How to make an international brand appeal in Britain? To be a Great British Brand involves far more than simply having a foot in the marketplace. British brands are historically sought out for their quality, craftsmanship and heritage. Authenticity, integrity and transparency are important and a sense of humour and knack for storytelling will help. Above all, support for the local and wider community and a strong ethos that puts respect for people and the planet at its core are also essential values with which to win the trust of British consumers, particularly post-Covid.
Reasons why Britain is great for brands
For a small island, Britain, the part of the UK that includes England, Scotland and Wales but not Northern Ireland offers overseas brands numerous opportunities to pack a hefty international punch. For a start, its geographical location and time zone allow easy communication and trade with west and east.
Second, post- Brexit, London remains one of the world’s only four global cities alongside Paris, New York and Tokyo. Brands stand to gain from the ripple effect of London’s mighty reputation as a vibrant, global cultural hub. The country’s ‘Cool Britannia’ reputation goes beyond its music and edgy fashion, personified by groups like Blur and Oasis and designers like Vivienne Westwood and Paul Smith. Britain continually exports classic style and idiosyncratic flair in so many ways, like via its James Bond films, in which 007’s outfits are ever synonymous with the ultimate in sartorial elegance.
Finally, Britain has an enviable, unmatched reputation for heritage craftsmanship. Take Savile Row, or think how few department stores elsewhere are as cherished for outstanding quality, history and variety as Harrods or Fortnum & Mason. Britain’s heritage factories have stood for centuries and still make everything from ceramics to fine knitwear and shoes. Though many brands founded or manufactured in Britain are now owned by foreign conglomerates from Prada (Church’s) to LVMH (Stella McCartney), they continue to present as British brands because ‘Made in Britain’ acts as a badge of reassuring excellence. Charu Gandhi, founder of Elicyon, a design company operating globally, chose London as her headquarters because she says, ‘London is the epicentre of design. Britishness has a very strong brand that’s also hard to define – and that lends itself to originality, a breadth of style and eccentricity. Yet it’s all steeped in legacy, so we have these amazing heritage brands that have gone international. Britishness symbolises the best of the best, in terms of quality and creativity in design and also love of adventure and celebrating other cultures.’
Key to success: embracing British culture
To be defined as British involves a wholehearted embrace of British culture beyond relocation. Gucci will always have an Italian soul just as Dom Perignon or Chanel will always be French to the core. If a brand is setting up in Britain, it behoves it to study the way consumers’ preoccupations have changed since Covid. They no longer tolerate brands that are detrimental to people or the environment. So, be transparent about your sources and supply chain and declare your commitment to reducing your carbon emissions. Since Glasgow hosted Cop26 in November 2021, there has been a significant rise in brands applying for B Corp accreditation to join the 724 UK brands that are already members, from banks and energy companies to those offering coffee, food, skincare, wellness products, clothes, holidays and much more. There is also Positive Luxury’s blue butterfly mark to reassure consumers that a brand is ethical. In the fashion industry, long seen as the environment’s evil enemy because of its association with fast fashion, brands like Stella McCartney, Burberry, Mulberry and Anya Hindmarch now lead by example, seeking more eco-friendly materials from which to create their products and using their platforms to urge customers to abandon plastic and cut back drastically on surplus stock. The more you recycle, re-use and repurpose, the more you will lure the young and eco-conscious. Witness the swift rise of Britain’s first fashion rental marketplace, My Wardrobe HQ, set up in 2019 and already hugely popular.
Think local and don’t work in isolation
Wherever you set up, think locally. People relish proof that you have sourced all you can from local suppliers and that you support your community. Brands gain visibility and popularity by sponsoring local initiatives from hospitals and charities to choirs and theatres. Stories of brands being heroic community pillars during lockdown abound and people are turning to those brands, constantly seeking out community-minded and philanthropic brands, from global brand Barbour to newcomer Fairfax & Favor, the boot and shoemaker which was the ninth highest contributor to NHS Charities Together during the pandemic.
Avoid setting up in isolation. There are numerous trade bodies. A Royal Warrant is the Holy Grail and as good as it gets, given you must be an official supplier to a member of the Royal Family. Warrant holders collaborate to preserve craftsmanship and traditional heritage skills, from embroidery to sword making. Indeed, post-Covid ‘collaboration’ is the buzz word and a culture encouraged by Walpole, the luxury sector’s official body. Walpole represents around 250 British brands and last year launched a sustainability manifesto that saw brands sharing skills and ideas.
Have fun. So many British brands thrive on their eccentricity and sense of humour. Storytelling is key. Sipsmith’s founders gave their gin its jaunty distinction by naming their traditional copper still Prudence and using quirky photography. Within a very short time the gin was a recognisable, sought-after brand.
So tell a good story, be ethical, transparent, true to your roots and support your community. Perhaps the most important rule for any brand entering Britain is never compromise quality. In an uncertain world, brands are expected to deliver reassuringly consistent excellence, underpinned by solid ethical values.
Charlotte Metcalf is the Editor of Great British Brands, an annual publication showcasing the best of Britain’s luxury brands across style, shoes & accessories, watches & jewellery, beauty & wellbeing, iconic destinations, hotels &travel, designers, cars, food & drink.