being decried because of the company they keep and the same dynamic applies to every kind of brand.  Its why, despite their “fashion brands” claim you don’t find Hermes in TK Maxx.

Back in Prague this week Vaclav Havel, leader of the liberation of the former Czechoslovakia from Communist rule and undoubtedly the most respected man in the Czech Republic (admittedly not a difficult distinction to hold in a land of very shady political characters, but undoubtedly justified in his case) chose to endorse AAA Autos, one of the most deeply miss-trusted commercial organisations in the country.

I say chose to, but it seems he sort of slid slowly and inexorably into what I am sure he’ll come to regard as a mire, as a result of one of his charities accepting a hand-out from the company.  Tony Denny the enigmatic half-Aussie founder of what may be Europe’s biggest used car franchise has long-boasted of his political connections – I might say, far more enthusiastically than those connections have advertised their connections with him.  This week, it seems, he’s managed to leverage this connection in a stroke of genius that will undoubtedly bring him greater benefit than it will Havel.  It seems that AAA lent Havel’s wife’s foundation Vision ’97 an Audi (probably a cut-and-shut with a leaky sump) in exchange for her endorsement, but when Denny called the loan in Pani Havel was out of the country, so her husband stepped in as her understudy.  Was this Tony Denny watching the airport for Dagmar Havlova’s departure and quickly nipping round to Vaclav with a deadline he just had to meet?  Who knows, but I’m surprised Havel fell for this and disappointed to see the Havel brand devalued by its association with the Czech Arthur Daly.

Enter Vision ’97’s PR spokeswoman Sabina Tancevova to explain that there is nothing unusual in the nearest thing Czechs have to Nelson Mandela fronting a Dodgy Motors ad.  Who is she trying to kid.  But then, if I were in her shoes I’d be feeling a bit vulnerable given that it’s the role of PR to manage deals like this.  If she’s daft enought to buy into a cars-for-cred deal like this on behalf of the Havels who could blame AAA Autos for rubbing their corporate mits together in glee?

Such is Czech culture that I fear AAA, the most controversial of Czech Automotive brands, will have significantly raised its credibility, particularly among older Czechs, with this one association.  Maybe Rupert Murdoch, already one newspaper and possibly a TV franchise down this week, could get a few tips from Tony Denny?

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.

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 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.