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26 January 2013

Great Brands Make Britain Great

Tag(s): Marketing, Business
This week I attended the Installation of Miss Sally Muggeridge as Master of the Worshipful Company of Marketors of which I am a Court Assistant. Held in the ancient Hall of the Merchant Taylors the guest speaker was the Rt Hon Theresa May MP who is also a Liveryman of the Marketors. Mrs May, the Home Secretary, spoke with pride of the Home Office’s role in the successful delivery of the London Olympic Games in 2012. She also spoke with conviction of the legacy of the Games, both tangible and intangible. The tangible legacy included the regeneration of a part of London and the permanent infrastructure and sporting stadia that had been built. The intangible legacy included the overwhelming pride in what we have achieved as a country. There was the regeneration of a volunteer spirit with so many games makers. For Livery Companies this was nothing new but for the population at large it was a welcome reminder. We had demonstrated confidence and needed to build on it. The United Kingdom has enormous talent. We can take pride in what we have achieved.

Sally introduced her theme for the year “Great Brands Make Britain Great”. As the Chairman of the Events Committee for 2013 I did much of the research to support this theme. Following a year in which the British rediscovered their patriotic pride through the remarkable sequence of events with the Diamond Jubilee, the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games the Marketors recognise that the power of branding is linked to great British institutions in Industry, National Heritage and the Arts.

The British have a tendency for self-deprecation and perhaps never so much as now when after economic stagnation for five years we appear destined for many more years of austerity.  But let’s just consider Britain’s strength in a number of different fields, not all economic or necessarily measurable in economic terms.[i]

First, there is the importance and influence of the English Language. As a result of its widespread use London is the number one location for Corporate Headquarters in Europe – greater than all other European countries combined. This despite the ambivalence of Britain to Europe which has been apparent for decades, nay centuries, and makes the current debate over the possibility of Britain leaving the European Union moribund.

Then there are the riches of Britain’s history and culture. This leads to a strong tourist business recently stimulated by the Diamond Jubilee of the present Queen, the aforesaid Olympics and Paralympics 2012 and the successful marketing of historic sites such as Buckingham Palace, Hampton Court and Windsor Castle.  London is a World City, its principal airport, despite all the criticisms over a lack of investment, still a major global hub.

Britain leads the way in many sports, if not in performance then in stage management. The most watched soccer league in the world is the Premier League partly because it is so competitive. While its nearest rival La Liga in Spain is dominated by Barcelona and Real Madrid, who between them have won all but four of the titles since the English Premier League was formed, in the same time 11 different clubs have contested the top three places in the Premiership. It may be 77 years since an Englishman won Wimbledon but noone doubts it’s the best of all tournaments and the best of all grounds. Similar status can be claimed by Wembley, Twickenham, Lords, St Andrews, and Silverstone. Formula 1 is a competitive racing championship competed all over the world but it is run by Britons with British engineers in the forefront. All these sporting icons can also be classified as Great British Brands.

But more conventionally, while our open markets policy has meant the sale of many great British commercial brands to foreign investors, we can still count many world-class British brands including Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Vodafone, O2, HSBC, BP, Shell, Barclays, Standard Chartered, British Airways, M&S, and Tesco.

Despite the credit crunch which affected most major financial centres London’s status as the number one global financial centre is unrivalled. The trading surplus generated by financial and business services is greater than any other sector. The City of London, of which my livery company is just a part, is one of the preeminent brands in the world of commerce and trade. Its sub-brands- the Bank of England, the London Stock Exchange, Lloyds of London, the London Metal Exchange and all the other constituent parts- have a history of a thousand years of trading which has set the example to the world of how to exchange goods and services and increase the wealth of the world.

A newer sector but with firm roots in the arts are the creative industries. They alone account for a massive 7% of GDP and add up to one of the largest and most diverse creative industries in the world, covering everything from the BBC, its more recent rival BSkyB, advertising, television, design, architecture, fashion, software and games development, iconic brands such as Burberry, plus intellectual property such as James Bond and Harry Potter.

A resurgent industry is the automotive industry which has enjoyed several years of revival and has now achieved a trade surplus in cars. 1.5 million cars, of which 1.2 million were exported,  and 2.5 million engines, of which 2 million were exported were produced in the UK in 2012 by major manufacturers such as BMW Mini, Jaguar Land Rover, General Motors, Honda, Nissan and Toyota. Prestigious marques such as Bentley, Aston Martin and Lotus continue to delight customers and some of them enjoy a waiting list for new models.  But, I hear you say, few of these are British owned. True but it is not the theme of this essay that the Great Brands that make Britain Great have to be British-owned. BP is largely owned by American shareholders following the acquisition of Amoco but it is quoted and run in Britain. Tata, the Indian conglomerate, has done a great job since taking over Jaguar LandRover and with substantial investment and some UK government support has restored it to profitability. But anyone buying a Jaguar or LandRover knows he is buying great British design from Great British Brands. I have already mentioned Formula 1 racing teams such as McLaren but often the engineering innovation begins in the racing car and then transfers to the production model.

Pharmaceuticals is another industry where Britain punches above its weight with global leaders such as GE Healthcare, GSK and Astra Zeneca. Much of this performance is based on global leading R&D and this in turn is largely founded in a strong educational base. Britain is home to four out of the top ten universities in the world and enjoys real strength in depth. British universities are now a great source of overseas earnings as they export success both by attracting more overseas students to these shores than any other country save the US and increasingly using their brands to establish overseas campuses.

Much has been lamented about the loss of manufacturing even though the UK remains the sixth largest manufacturing nation in the world. However, we have successfully developed a strong service sector with, among others, global leading law firms who have established London as the global leading location for dispute resolution. We have world leading management consultants and other firms offering a wide range of professional services from Foster & Partners to PWC to WPP.

Defence is another industry where Britain is second only to the US at the global level. There are global leaders such as BAE systems. Linked to this is a strong position in Aerospace where again BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Bombardier, Cobham, Airbus and Agusta Westland combine to be one of the largest aerospace sectors in the world. Also linked to this is the Space industry which is enjoying BRIC-style growth rates, with at least 260 companies employing 100,000 people from upstream (EADS Astrium) to downstream (BSkyB).

An important sector is ICT and electronics. Britain is host to global leaders such as BT, Vodafone, and O2. The whole development of GSM which established a global standard for mobile telephony was centred in the UK .It is Europe’s leading market for software & IT services and accounts for 40% of Europe’s electronic design industry. Both Oxford & Cambridge University support strong technology clusters while a new one is mushrooming in Tech City UK in East London.

Britain is still a significant energy producer with global leading companies with 30-40 years output remaining in the North Sea. To that can be added the potential of shale gas as well as various renewable developments including wind and wave. Britain also hosts world leading companies in advanced materials including composites, plastics, nano materials, ceramics, alloys and steel produced by global leaders such as Pilkington Glass.

Back in the 1960s and '70s when Britain seemingly was permanently on strike the genius of the British for presenting themselves in a bad light led the world to believe that Britain was the most strike torn country in the world. In fact figures compiled by the International Labour Office for the ten year period 1961-70 showed that Canada and the US had the worst strike record. The average annual number of days lost per thousand workers were highest in Canada (1207 days) followed by the US (1121), Italy (1093), India (813), Australia (464), Denmark (414) and United Kingdom (321)  Peter Grosvenor and James McMillan wrote a book called The British Genius in 1973 [ii]in an attempt to correct these negative impressions . They argued that the national habit of self-denigration means we consistently achieve less than we otherwise would do. It still does.

[i]  Source: Big Picture: How to build the ‘rocketballz’ economy  Institute of Directors  Summer 2012
[ii] The British Genius Peter Grosvenor & James McMillan  J.M.Dent & Sons Ltd 1973 Coronet edition 1974
Copyright David C Pearson 2013 All rights reserved

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