Act 1: Defining Britishness

Our research, To Be or Not to Be: Decoding The Great British Identity Crisis, examines consumers’ and marketers’ attitudes to the value of national provenance today. We will be sharing our findings from the report in a weekly series, taking a closer look at the components of what Britishness now means for brands. 


Brands are a dominant institution of the 21st century, and they can play a defining role in interpreting and projecting the nation’s values and identity at home and abroad. Yet in Britain 2017, the components that define ‘Britishness’ feel more intangible and elusive than ever, occupying a fluid definition or set of definitions. An ever-changing notion, it is affected by the delicate socio-political and economic ecosystem surrounding it. It’s a set of brand codes that exists almost constantly in flux, tangled by history, a paradox.

We know that relying on national stereotype, or championing ‘Britishness’ as a key proponent of your brand, does not merit automatic success. Yet, in a marketplace that can feel homogenous, provenance can still play a key role in creating genuine differentiation.

It’s a strategic necessity for brands to work out to whom they appeal in a globalised yet socially-fragmented society. They need to address provenance in a way which is sincere and meaningful for their audiences. This may be by embracing the highly local or through championing a global perspective. However, in the current climate, there’s an aversion to tackling the issues which make Britishness such a complex condition to employ. This has led to a crisis in how Britishness is used in branding. Brexit has confirmed that the gap between brands and consumers may be broader than previously anticipated, making the task of harnessing national provenance feel even more overwhelming.

However, it does provide a highly significant moment for brand reflection and introspection. The codes of ‘Britishness’ can still play an important role in guiding branding principles and imbuing creative differentiation.

It’s necessary to establish how a brand’s story is told to the British people, as well as how it’s interpreted on the global stage. External images are not easily separable from internal perceptions. Yes, it’s a delicate riddle, a complicated recipe requiring astuteness and balance. However, we know that the best stories and experiences make the most complex of combinations feel simple.

Blending the findings of a comprehensive omnibus survey we conducted recently on the general public’s perception of British brands, with in-depth interviews with leading marketers working in British companies and institutions, we’ve explored the key challenges when harnessing the power of national provenance for British brands today. We extracted the key insights into how to use and understand this asset post-Brexit. A generalised approach to Britishness in branding is a thing of the past. To create real meaning, a bespoke balance is required.

We’ve developed a collection of insights to help any brand understand how to enrich its reputation and appeal from a uniquely British perspective, using new codes and ingredients to its advantage.

Download the full report here.