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UK Insights

Your brand’s reputation is now out of your hands

Ben Lloyd

Head of Millward Brown Corporate

Politics 28.06.2016 / 11:00

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How the EU referendum result will impact brands

With the UK’s decision to Brexit, the perception of this country has changed, and as a result so has the reputation of those companies seen as ‘British’.  Companies/brands spend millions over decades to build and protect their reputation. Even when reputations are damaged it is often self-inflicted and the impact is obvious.  VW didn’t need anyone to tell them their reputation had been harmed thanks to ‘emissions’.  But what happens when your reputation takes such a potential big hit overnight due to issues totally out of your control?

What do your stakeholders think of you as a brand/company and what are the longer term impacts? We know trust, financial performance, strength of management, long term strategy are almost universal reputation drivers, but all are likely to have taken a hit since Brexit. So, what’s the business impact?

  • Are investors going to want to invest in you? Impact = share price, jobs, innovation, growth
  • Are people going to keep buying you if they don’t like the message you are associated with? Impact = sales/share price dip
  • Are the best graduates going to want to work for you? Impact = talent and cost of recruitment

Of course the answer is nobody knows. Yes, it could be a storm in a teacup, or it could be an issue that’s going to have a lasting impact for years to come but either way businesses need to know to plan accordingly.

Best of British

The flipside is that brands and companies need to focus on what’s best about being British to remain relevant and engaged with an international audience but they need to do it based on what matters to that audience, not what matters to the brand! Brands need to own ‘Britishness’ as a positive both in the UK and overseas before it is seen as isolated and negative.  It needs to engage those who feel ‘on the outside’ of the outcome and give them a reason to be proud to be British, if not proud of the result…..all while playing to the strengths of why people voted Brexit, not an easy balance to strike.

The ‘Leave’ brand

Before the referendum, Kantar’s Added Value UK spent time looking at the EU referendum campaigns as brands. CEO Paul Cowper says it is clear that the Remain ‘brand’ under-performed: “Its spokespeople are now paying high prices for their lack of clarity and persuasion. They simply didn’t tap into a vein of cultural feeling sufficiently deeply to activate it as behaviour. Of course the notion of treating the campaigns as brands is a bit flawed.  Brands exist to persuade us of something and to gain our preference, that’s true, but the comparison pretty much ends there because brands are things you choose time and again, and should the product they offer fail to deliver as promised, the brand is also the vehicle through which we can demand compensation. In the case of the EU referendum, we have a singular choice, made in a specific moment that leads to an outcome we have no recourse over.  What will be interesting to watch is how people who chose Leave feel about the choice they’ve made as the “product” they’ve opted for slowly emerges.  Clearly today is far too early to judge that product, time alone will tell how good it is, so let’s hope that the Leave brand product lives up to the promise that 52% of the UK opted for.”

Source : Kantar Millward Brown, Kantar Added Value

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