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Brave brands and brexit

Tamara Littleton CEO, The Social Element and Co-Founder, Polpeo, reviews our event with HSBC's Mark Berrisford Smith

On Thursday 5th September I attended the Marketing Society’s seminar on ‘Demystifying Brexit’ with HSBC's top economist, Mark Berrisford-Smith.

I mention the date because it was in the same week that we had some of the most dramatic events playing out in the Commons and we were waiting to see if the Lords would approve the new law to block a no-deal Brexit.

Mark talked us through where we are now, how we got here and what the next political moves might be. It was like listening to a Grandmaster chess player as he broke down the options and next possible moves of the Prime Minister and the opposition. However Mark’s observation that our relationship with the EU will dominate the next ten years really hit home the impact the Brexit effect is having on our country and how it is playing out on the global stage. Mark reminded us that “the issue of our relationship with Europe will not go away if we leave.” Sobering words indeed.

Mark continued to educate us on the wider global political activities and change in tactics being used by the US and China, for example, and the rise of aggressive communications and diplomacy style. He also spoke of the rise of deglobalisation. While the UK doesn’t depend on exportation alone, other countries like Japan, Germany, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore are likely to be negatively affected by this shift. Deglobalisation is affecting large companies and slowing down decisions. For example, if industries such as cars and electronics have to plan their global supply chain in advance, and they are building it on shifting sands in a deglobalised environment, this will be halting investment and affecting other spending such as marketing and advertising. It will be interesting to see which brands are brave enough to up their budgets when the economy is flatlining.

Despite feeling pretty despondent at this point it was so useful to get the bigger picture on Brexit and its impact on our own economy as well as the wider landscape and implications. It got me thinking about how to get through this. How would we fix it if the UK was a company? As the Founder of my own agency, The Social Element, which I founded seventeen years ago, and co-founder of Polpeo, I’ve had my own share of ups and downs as every owner will relate to. But in times of trouble you need to go back to the company culture and the people. In the UK we have a problem with our culture. It is currently toxic and people have polarised views leading to an ‘us and them’ culture, a blame culture and lack of cohesion. As a result we are stagnating and not focusing on other strategies, like security, poverty and climate change. We are taking our eye off the ball.

Our talent pool is being affected because of our toxic culture and red tape, and morale has dipped significantly affecting productivity. The sales pipeline is being affected by the wider context. Deglobalisation, the rise of the far right and a backdrop of liberalisation but also more regulation on its way will all affect our processes and procedures.

There is no sense of cohesion and no sense of company culture and values.

If the UK was a company, I have no doubt that the way to change things would be to invest in people, define and communicate the shared mission, vision and values, improve communication, use marketing (internal and external) to reinforce the mission, vision and values and create a sense of unity and purpose.

Maybe it’s not about brands being brave enough to invest during an economic downturn. Maybe the truly brave brands will help unite the country.