Reinvention Against Replication Part 4
Foreign perception of the UK is often skewed in multiple directions. To some, we’re those guys with the stiff upper lip that live a no-nonsense way of life, the home of wizards, dragons and gifted young boys with facial scaring, and the hardy chaps that said no to Hitler. But we’re also that lonely island who once ruled half of the world, which over the past century has matured into little more than a side note on the stage of international politics, at least where the EU is concerned.
Any gains made by the exposition of our culture’s finest assets, monarchy, the Beatles, police man with batons and red multi-dimensional telephone boxes, all of which famously feature on the banner of brand Britain, have been shirked by the more ignominious stigma of broken Britain.
A welfare state in dire straits, health care on its knees and a people beleaguered by benefit cuts. Our national identity has been warped over the past decade. We’ve had to malt our skin and face hard truths; the question is no longer about what we were, but what we will become.
Over this series we’ve taken a look at Britain’s tentative economic recovery, loss of its core industries and regional identity crisis. Branding has worked to reshape the domestic image of Britain. Whether through reinvention or replication, the country is undergoing a process — a process to find new roots amidst the 21st century, and to reconstruct (or recreate) our national narrative. Basically, we’re looking for a fresh coat of paint.
It is the reason that Hague has sought to inject a new commercialism into the Foreign Office. It is prudent, practical and proven to work (at least in the South). A look at London reveals as much.
But rebranding Britain isn’t necessarily an impossible task, either. Not so long ago, a political scientist by the name of Joseph Nye coined the concept of soft assets, and soft power. Basically, whereas the UK no longer commands the same presence as it once did, it is still a place of lucrative exports through its wealth, culture and multi-peopled society. This is what Hague has sought to harness - the seductive side to Britain, to spin a web of alluring tales about its intangible qualities - acceptance, way of life and innovative spirit. It is the reason why the government has been more than eager to work the narrative of the UK as a digital centre, with London functioning as the main character.
And these strategies of internal and external branding are in no way mutually exclusive. Branding Britain is about harnessing its composition — the cities, the people, the story, the recovery, even our broken side. It is not unlike how companies brand through their current and ex employees. Google has the esteem of being Google exactly because stories have been spread by its employees, of its culture and practices that attract the innovators.
Where such narratives fail, non-enthused employees and citizens are the culprits. The reason Glassdoor has established such a dangerous precedent is that it provides a voice for the distressed, free from a company’s jurisdiction and the power of repercussion. Essentially, branding and establishing these reputations is as much an internal matter as it is about moulding external perceptions.
Of course with a nation this is arguably a lot easier. National pride is after all a powerful force, and while the British people may be mournful of their perpetually grey skies, their inner-pride is largely unwavering. Similar such campaigns have been used before by cities and areas. Slough’s reputation suffered greatly because A) it’s Slough and B) the TV show The Office did a great job of making the grey concentrate block buildings even more depressing. The branding campaign ‘Proud to be Slough’ was launched to draw on the town’s soft assets, its supposed prideful citizens, in an appeal to the ego and the self, rather than the actual place.
What this all points to, however, is the importance of branding not only for the sake of external eyes, but for the grass roots of the country - city by city, South and North, town by town. Through reinvention or replication, it is the individual elements and the people that dictate the success of such strategies, facilitated by a highly connected market through social media, in which the soft assets, the stories, branding and reputation, are as important as the realities they decorate.