Everybody knows at least one – a relative, colleague, friend or partner who has no idea how to market his or her best assets. There’s the good husband with a flair for the frying pan who never wants to be seen in the kitchen, the close friend with all the moves but who never ventures near the dance-floor, the associate at the office with all the arguments who dares not speak up, and the elegant cousin with the perfect physique who forever wears a potato sack. There are many countries that behave the same way.
The Swiss do little to promote their very drinkable wines. The Japanese are incapable of taking their graphic design talent and turning it into great global branding. The Finns keep their handsome, seaworthy leisure vessels largely to themselves. And Canada doesn’t make much noise about the fact its commercial pilots are much in demand – or that it churns out a disproportionately high number of female pop stars. In some cases it’s a natural dose of humility that prevents nations from being better marketers. In others it’s a somewhat endearing streak of self-unawareness. When you have many other things working in your favour (logistic expertise, technological innovation, design heritage and endless resources) it’s almost charming to downplay some of your finer points. When you’ve let your manufacturing base slip offshore, found yourself having to nationalise some of your banks, are fighting a war you’re ill-equipped to win and your citizens are parked at number four on the global chubby index however, it’s time to reach into your bag of tricks.
As we send these pages off to press it’s almost 100 days since the UK’s new coalition government took office and they seem to have trouble finding the bag, never mind the tricks. As it is still summer and all, it’s highly likely that the bag has simply been misplaced with all the musical chairs at Whitehall, was lost by British Airways (the prime minister’s official carrier – see Me and My Motorcade, page 50) or met a valiant if futile end stuffed into the Deepwater Horizon plughole. If the bag does manage to turn up, it’ll be something of a blessing and a curse for David Cameron’s government. A blessing because everyone likes to have their property returned, and a curse because then comes the moment when you have to rummage around inside to see what’s actually been stolen. The good news is that nothing’s been nicked (three boisterous cheers for humanity); the bad news is, there weren’t very many tricks knocking around in the first place.
As the UK rolls into autumn and 2010 starts to fade, it’s time for the government to roll out a trick or two (or even a treat for Halloween) and let the world know what Brand Britain stands for. Anyone can cut costs and re-allocate funds from one department to the next. On the other hand, it takes an evolved sense of self-awareness and confidence to identify your strongest assets and sell them with all your heart.
For our September issue we’ve invited Lady Britannia into our Marylebone clinic for a consultation with some of the best experts in nation building and branding. The UK circa 2010 offers a cautionary lesson for all about how quickly things can capsize and how fast a nation can fade from the international relevance radar. Starting on page 27 we report on the health of Lady Britannia today and what she needs to do to get her groove back.