So we are out of the EU.
Personally, I feel a bit like when someone you know has died. You don’t quite believe it, and it takes some time to sink in. Not that I’m a massive Euro-fan (some of the mindless bureaucracy drives me nuts), but I still thought we would be better in.
However, now that we are out we have to make the best of it. Though it will be a couple of years before we actually exit, we must start clarifying what Brand UK should stand for now, so it’s clear to the world why they should care about us when we are on our own.
Many people view Branding as somewhat fluffy and certainly not mission critical, but I think we are now forced to give both ourselves and the world a clearer view of what we stand for. If the British people themselves aren’t clear, the rest of the world will certainly not be either. We aren’t competitive on pricing compared to Asia and never will be, we are not known for high quality and this view will take decades to shift, so to compete in the world we will have to come up with something else.
I must declare that I’m not British myself – I’m originally Danish. But having now lived half my life in the UK, I consider myself one of the “gang” and think I have earned at least some right to talk about what I think the UK should stand for.
Many of the older generation who voted Leave are no doubt harking back to the ‘good old days’ of high tea, scones, British workmen, courtesy and polite small talk.
However, on the financial front this isn’t going to help us compete in the world apart from perhaps through tourism. The UK is a fantastic country to holiday in, and London was recently voted the top destination in the world by Tripadvisor which is an amazing feat. But tourism ‘only’ accounts for around 10 per cent of GDP so that’s not going to carry us through if things get rough.
When trying to think about what the UK is about, one of the things that I kept coming back to was – rather perversely in the light of today’s vote – it’s very rich multi-cultural heritage with all of the creativity, inspiration and global outlook that comes with that.
The very fact that the UK is so multi-cultural and is home to people from all over the world is, I think, one of our strongest points. Immigration to the UK has been a reality for hundreds of years, originally sparked by the Empire. This hasn’t resulted in Britishness being eradicated, but rather multiculturalism has become inherently part of what it is to be British.
I think our multiculturalism should be one of our main brand values or USPs because:
It fosters creativity and inventiveness. This is a major positive that the UK must promote as it is what many of the high-value jobs of the future will depend on (think hi-tech, biotech, industrial design, creative agencies, etc).
We will remain a “brain magnet”. Bright people from all over the world will see the UK as a great place in which make their fortunes, not least because they know that they will fit in almost regardless of their nationality. This gives us a competitive advantage. Presumably, not even Nigel Farage will want a hermetically sealed border, which in my mind would be a disaster.
It creates an international outlook on the world. Many sectors may find they are less able to sell their products to the EU in the future, so we will have to “get out more” and start selling to the rest of the world to significantly increase our exports.
The last point about exports leads me to another potential advantage of Brand UK – our increased financial competitiveness when exporting if the Pound continues to plummet – which I think it will.
We will never be as cost effective as China or India, but UK products and services will be significantly cheaper to buy from overseas if the Pound is low. We must use this to our advantage and get out in the world to sell. We have plenty of great, inventive products and services to choose from.
The flip side is that the people who the Leave campaign so successfully targeted aren’t going to like it one bit when they go shopping for their next 50’ plasma screen only to find that it has doubled in price, but on the upside this may lead to us getting some manufacturing industry back to the UK which would be a welcome sight.
Nigel Farage says that he wants to make Britain Great again. I think it always was, which is why I originally came to the country for 6 months and stayed for 20 years.
I’m sure that even though it is a British characteristic to moan about how rubbish we are, pretty much everybody in the country whether they were born here or not, has lots of things they are proud of about the UK.
Now our job is to tell the world about it!
First published on The Drum