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Does 'Made in...' matter? The value of brand provenance after Brexit

By Simi Nijher, associate strategist

July 13, 2016 | 6 min read

Today we’re on the brink of reinterpreting our own place as British people in our political, cultural and geographical space: are we an island not just physically but culturally too? Do we endorse or reject European values? Is it undemocratic to adhere to laws passed by a body that we have not elected?

UK

This evidently goes beyond economic argument into something more essential. These debates have an impact on all of our identifiers, crucially including the brands we interact with everyday.

Over the last century, brands were often run as vehicles for nationalism, playing an important role in building (as well as drawing from) romantic and desirable associations with countries and regions. Particularly in Europe brand provenance has been key to the global success of heritage brands such as Ferrari with its heart and soul in Maranello, Louis Vuitton which still celebrates its innovative French craftsmanship and style in its original home Asnières House, and Ikea which exudes Swedish quirk, simplicity and design through all touch-points. In these examples, strong national links in brand name and story signals something positive about the company’s world of products and services that would otherwise be lacking.

The point is this: historically, brands that hark back to desirable European national characters and values add a layer of credibility and focus for British and global customers. However, the balance of power is shifting. British brands are growing in popularity as old, established European brands are losing sway with the British population. Coolbrands’ 2015/16 annual ranking of popular brands in the UK, has seen the rise in social currency of British-born brands such as Alexander McQueen, Royal Albert Hall, and Aston Martin over old European brands like Rolex and Dom Perignon. In another brand survey by The Centre for Brand Analysis, British Airways was ranked Britain’s most-loved brand for the third year running.

If we are starting to appreciate and value British brands more than European brands as a growing trend, what will the future hold if we move away from the EU? Will they hold more force with global customers, reinforcing a home-grown Britishness that feels unique and definitive? Or will they fall out of favour in Europe and beyond precisely because of their inherent and polarising nationalistic qualities? Ultimately, do people even care where their brands really come from anymore?

This exasperated question is increasingly being answered by brands on the British high-street. Some brands have taken to creating provenance where there is none; i.e. the pretenders. By separating the notion of provenance with true geographical origin, these brands promise all the romance and desirability of Europe without registering offshore.

Pret A Manger is aligning its fresh food proposition with the boulangeries and weekend marchés of Paris while REN (a UK skincare brand) borrows cues from Scandinavian purity, minimalism and natural beauty to sell to a British audience. Cobra beer is another example of a British brand, founded in Fulham, that is posing as an Indian brand to sell a product with regional character that clearly diverts from the British market standard labels.

This is not just a trend in Britain, it is a global phenomenon of appropriators especially in the French fashion world. Marais USA (American), Pas de Calais (Japanese), Les Copains (Italian) and other global fashion brands are imitating French houses, inspired by their style, culture and attitude. Interestingly, these brands not only reference France in a general sense but actually hone in on specific regions and even particular Parisian neighbourhoods for their unique flavour. While these retailers aren’t trying to trick their customers into thinking their brands are French, they understand that a French association offers a sense of legitimacy in their industry.

If this is the case, and global consumers are happily buying into fake provenance, the question remains do people crave authenticity or fauxthenticity? And how will British brands compete when the legitimacy of hallmarks like ‘made in Britain’ are less meaningful?

Ultimately, it is becoming less relevant whether provenance is true or falsified, but the perception of brand authenticity is invaluable. In a world where we are increasingly being bombarded by new brands spouting bold communication through prolific channels, provenance stories will appeal to a growing proportion of more discerning customers. As global consumers, we are more educated and interested than ever before in where our brands come from and how they have grown: some key indicators of this authenticity are individuality, roots in a specific location and regional character in product and packaging.

There are a few principles for getting it right when it comes to provenance branding that influences perceptions and purchase decisions:

1. Know who you are

Whether your provenance is true or fabricated, you should know what story you’re trying to tell, and tell it consistently.

2. Know why that matters

It’s all well and good having a provenance story, but you need to make it relevant to your audience. Why should they care where you’re from? What value does it add?

3. Keep it fresh

Steer clear from stereotypes and clichés. If you want it to be credible, your provenance story should feel fresh, individual and contemporary.

4, Keep it simple

Simplicity and clarity is key. Do not over-complicate your provenance story, focus on the core of what you want customers to feel when they interact with your brand and build from there.

Customers are willing to pay a premium when brand provenance is done right. ‘Made in’, ‘made by’, and ‘made since’ are all shorthand for things that people genuinely care about such as quality, components, environment, health, personality, identity.

Simi Nijher is associate strategist at Siegel+Gale

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