Thumbs up for “Global Britain”?

17 March 2021
Thumbs up for “Global Britain”?

On the face of it, the Government seems to be making a right royal hash of it, with a 'proposition' littered with contradictions. Predictably, they’ve kicked-off with another slogan, rather than a strategy.  “Global Britain” sounds great (as long as you don’t live in Northern Ireland), but what does it actually mean?

This week's announcements coincided with a unilateral easing of rules governing trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, suggesting Boris Johnson is prepared to rip up the Northern Ireland Protocol he agreed only a few months ago, and with it - for the second time in few months - shred the UK's precious reputation as an arbiter of international law. At a time when the UK is attempting to seal deals with countries around the world, this sends out a very negative message that will raise eyebrows and questions the UK’s integrity from Abuja to Washington.

"Bigging-up" our nuclear deterrent could also back-fire. For a country that stood for nuclear de-escalation and soft power, it looks like a backward-looking move, rooted in the mentality of public schoolboy willy waving. Likewise, planning to deploy HMS Queen Elizabeth II - with its aircraft borrowed from the US - on its maiden voyage to Asia suggests The Government hasn’t lost a taste for imperialist deal-making. 

An “Asian-tilt” might make sense as long as we’re seen as a trusted party, but with a US trade deal predicated on maintaining the Northern Ireland protocol, it’s probably the only option available, now that bridges have been well and truly burned with the EU. Diplomacy has always been a strength, but that, too, is now questioned abroad, with the Foreign Aid budget cut and Lord Patten commenting that Lord David Frost, the UK’s combative Chief Brexit Negotiator, now UK Minister for EU Relations, “isn’t much interested in diplomacy”.

Brand reputation

Every successful business leader understands the value of brand reputation, how to build it, and how to nurture it. They also acknowledge the damage that can be done to a reputation overnight. The Queen understands this, too.

Brand reputation is the reason a business can sell its products or services profitably. It usually engenders trust, loyalty, confidence and influence. It also provides the basis for driving growth through competitive advantage, and commanding a price premium. These are all things “Global Britain” badly needs right now.

Most commentators thought that the post-Brexit strategy was going to be to position the UK for global business as a low tax, light-touch regulation economy, close to the second largest market in the world. That option has been blown out of the water by bad tempered scuffles with the EU and the Budget, when Rishi Sunak announced large rises in corporation tax from 2024. Inward investment will be compromised by both events as global corporations reconsider their options.

COP26 should provide the launchpad for “Global Britain’s” world leadership on the path to zero-carbon, but even that facet of the UK’s brand reputation is under threat of contradiction, with ministers unwilling to can the deeply unclean Cumbrian coal mine planned to provide coking coal for ancient blast furnaces.

The company you keep also informs your reputation. Successful consumer brands are obsessed with where they are seen and the endorsements they receive. These influences are highly valuable, but the wrong ones are toxic. So while “Global Britain” seeks out new relationships, the country will be defined by those it keeps. Continuing to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, cosying up to China and ignoring human rights abuses in trade deals will hurt the UK’s reputation and diminish our values. It will also upset some of our allies and risks positioning “Global Britain” as amoral mercenaries. That would be deeply damaging. 

It’s not too late to refocus

So, the UK is in an uncomfortable situation, trying to find its new place in the world. Lots of bluster, lots of slogans, expecting to have cake and eat it, is no substitute for purpose and strategy. 

It’s hard to fathom why a proper brand re-positioning has not been undertaken since the Brexit vote was won in 2016, and perhaps it’s still not too late. After all, the UK leads the world in brand strategy, design, digital, PR and advertising. Why not use some of our own talent to identify and articulate why our country deserves to prosper responsibly on this planet?

Only then, with a clear purpose, values and brand story can “Global Britain's” brand reputation be nurtured and managed with consistent governance and intelligence to create competitive advantage and avoid reputational risks and threats that could affect all our futures. We all want to give "Global Britain" the thumbs up but, at the moment, it's a struggle.

Nucleus’ brand reputation checklist

  • Define and articulate purpose
  • Align brand and business strategies
  • Engage stakeholders and build advocacy
  • Put the right people in charge of managing sensitive issues
  • Communicate clearly and consistently, reinforcing key messages
  • Avoid contradictions where at all possible
  • Proactively respond to threats and risks
  • Implement consistent governance and reputation management
  • Continuously measure awareness, recall and sentiment

Peter Matthews
Nucleus founder and CEO