Does 'England' need a rebrand?
Does 'English' need a rebrand?
My husband had a Welsh granny and he's been extraordinarily proud of this. As far as I know, I'm English through and through but I call myself British if I'm asked, mostly because I'm not comfortable with putting people into categories which labels often do.
I was watching the BBC News this week and took an interest in the coverage of 'Englishness'. Reporter Mark Easton travelled by barge from North to South, passing through Cambridge and chatted to some England flag wearing football supporters in Lincolnshire (where Boston had the highest number of 'Leave' voters) to Cambridge where he met up with University history students by the River Cam, minutes from my house! Then to London where, much like Cambridge, it was a sense of bewilderment about what English means in a diverse city. The general conclusion felt like a North and South divide.
So what is English? Why are we worried about being English? For me, I don't mind the football association as I don't mind the game and we'll be watching the international football matches here. Our local team, Cambridge United, work really hard on limited funds to promote the club as one for the community. So the notion of drunken football fans kicking off isn't at the forefront of my mind. Perhaps it's political? I'm proud to live in Cambridge, which is a diverse and culturally aware city. At least I hope everyone feels culturally at home here.
So where did 'England' go wrong?
If a brand results from a set of associations and perceptions in people’s minds, then branding is an attempt to harness, generate, influence and control these associations to help the business perform better. Any organisation can benefit enormously by creating a brand that presents the company as distinctive, trusted, exciting, reliable or whichever attributes are appropriate to that business.
While absolute control over a brand is not possible due to outside influences, intelligent use of design, advertising, marketing, service proposition, corporate culture and so on can all really help to generate associations in people’s minds that will benefit the organisation. In different industry sectors the audiences, competitors, delivery and service aspects of branding may differ, but the basic principle of being clear about what you stand for always applies. The Design Council
Does the brand 'England' promote a trusted, excited country that's reliable? That's a huge ask for any country in this turbulent time but to be trusted, one has to be open to change and influence, and it's debatable if Brexit or the subsequent negotiations have helped to promote a trusted country. Regardless of which way you or I voted, managing the 'use of design, advertising, marketing, service proposition, corporate culture..' has been sadly lacking. Not least, ironically in the media including the BBC. One of the most important elements of branding feedback is getting a wide demographic. I can't speak for Boston, but in viewing the Cambridge segment of the Sunday night feature, I wondered what happened to rest of Cambridge who play a huge part in city life.
What could a rebrand do for 'England'?
Branding can show others what makes England different. In asking about 'Englishness' it would be interesting to know what makes our country so different. What are the key selling points that makes England better than, or different to, other countries? Is the image of dragon slaying St George so hijacked by political protest and lager than it needs to be consigned to the past? A great brand will elevate a product or organisation from being just a product or service amongst hundreds of others and give it a uniqueness. So is it time to celebrate that we have Gnome Museum and a coastline of piers?
Customers are far more willing to pay more for a branded product than one without. Take any supermarket. From premium range to budget range, the branding is consistent and the name is clear. So whether you're a National Trust member or a fan of 2 penny slot machines (or both), you need to know you're in a country that's worth the visit. But right now it's the reverse. If people don't like any part of the range, then they're unlikely to buy into the rest.
Connecting with communities
Branding can connect us together. A great brand for England has the potential to bring communities together. Brand 'Royal Family' scored well with the recent wedding of Harry and Meghan. People felt drawn to visit or watch the ceremony and the concept of 'Englishness' wasn't generally a bad thing that weekend.
How do you make England a great brand?
How to fall in love with your brand is one of several workshops I'll be running this year. I absolutely believe that loving your brand and being in a relationship with it matters; the discovery, and sharing of values and beliefs. So it is with a brand: it may look good, but unless it shares the values and beliefs of its audience, there will be no true love between the two. To get back into loving England, we have to share ideals. In a country disjointed by political affairs, it may be a long time before many will fall in love again.