What can brands learn from Brexit?

You can’t escape it: since the referendum in June 2016 we’ve spoken about Brexit to tax directors of FTSE 100 companies, SME owners, Conservative voters, environmental activists, referendum ‘Leavers’, political activists, new technology prospects, and many more.
If there is one topic that’s front of mind across all these different groups, it’s Brexit.

  1. The future on hold

With less than 4 months until Britain leaves the EU and the only plan on the table collecting support from – apparently – nobody, UK citizens still can’t know what will happen with regard to staying in the customs union, creating a hard border in Northern Ireland, or the rights of foreign workers here in the UK.

The only scenario businesses, organisations and individuals can be sure of is that a ‘no deal’ outcome is still not impossible . As a result, a mentality of either planning for the worst or, more usually, delaying plans has become the norm and it’s affecting household decision making just as much as business.

2. Mindsets

Throughout the post-referendum period we’ve seen two Leaver mindsets: the ‘Hopeful’ and the ‘Suspicious’. The Hopeful Leaver tends to be more outer-directed and socially confident and is optimistic (at least outwardly) that ‘everything will be fine’. The idea that they may have made a mistake is not to be countenanced. The ‘Suspicious’ Leavers worry that the more they hear about negotiations, the more the Brexit they voted for (generally connected to immigration and independence) may not happen. This type is often more risk-averse and security-seeking; for many of them life has been tough in the last ten years – Brexit signified a potentially advantageous change. Remainers tend to divide into ‘resigned’ (and sometimes resentful) and those who still hope for some last-gasp about-turn. We’ve met re-appraisers from both sides.

3. What’s keeping the country up at night?

Brexit is the best, but not the only, example of a world where ‘anything can happen’. Local and national scandal are becoming such a normal part of British life that people aren’t sure what the appropriate reaction is. At the same time, there are sources of hope. Positive news can puncture the negativity and lift the nation’s spirits.

This leaves people without a clear sense of how they should be feeling, and moreover who they should be turning to for guidance. No person, organization, media outlet, party or brand has been able to convince them either that things are definitely going to get better, or definitely going to get worse.

Our mix of research in business-to-business, campaign development, and new proposition development has given us valuable insight into what’s keeping the country up at night, and what has given people some hope for the future.

4. Reasons to be cheerful

4.1 Accountability seems to work

Large, historically impenetrable organisations are being shown they’re not above the law. While corporate scandals might shake people’s faith short term, our research into ‘Regulatory Britain’ indicates that exposure of scandals around emissions, social media data mishandling and even pension fund depletion could all serve to increase trust in the system long term.

4.2 Sustainability is no longer just about Bad News

Recent considerable environmental wins relate to areas our NGO clients have been campaigning on for decades. Concern over single use plastic is finally being heard, harmful pesticides have been banned in order to protect nature, and emissions are now firmly in the sights of legislators. Consumers and citizens, particularly parents, are broadly encouraged to see definite progress and proof that change is possible.

5. Reasons to be worried

5.1 Household incomes

For many households the trumpeted end to austerity is hard to spot – wages carry on stagnating in real terms and households are trying to cut down on monthly spend. Many are increasingly watching their direct debits, at a time when many companies we work for are wanting to move towards subscription models.

5.2 Declining trust in institutions

There is a pervasive self-protection reflex, amongst many of the consumers we speak to – a lot of people don’t trust politicians of any party to look out for them. Social media companies seem worryingly unconcerned about their impact on democracy and mental health. Even once-respected news sources like the BBC are thought of as biased (to the left, or the right, depending on who you talk to!) and business is thought to be only as honest as it is regulated.

5.3 Austerity is over??

Despite recent announcements that austerity is about to end, the middle classes are finding it coming ever closer to home through fly tipping, potholes and NHS waiting lists. There’s a sense for many that crime is on the rise and they feel less safe in their home. In a project developing a new security solution we found most people look for a self-managed, self-monitored device because they simply don’t think the police have the resources to respond.

6. What does all this add up to?

The national indecision over Brexit is one example of a pervasive national sense of insecurity. Consumers see a lack of leadership and long term planning everywhere they turn, not just in politics, but in the brands they buy, the causes they support and in the organisations they rely on.

Are Consumers losing faith in the government and the media to give them the reassurance and support they need? Brands would do well to fill this hole and offer some reassurance not just with Brexit but in myriad places customers feel insecure.

7. Brands that are having a go

Some brands have chosen to talk overtly to ‘Britain’ with union jack initiatives like Vauxhall’s ’true brit’ campaign and Jack’s from Tesco. Others have moved in different directions to close the trust gap and to offer some hope for the future.

Here are a few examples of brands that we’d say are taking a shot at meeting some of the need the country’s needs right now:

7.1 TSB: Local banking for Britain

TSB shows the power of people working together – in this case to topple the ‘fat cats’ and release rewards for ‘ordinary people’.

7.2 Mental Health: Lloyds, Get the inside out (February 2018)

The winner of Channel 4’s Diversity In Advertising award. The campaign features Celebrities, bank employees and members of the public play a “Who am I?” sticky-note guessing game to talk about mental health conditions such as anxiety, bipolar disorder and depression.

7.3 Sustainability: H&M, Close the Loop (Jan 2017)

“There are no rules in fashion but one: recycle your clothes”

H&M offer €5.83 off your purchase when you bring in old clothes for them to recycle.The fabric you donate is then re-cycled and sold in H&M storesThey claim recycling one single T-Shirt saves 2,100 litres of water.

7.4 The ‘Truth’: Google News Initiative (March 2018)

Google’s initiative is aimed at tackling fake news, by giving authoritative sources higher billing in news searches.

YouTube will add context to search results about breaking news topics to help people quickly see if a video is from a trustworthy source. Search results will also include linked previews of news articles, since journalists usually write about breaking news first before producing videos.

Google have channeled €9.33million into a media literacy initiative fighting fake news.

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