The news headlines are enough to send you round the twist. Living in this green and pleasant land, you can’t turn on the television without bearing witness to a new twist or turn in the reality soap opera of Westminster-enders. Nobody knows exactly what sort of googly challenges Brexit will test us with in the long run. But in the short run, everything is tickety-boo for British brands when it comes to the British public’s perception of them. The NHS, Dyson and Jaguar are just some of the quintessentially British brands benefiting from the national debate on Britishness in today’s culture.

What have we learned? And what can marketers generalise from the British ‘brandwagon’ phenomenon to create phenomenal brands in other markets?

Five British Brands Doing It Right

NHS: You-niversal Care

Congrats NHS, here’s to your health! Topping the latest Prophet Brand Relevance Index to be crowned the most relevant brand to UK consumers. The NHS pushed Apple and the other tech titans out. At first blush, you might think the ghost of Steve Jobs would have a bone to pick with this result – Apple fell five places in a year – but when you put the NHS’results under the knife, its rise to number one makes sense.

It’s hard to imagine living without the NHS. It’s one of the few brands that touches us at every stage of our full human lifecycle – from cradle to grave. We all trust the NHS with our most prized possession – our health. And healthcare experiences tend to follow an emotive arc that opens with a problem and closes with a happy ending. And as the biggest employer in Britain, with a larger budget than any private company in the world, many of us depend on the NHS for our wealth as well as our health.

The NHS has a home ground advantage for the top brand position here in the UK. As British as apple crumble, everyone knows the NHS, so it doesn’t have to shout about its strong and stable services. We trust it to always be there, and as long as Britishness continues to bubble away in the public consciousness, the NHS brand should continue to benefit from years of rude health.

Lush & Dyson: Postmodern Innovation

There’s a social theory that says the media doesn’t tell us what to think, but instead sets the agenda for what we think about. Lush, which cracked the top 10 in the Index for the first time, is an archetype for British brands benefiting from a postmodern Brit play – a play that’s more about being in union with the world than it is about being Union Jack.

Lush inspires and innovates with a strong ethical agenda. It makes clever use of British wit in naming and tone of voice. It keeps a gimlet eye on packaging and ties into contemporary social causes. It’s proudly handmade in a machine-made world. Lush is cleaning up with a new paradigm in British branding.

Dyson – the third highest ranking British brand in the Index – takes a more technical approach to postmodern innovation. It changes the game with British product design that rethinks conventions while delivering functional excellence with fashionable style. Dyson continues to hoover up vacuum sales and make fans of its fans.

Jaguar & John Lewis: Retrofurist Refresh 

There are a very different set of British brands that play a retrofuturist Britannia card in a more overt manner – reimagining nostalgia for yesteryear in a way that’s fit for the future. Jaguar was one of the biggest movers, racing up this year’s Index. Jaguar has regularly been seen with the Union Jack as an explicit design element – who can forget the flamboyant flag covered Austin Powers E-Type? For the past few years, Jaguar has been adding a twist to its image by showcasing heritage British thespians as blockbuster villains in its ‘Good to Be Bad’ advertising campaign, working to reinforce its British style and charm.

While John Lewis – which climbed up eight spots to 23 in the 2019 Index – takes a lower key approach to contemporising British classics. It offers a Design Studio collection of homewares created for the modern British lifestyle. This coupled with an enduring tagline of ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ continues to resonate with a home counties, middle-class mindset and their values.

Two Lessons For Building Brand Relevance

1. Anchor Your Roots

Country-of-origin still plays a significant role in building relevance by enhancing a network of brand associations. And under the right circumstances, country-of-origin can create an overall halo that augments the brand across a full monty of perceptions. Remember, there are a wide range of ways to leverage country-of-origin in your brand-building efforts from tone of voice nuancing to explicit design iconography. It doesn’t necessarily mean waving the flag (but sometimes that’s a great way to make waves in relevance).

2. Surf Pop Culture

Brexit has been a big topic in public discourse, but few brands have taken an explicit stance on the subject. Instead most brands benefitting from the exhaustive (and exhausting) debate are raising their relevance simply by being associated with the cultural conversation – indirectly participating in the controversy without directly being controversial. Trendsurfing can be difficult but can be highly rewarding when you find an authentic way to link your brand with trends that are likely to stay top of mind in the cultural consciousness for years.

Final Thoughts

It wasn’t all that long ago that the sun never set on the British Empire. But the colonialist era of the British East India Company has rightly given way to a new paradigm of The Fairtrade Foundation model. British brands have continuously been at the forefront of modern brand and business practices for decades.

We Brits are rightly proud of our cultural heritage, of an island nation that’s made a big impact in the world. We can all feel the difference in British brands and what they do for us. How they talk, inspire and innovate. God save our gracious brands. Long live our noble brands.

If you’re ready to create a phenomenal brand (inside or outside of the UK), let’s set up some time to discuss. Our team of strategic consultants is ready to help you achieve brand relevance and drive uncommon growth.