I was lucky enough to attend a breakfast briefing at the end of last week, hosted by JLA Speakers, and attended by Lord Norman Lamont, Ex-Virgin Atlantic CEO Steve Ridgeway and The Economist’S US editor, Robert Guest, among others. In the light of George Osborne’s budget, the place of businesses in the UK economy was hot on the agenda, and some interesting insights were able to be raised about what companies can do to make themselves stand out and ensure profitability in the continued age of austerity. One thing shone through as fundamental to helping businesses do this: Brand.
When times are tough, consumer faith is more important than ever. Something that makes a business stand out, gives consumers something to buy into, and brand values that actually resonate with people are all brand-defining credentials. Rather than the same old values that get wheeled out in manifestos such as “transparency”, “investors in people” and other fluffy marketing jargon, personal and quirky brand values and personality are what people want. Ridgeway reflected upon his time at Virgin Atlantic and how the brand values of fun and tongue in cheek marketing stunts ran through the whole business and everyone, employees and consumers alike, knew what they stood for. April Fool’s Day jokes such as their 2013 prank pretending that all planes were to be barcoded for easy recognition at Heathrow is a case in point, fondly remembered by Ridgeway as something that both amused employees and let consumers know about their open, fun brand nature.
With the growth of China as one of the major economic players, Robert Guest hinted that there might also be a few brand tactics to be learnt from the country. During the London 2012 Olympics, Yili, a Chinese milk company launched an ad campaign on London buses, even though the products are not on sale anywhere in the UK. A clever move, pointed out Guest, to capture the attention of the Chinese population back home. As Chinese film crews broadcast pictures from London and the Olympics back home, the Chinese population saw (and believed) that Yili products were on the radar in London, and, concluding that if the products were good enough for British people they must be great, boosted the sales of Yili by millions. A crafty marketing strategy perhaps, but what a way to boost the brand credentials!
In a global world where everyone has to compete for audience, sales, votes or popularity, it’s no wonder that brand is still at the heart of everything. It can make a company stand out, make a product credible, and give consumers faith without them questioning allegiance. A glance back to the government and the image protection that politicians have to do proves that brand really is everywhere. Did the recent budget hint at George Osbourne trying to re-brand himself; perhaps from “Mr Posh and Nasty” to “Mr Slightly Less Posh and Nasty”? Norman Lamont, as he remembered the last budget he gave in 1993, commented however that being a popular brand in politics was so often a losing battle. As the media, ever the judge in all things brand, commented at the time on Lamont’s red briefcase: “A Cheap and Shabby Budget, from a Cheap and Shabby Man.” And how can you come back from that branding?! Lamont certainly hasn’t forgotten it!