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The British Brand and Scottish Devolution

Posted on the 07 March 2012 by Iangreen @GREENComms

union jackBeing British is about recognising there is a ‘British’ brand. Debate about Scottish devolution and popular interest in what it means to be ‘British’ are failing to use this critical tool to help people really understand and manage the issue.
Whether Scotland should be part of Britain, or how different ethnic groups, such as those on the Channel 4 show Making Bradford British, align themselves to ‘British’ culture, the questions at the heart of these debates are what is the ‘British’ brand -  and is it fit for purpose, and what can be done to make it work better?
If you mention the word ‘brand’ most people associate it with consumer goods and names like Microsoft, Coca-Cola or Dolce & Gabbana.
Yet, each and every one of us is a brand. Our campaigns and organisations are brands – and even our communities and nation states are brands.
You don’t have a choice about whether to be a brand or not. What you can choose however, is how to manage your brand. This is not saying you have to be artificial and false. Indeed, a key quality of a brand is its need for integrity, a truthfulness about what is at its heart.
I was inspired to explore the question of the British brand by the tragic events of the 7/7 bombings; 56 people including the four bombers were killed by the events.
I missed the Aldgate bomb by 12 minutes. (Although I argue everyone missed it by 12 minutes because it could have happened to anyone.)
My dear friend Robert Webb was not so lucky. He lost his beloved sister Laura in the bombings, where during the aftermath he appeared on national television appealing for any news of her.
I am a rather stupid person. If I see something wrong I feel I ought to do something about it. It seemed to me that all of us – including the bombers are members of a club. And somehow, there are some members so disaffected by the club they chose to do untold harm to other club members.
Recognising that the bombers were from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, nearby where I then lived, and also working as a professional communicator, I thought it pertinent to explore the communications failure that we had witnessed, along with how the brand that was supposed to hold us all together had somehow failed.
The idea emerged of a conference called Hope after the Bombings to explore what had happened and how communicators could play their role in rebuilding our communities.
The event in November 2005 ranks as one of my proudest contributions to this planet: speakers included Robert Webb sharing his story, broadcaster Darcus Howe, Colin Parry (who lost his son Tim in the Warrington bombings), Adeem Yunis, founder of and many other valuable contributions – all with a different take and perspective of the 7/7 bombings experience.
My contribution was about the British brand.
So, what is the relevance of using Branding as a tool and how can it be used to assist our debates whether about Scottish devolution or diversity?
A brand is made up of three elements:
Icons – the pictures (or lack of) that come to mind when you mention the name
Values – these underpin our behaviours, influencing what we do, or don’t do
Information – the currency of facts we use in the dialog about the brand.
The crucial element in considering what is meant by the British brand is Values.
Values are the glue that holds us together? They are the gel uniting us as a group, live together and share a common destiny? Clearly there had been a breakdown with the actions of the 7/7 bombers. They had clearly gone beyond what is acceptable Brand behavior.
You are right in thinking that there has been much previous soul searching about the question of ‘What are British Values’?
I feel these efforts have failed or had limited success because:

  • They were top-down imposed
  • They failed to make themselves meme-friendly (memorable and easily pass-on-able)
  • They were reviewed outside the context of using Brand.

When exploring your Values I argue you should only identify five. The reason? Usually, you can only remember five things. (Try to name the magnificent seven, seven wonders etc.) Therefore, you really need to establish the top five and use your energies to make these memorable.
Also, by failing to harness the model of a Brand you can then use your Values to filter what Icons and Information you can suitably harness to promote your message.
By looking at the issue from a top-down perspective you are imposing a world-view on others. By encouraging bottom-up thinking you can allow others to shape their take on the British Brand from their viewpoint. They can take ownership of the resulting insight and perspective.
The reality is that we have 59 million individual definitions of what people define as their ‘British Brand’. Inevitably however, from the complexity, rather like a mosaic picture, a clear central image can emerge.
My bottom-up contribution for what I define as the five British Values is:

#1 Physical safety – we come together to help us avoid/reduce the physical threat from others, both outside and inside our communities.
#2 Social justice – we support our weaker members and ensure fair access to resources, opportunities and fulfilling potential.
#3 Tolerance – we respect the right to be different
#4 Benign scepticism – we have our own views
#5 Uphold democratic principles – of majority rules and respecting minorities rights (using  values #1,#2,#3, #4)

I am not saying these are the absolute Values for the British brand – rather they are my personal take, and you are more than willing to embrace/reject (using Values #1,#2,#3, and  #4)
So, if you are debating about Scottish devolution, diversity, or watching TV shows like Channel 4’s‘Making Bradford British explore the debate through the model of a Brand.
By using the concept of Brand it will help you gain greater understanding and insight. It will also provide a model for taking your take on the ‘British Brand’ forward.
This is urgent. We do not want any more people to suffer the consequences of another 7/7. More debate on the brand and memes can be found at

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