• The Silk Initiative

Brexit and Brand U.K.

All eyes have been on the U.K. over the past few weeks as the Brexit drama reached a fever pitch. October 31st was supposed to be the date the United Kingdom left the European Union, but as of now, it looks like Brussels has granted London an extension until January. The complexity of the situation, being the first nation to separate from the E.U., means we’re all in uncharted waters. It also means the ripple effect is impacting areas well outside the political sphere.

Since the critical Brexit vote in 2016, the business world has rightly been in a holding pattern. Over the past three years, though, markets across the globe have changed dramatically. This means companies waiting around are likely to have a slew of missed opportunities. Nowhere is this more probable than in Asia, the world’s fastest-growing market.

This led us to ask what impact Brexit was actually going to have on the Asian market, particularly in the food and beverage space. Interestingly, few analysts or economists were brave enough to tackle the subject. So to get an answer we turned to the same place we begin all our engagements: the consumer. At the end of the day, numbers are great but insights from people on the ground are far more important. In conversations with consumers across various Asian markets, one thing became clear to us: Brand U.K. had a monumental opportunity to build its reputation.

It’s not as if people had negative perceptions of the country. Quite the opposite. There was no perception of a Brand U.K. or what British industry stood for at all. Although British chambers and trade associations have worked hard to promote certain sectors, like fashion and automotive, others like F&B seem to still have space to grow. Most interviewees had trouble identifying any major British brands in the food and beverage space. Outside Costa Coffee, which was mentioned quite a bit, people were left scratching their heads.

What, then, are British brands looking for success in the region supposed to do? It all comes down to having a strong brand identity that can weather any storm. To get there, you’re going to need a strong foundation. In our experience, this foundation is based on three critical factors.

First, a brand has to understand their stakeholders. Every TSI engagement begins with gathering insights from the actual people who buy the stuff you’re selling. Their desires, frustrations, and needs are your gospel. Yet, as we’ve seen with consumer insights around Brand U.K., sometimes we forget to ask the people what they want. This doesn’t end once you’ve established your brand, either. It’s important to keep an ear to the ground to see if you’re still meeting changing consumer demands.

Secondly, a brand’s identity has to be unique. You’re going to have a hard time competing if every product on the market is the same as yours. That’s why it’s so important to be different. What functional and emotional benefits set you apart from the crowd? Is it heritage, provenance, trustworthiness? How about something that’s hassle-free, powerful, or luxurious? Just please don’t say you’re innovative, creative, or disruptive as it seems everyone else is too.

Lastly, you’ve got to be consistent. The cardinal sin of identity is often the most prevalent: unnecessary brand extension. While typically 80-90% of new products are line extensions, the problem occurs when an extension fails to add value to a client’s life. If consumers don’t understand your core brand identity, then there isn’t a reason to extend it. All you’re going to do is confuse consumers and likely drive them into the arms of your competitors.

You can’t crystal ball what’s going to happen next inside the Houses of Parliament, but that doesn’t mean the situation is entirely out of your control. As a business leader, one of your most important jobs is to ensure your brand has an identity consumers buy into (and hopefully buy). Getting there takes the right foundations. Stakeholder insight, differentiation, and consistency will go a long way in determining whether your customers leave or remain.

TSI's Joel Bacall and Golden Huang contributed to this piece.

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