"An opportunity and a threat": MediaCom North's Paul Cooper on how brands can survive Brexit
Paul Cooper, group managing director of MediaCom North, looks at the effect of Brexit one year on, and how brands can respond in this changing consumer landscape.
A recent report from MediaCom North attempted to answer some of the many questions posed by Brexit. With offices in Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham, we tapped into regional perceptions combined with national research to uncover how consumers feel in the wake of Brexit.
A post-Brexit Britain will result in opportunities for many brands, but steps must be taken to insulate against any negative effects. Brands must be resilient to dealing with the outcomes that could arise from the Brexit negotiations which have become a lot more complex with Theresa May forming a minority government, and therefore are impossible to predict and open to rejection. It is likely that timeframes will be affected as a result of this and agreements will be delayed.
Understanding what trust means to your audience in this changing landscape will be key, along with the ability to adapt quickly to whatever is on the horizon. Is your business empowered and enabled to make necessary changes?
The tides of change
It’s fair to say that the pace of social change over the last few decades has been unprecedented. Since the 1970s, the UK has seen a rapid cultural shift towards social tolerance of diverse lifestyles and an open-mindedness towards migrants, multiculturalism, technology and globalisation.
However, the speed of this change has left a proportion of society feeling out of touch. This sentiment has been exacerbated by factors such as the recession, the MP expenses scandal, benefit cuts and terrorism, making a proportion of society feel that their priorities have been forgotten about. In a sense, Brexit provided an opportunity for these voices to be heard.
Alongside this change, we have seen right-wing populist parties gain political power, positioning themselves against the establishment and liberal, metropolitan elites, and thus acting as ‘champions’ of the ordinary man.
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Our research revealed that consumers are less optimistic about their finances and the economy than they were before the Brexit vote. There is a divide in optimism, with those who voted to Leave being more positive about their personal finances than those who voted Remain. Whilst this optimism may be a rose-tinted effect of Brexit, it is having an impact on consumer behaviour. For example, Remain voters are much more likely to report higher prices in supermarkets and clothes shops, and are buying less than Leave voters.
It can be tempting for brands to retract during times of uncertainty, which may represent an opportunity to steal share for brands bold enough to seize tactical opportunities. However, in times of uncertainty ensuring that you don’t ignore your current customer should be key.
Protect your base by understanding how confident your customers are feeling and how this affects category behaviour. Interrogate what value means in your category, and consistently reinforce the aspects of your offering that keep people shopping with you. Remain open to tactical growth opportunities, and be nimble to appeal to switchers.
The rise of fake news sites has played a part in the decline of trust in the media, so it’s important for brands and advertisers to avoid the same consequences. For advertisers and brands the worry lies in the idea that online algorithms could lead to their content being placed alongside harmful or untrustworthy content.
MediaCom North creates new board and promotes Cooper to group MDIn times of uncertainty trust becomes harder to earn making it more valuable than ever. This represents both an opportunity and a threat to brands. On the one hand, trusted brands can gain an immediate advantage over competitors, but on the other, there are more chances for brands to become exposed.
As our research highlights, trust means different things to different people. Actions speak louder than words and brands that live up to their proclamations through their behaviour are more likely to retain or improve trust. Environmental associations affect brand trust, so think carefully not just about what you say, but where you are saying it.
The British ‘Brandwagon’?
The top benefit of Brexit that both Leave and Remain voters are looking forward to is more brands being launched and manufactured in Britain.
Post-Brexit, we have seen a rise in campaigns focusing on celebrating all things British with a number of brands have reverted to messaging around provenance, heritage and nostalgia to appeal to British consumers. Some you’d expect, for example John Lewis’ ‘National Treasure’ campaign this summer, and others perhaps not, such as Samsung’s ‘20 Greatest British Views’ campaign.
These are attempts to appeal to emotional truths which may exist within these brands’ categories or amongst their audience group, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the same will be true in yours. What is true, is that if you understand your consumers inherently and know how to connect with them emotionally, this will pay dividends in the long-term health of your brand. Look for accord, not division, and brand truths which engage your audience.