Great Britain's Olympic-sized branding lesson

 width=As I watched the closing ceremonies of the Olympics last night, I had to agree with my oldest son. I didn’t capture his quote verbatim, but it was something to the effect of “the English are a little odd, but at least they’re consistent.”

Very true — and very smart. The opening ceremonies were characterized by some as a bit “British” and “quirky,” and I would agree that the closing ceremonies were as well. And many outside of England seemed to think that British quirkiness was a bad thing.

But why? Wouldn’t it make sense that if you were British, putting on worldwide games in your largest city, that you WOULD carry your personality through to your ceremonies? It’s part of who you are, after all, so why make it any different? In marketing-speak, it’s your brand.

To change that, to pander to what the world (or American pundits) might think is more “normal,” would be to change your brand. And that’s never a good thing, for a country or for a company. Why?

1. It doesn’t ring true. Can you imagine if instead of every British band they could convince to perform, the Brits instead chose Kenny Chesney, a mariachi band and an African tribal choir? The same thing happens if you try to force a personality on your brand that you haven’t cultivated. People start asking “what’s going on here?” — or worse, feeling like you’re trying to deceive them.

2. It requires extra effort. To change a brand that has existed for centuries (for Great Britain) or a couple of decades (for your company) takes lots and lots of work. And money. More than could be accomplished in a ceremony or two, and more than a single ad or website or corporate brochure can fix. Yes, brands can change, but it doesn’t happen overnight, and it requires a constant pounding of your new message.

3. It confuses your customers. Slapping a new tagline on a marketing piece (or a new national identity on a global event) leaves folks scratching their heads. And chances are, it won’t match what customers are used to experiencing from your brand. Worst case, they might even feel like you are lying to them.

Does all of this preclude changing or updating your brand? Of course not. Just know that it will take time and effort. And be absolutely, positively certain that what you say is “your brand” is supported by what customers experience as “your brand.” If you say “we’re an awesome quality company” and your product breaks in week 3 — or if you say “we’re a laid-back beach-y country” and visitors quickly experience rain and stiff upper lips — they’ll know right away you’re blowing smoke. And never buy (or visit) again.

So, kudos, Great Britain. A great Olympic games. A great set of opening/closing ceremonies. And a great job staying true to your brand.

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