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Stephen Lepitak
Editor at The Drum
Gracie Page
Emerging Technology Director at VMLY&R London

UK marketing post-Brexit: things just got exciting

The UK marketing industry seems galvanised by the Brexit result.

While the UK’s marketing agencies may have been split over the prospect of Brexit, post-vote there is a new unified message from the industry: let’s get to work.

In the weeks following the decision of the UK’s electorate to leave the European Union, political chair-swapping and economic doom-mongering have been the order of the day. Against the backdrop of a binary vote that saw UK opinion split in two, social divisions have been created that may never fully heal. Uncertainty, so often cited as the enemy of commerce and growth, is at an all-time high.

And yet UK marketing agencies seem remarkably upbeat, galvanised even, by the referendum result.

Michael Moszynski, chief and founder of London Advertising, believes that UK agencies have every reason to be optimistic about their prospects outside of the EU: “Having campaigned for Brexit and uniquely forecast in The Drum that Vote Leave would win by 52-53 per cent, it might not be surprising that I am upbeat on our prospects.

“Brexit is already seeing a boost for British luxury and tourism brands. We are not leaving Europe but the EU and will benefit from a wider global perspective. As an agency with 96 per cent of our revenue outside the UK, I am delighted that our fees are now 10-15 per cent more affordable with no negative impact on our revenue.”

The ‘Leave’ vote should act as a loud wake-up call to UK marketers to continually test their deeply-held assumptions about consumers, according to Shiona McDougall, senior vice-president of strategy at Rapp.

She says: “Brexit was a shock to many who operate in the London media bubble echo-chamber. If nothing else, this should be a wake-up call to our industry to ensure that we really do understand consumers and what matters most to them (not just what we think should matter most to them).

While there should be no excuse for one-size-fits all marketing in today’s world anyway, our industry imperative following Brexit is to ensure we continue to evolve to ever more precise targeting and ever more empathetic messaging or risk one day waking up and finding ourselves presumptive, aloof and obsolescent.”

With iconic British brands including Mothercare, Virgin Atlantic and The Post Office on Rapp’s books, McDougall argues that the real lesson for British brands from Brexit is to empower your customers.

“The success of the Leave campaign demonstrates beautifully the winning power of a single-minded emotive message: ‘Take back control’. Brands need to recognise that the consumers took back control of marketing some time ago. They’re empowered and are choosing when, how and where to engage. If there’s going to be a relationship it will be on their terms. Iconic British brands today must choose to hand over control to consumers to ensure they remain the iconic British brands of tomorrow.”

However, according to Rick Lamb, head of operations at Latitude Group, how best to position their ‘Britishness’ could prove problematic for brands post-Brexit.

He says: “Particularly for those brands which are associated with being quintessentially British, there’s a double-edged sword of the swelling of pride in Britain and the fact that in places this has spilled into being something altogether uglier. Heritage may be the way of bringing a feel-good factor, especially given how studies have shown emotive advertising tends to me more effective.

“In terms of international expansion, there remain established markets and distribution routes with our closest European neighbours, so any British companies who are expanding should realistically continue to do so in the places with the lowest barriers to entry. With the pound struggling, however, there is an argument that hastening moves into any new markets would have a better chance of succeeding, as well as diversifying risk away from any uncertainty in Europe.”

Carla Heath, managing director of retail creative consultancy Whippet, summarises the ‘glass half-full’ mentality of the UK marketing industry, saying: “I think the most successful brands will be those that see the uncertainty surrounding Brexit as an opportunity to strengthen their engagement with customers and put their needs first over the next few years of change.”

In the end, argues Andy Agar, executive chairman of The Thinkpeople Family group which includes agencies such as Whynot and Trigger, great agencies will adjust to their new circumstances and find the right messages to cut-through for themselves and their clients, just like always.

Agar says: “I’m afraid I can’t subscribe to the negativity of the last month, nor the vitriol that now sees a nation unnecessarily divided. At the very heart of our industry is our ability to solve problems, to face the challenges of the unknown head on, using the appropriate level of head and heart. If we cannot now harness both of these to face the challenges of this readjusted new world order, both on behalf of our clients and ourselves, then we should pack up now.

“There is uncertainty, of course, but uncertainty breeds opportunity and I see that in abundance, in the Americas, in Asia and in Europe still. Surely now is the time for creativity and insight to come to the fore to deliver a positive outcome.”

The article first appeared in The Drum magazine dated 17 August 2016.

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