What do Johnson & Johnson, Perrier and Burberry all have in common?
All three were brands which had become toxic on some level in the last thirty years. J&J’s Tylenol was found to be linked to several deaths in the 1980s, Perrier suffered after it’s major brand promise of purity was seriously found wanting in the early 90s, and in the 2000s Burberry became associated with thuggish behaviour when their brand had become a status symbol amongst an underclass of young males in the UK.
More recently Volkswagen has been at the centre of scandal by cheating on their emissions tests. What is also in common with the first three is that they handled their respective ‘crises’ with aplomb, and as current trading will tell us, their brands not only survived but returned to growth. The jury is out on whether that happens to the German car maker. All four though went through substantive crisis communications and then focused on rebranding and rebuilding the trust they had lost from their consumers.
Branding is somewhat of an art form, although elements of it can be scientifically measured. Net Promoter Score, brand value, goodwill and brand equity can all be measured and religiously tracked and pored over by the C-Suite. It is an inexact science but a base understanding of the levels of your brand’s awareness and an approximate figure for how the brand is driving shareholder value ought to help inform corporate strategy. Brands can be consciously created, invested in and measured, but also they can emerge when enough people discuss them and they get a “buzzword” label.
“A brand is a set of perceptions and images that represent a company, product or service. While many people refer to a brand as a logo, tag line or audio jingle, a brand is actually much larger. A brand is the essence or promise of what will be delivered or experienced”.
‘Brexit’ as a term then does represent a set of perceptions and images and is the essence of what will be delivered or experienced, namely the exit of Britain from the European Union. So loosely speaking, it is a brand. And, based on the coverage that Brexit has been subjected to since the vote back in June, it is a brand in need of help. Whichever way you voted (assuming you were eligible to and turned up at the voting station to cast it) it is no longer relevant since it is clear that ‘Brexit means Brexit’, as we are often reminded by the Prime Minister. Britain will leave the EU sooner or later. The Government has been widely criticised for seemingly not having a plan, and all manner of ills that Britain has experienced in the last 6 months have been laid at the door of Brexit. ‘Brexit’ as a brand has become tarnished. So does it needs a rebrand, and it is too Herculean a task to achieve?
Firstly the Government needs to step up and define exactly what the brand promises should be. This is easier said than done obviously, as the negotiations haven’t even started in earnest. However in the absence of black and white, a definable shade of grey would be helpful. The Government needs to be as transparent as it can be about what the promise is that Brexit will match up to.
Secondly feedback needs to be collated and really understood. Some target audiences are clearly negative and that forms a downward spiral and tarnishes the brand. The negativity which is prevalent in the mainstream press and big business, needs to be deeply understood and taken on board and strategies developed to counteract and deflect in a positive way.
Thirdly the Government needs to develop a more holistic story, one in which the majority British people can get behind and that talks to the opportunities that Brexit offers. The fact is, there is no turning back so the Government needs to get the Remainers and those Brexiters who have experienced substantial cognitive dissonance since June, to drop their negative outlook and be positive. Few will succumb to ‘blind optimism’, yet a well argued positive story will begin to turn the tide.
Then the Government and its agencies need to up their game when it comes to communications. This includes just not owned media assets such as Government websites but also the mobilisation of all social media vehicles. I am not sure we want to see Theresa May conducting her business and discoursing on Twitter in the way that Donald Trump does, but a higher profile would be a good start.
Finally, support for Brexit needs to be built into all communication. Given some of the prognostications that are suggesting the UK civil service could well be tied up with Brexit for the next ten years, then getting support through all communication vehicles for it would appear to be rather expedient.
The Government needs to look at the brand of Brexit and invest in it, as much as they are arguing amongst themselves about article 50. Investing in a powerful brand will help it be a success.
Disclosure: I am a “remainer” and have been deeply troubled by the decision to leave the EU. However that is not going to change anything now and for the sake of the country we all need to make the best of it!