Eight steps: Your brand vs Brexit 29 June 2016

Whether we like it or not, we are where we are.  Sometime in the next 2-3 years we will probably say "Goodbye" to our membership of the EU. It is quite understandable that at the moment emotions are running high and everyone is trying to fathom and understand what it all means.

I will leave all the political wringing of hands and cogitation of brain juices to the politicians - but what is clear is that we are now heading into an extended period of change, and for businesses this means that we need to work on our contingency plans, how are we going to ensure we survive or even prosper. As Benjamin Franklin stated "out of adversity comes opportunity"

At Living, we work closely with many professional, legal and financial services firms. Firms that are going to be at the forefront of change and the implications of Brexit. Marketers and communicators we work with within these firms are now trying to formulate internal and external strategies to meet the challenges we face; reassure investors, customers and employees; and continue to raise awareness, increase engagement and generate opportunities.

In times of uncertainty, what we are all looking for is reassurance; confidence and trust in that our employers, suppliers and those we investment in know what they are doing and can steer us on a true course; a sense of good leadership and guidance; a display of resilience and preparedness; and expressions of unity, partnership and, of course, friendship.  After all, we are in this together.

Until the mist clears and we get a much clearer understanding of what Brexit will mean for the UK and for business there are a few principles that we can consider:

  1. Your brand still matters (actually it matters even more)
    The uncertainty that Brexit has created will result in clients and investors becoming even more risk averse.  Less likely to engage with brands they are not familiar with.  There is a clear need to innovate, be compelling and distinctive, and continue to establish a strong brand presence, this will aid brand recall, and ultimately loyalty.

    When it comes to brand marketing we need to start considering what will create long-term engagement rather than short-term gain.
    Interbrand’s analysis of Best Global Brands from 2005-2014, shows that strong brands mitigate risk and can deliver up to 40% more growth 

    Globalisation means increased competition, and in sectors such as professional, legal and financial services where there is little to differentiate firm from firm - your brand is going to need to create stand-out.

  2. Think increasingly Global
    Whether it is true or not that EU red tape stifles our ability to trade with customers outside EU borders - what it has highlighted is that it is a big world out there.  A world of opportunity, if you are willing to seek it out.

    We quite often use the saying 'the world is your oyster' to metaphorically represent the opportunities that are open to us - but oysters are notoriously difficult to get out their shells, it takes hard work to enjoy them.

    Businesses are already seeking to expand their geographic reach.  Many professional, legal and financial services firms already have a global footprint.  What Brexit will do is encourage more marketers to think with a global mindset - and communications and marketing strategies will reflect this.  

  3. Stay positive
    There has been so much negativity surrounding the Brexit campaign, many commentators talk of resounding failure, economic recession and downturn - yet others talk about the opportunities, expanding our business horizons and opening our trade routes to parts of the world where we have been unable to, or had little, trade to-date. Who knows who to believe?

    As businesses we need to remain level-headed and positive.  Don't panic and maintain a 'business as usual' approach.

    We need to keep our brand, marketing and communications equally as positive - emphasise the plus points of doing business with us, continue to create a brand experience to remember  - make sure that in all areas of interaction we keep audience needs front-of-mind, meet (and exceed) their expectations of us, and make sure that they come back to us time and time again.

  4. Add value (but don't get greedy)
    Economically things are going to get more challenging. Something that economic commentators all agree on. Clients are, therefore, becoming even more financially astute.  Budgets are going to be leaner and clients are going to look increasingly for what value you can add. We need to emphasise this in our communications, demonstrate the value we can deliver and the benefits it creates.

    Importantly, we can't get greedy.  Clients don't look fondly on brands they perceive to be taking advantage of them.  It is so easy when finances start getting tight to look at increasing fees as a solution - rather than on focusing on delivering value and encouraging clients to stick with you by demonstrating that value and proving you are a cost-effective hire.

    Coming out of the EU may mean that trade controls are changed, competition legislation altered, red tape cut. But this also means that clients are going to shop around more and that we may see an increase in disruptive (think Uber) means of working with suppliers.  This is all going to impact fee-structures.  Being greedy is not going to do you, or your brand, any favours.

  5. Celebrate your heritage
    In times of uncertainty and disruption, customers and investors seek reassurance and often turn to brands that they are familiar with, that they have lived with for a long period of their lives.  Brands that have a history, a heritage, can capitalise on this familiarity.  Having a brand that can demonstrate longevity and a history of having survived and prospered through periods of adversity in the past, is often seen as a good thing.

    Emphasise your heritage and your experience, not only your firm's experience but that of your colleagues also.  By doing so you will increase audience confidence, trust and reassurance.  

  6. Keep it real (and relevant)
    Technology savvy clients now have the ability to compare firms at their fingertips.  We can all, within a few clicks, find out about our suppliers, or who we are thinking about investing in.  Financial Services firms, in particular are increasingly being forced to become more transparent in how they do business, the fees they charge, the services they offer and their track records, and their ethical and cultural profiles.

    It increases the need for honesty and respect. Demonstrate a real understanding of audience needs and deliver on them, respect them and they will trust you.  

    How you engage with audiences is also important.  Don't just rely on a single channel for your communications - do some research and find out which channels your audiences use, ask them.  In an age when we are putting so much content and messaging onto digital channels, take a step back and consider whether they are the most effective.  Don't ignore other traditional channels, such as print, advertising, or face-to-face.  They all have their place.  

    And, don't suddenly start churning out content because you think that by saturating the market with your content you are going to get noticed.  Less is more.  Audiences can so easily be turned off.  It is important to always consider the relevancy of your communications.
    Relevant content to the relevant audience by the relevant channel at the relevant time.
     
  7. Listen
    There really was a reason why we were given one mouth and two ears. Listen to your audiences, how are they reacting to your communications? What sentiment are they sharing? What are they saying about you?

    One of the most common complaints we hear and read about is from customers, employees and investors (and voters for that matter) is that they are not being listened to.  We really do need to increase efforts to remedy this.  Digitally, we need to make use of tools such as Brandwatch (or other monitoring services) to get a measure of audience interaction and reaction, make sure that the messages we are communicating are truly engaging with the needs of audiences and that they are being positively received.
    Don't just keep pushing messages or content, without measuring how it is received.

    And, remember we don't live in a world dominated by digital just yet.  Turn off your computers, your phones and tablets - and get out and talk to audiences, engage with them face to face.  Remember that professional, legal and financial services are primarily about people buying people.  In order to do that we need to engage in a more human manner.  When it comes to employee engagement, this is even more critical.

  8. And, repeat.

Whatever change Brexit brings with it, and we know it will bring a lot of change, there are going to be opportunities as well as challenges. As businesses we need to be prepared to meet the challenges head on on make the most of the opportunities.  As marketers our primary objective is going to ensure that our firms are prepared, to reassure our audiences - both internal and external, increase confidence, raise profile and continue to seek out new sources of revenue.  What we say and do at the moment is vital to our success.

In confusing and unsettled times its more important than ever to clearly communicate what your organisation does, what benefits you offer your clients and what are the compelling reasons to do business with you.

 In a period of noise and uncertainty being certain about why you matter makes you easier to understand, easier to trust and more attractive to do business with.

David King, Group Marketing Director

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