Her Majesty is the best example we have of a British luxury brand, and all companies could learn an invaluable lesson from how her personal brand has endured and thrived over the decades. The key to her success? An authentic tone of voice.
In my day job as a strategist and consultant, I have worked with, and for, some of the most famous and fêted British brands out there: British Airways, British Telecom, Vodafone, The Ritz and Sipsmith Gin to name a few. I am often asked to develop positionings for clients to help them separate successfully from the rest of their category, and to bring their most attractive side to the fore for consumers. The key to brand success is, and always has been, authenticity. Judy Garland put it best all those years ago when she said: “Always be a first-rate version of yourself and not a second-rate version of someone else.” Pretend to be something you’re not and you’ll quickly get found out, in the luxury category more than any other.
The biggest element in establishing a successfully authentic brand is to develop an authentic tone of voice. This is key because once you get beyond a certain size you won’t always be in the room to represent your product or service. So, your communications in all their forms – from packaging to advertising – will have to act as your proxy. As well as representing your key values when you’re not there, how do you stay true to what you believe across audiences, borders and cultures? Probably one of the most famous brands out there is Nike, with one of the most famous lines: Just Do It. My old boss Dan Wieden (who wrote that line) once told me, “We never gave Nike an idea, we just helped them to find their voice”.
There is a simple rule, which I’ve gleaned over my three decades of experience, to developing an authentic tone of voice. And Her Majesty has nailed it and continues to nail it perfectly, regardless of her age or the changing sociological and political climate. It is the reason she is consistently top of the YouGov poll of most popular royal with an approval rating that any brand, regardless of sector, would kill to have. It is why I have always described Her Majesty as Britain’s number one luxury brand. The one-rule-to-rule-them-all is having a simple set of timeless beliefs and values, and then working out how to stay consistent to them regardless of the audience you are engaging with. Think about Her Majesty. She has endured and thrived as the head of state across seven decades. She has reigned through 14 US Presidents, plus 14 UK Prime Minsters (and counting). She has been there from Bill Haley to Harry Styles, from Lady Thatcher to Lady Gaga, from Marilyn M through Jessie J to Kim K.
Your brand will often have to talk to multiple audiences, in multiple countries about many different things at the same time. Across age groups, borders, categories and sectors. But if you think your brand has to flex to talk to different audiences, just imagine the average day of the Queen. She may begin by talking to a town mayor, then have to speak to a four-year-old flower girl, followed by the bereaved parents of a deceased soldier, and finish the day having dinner with a head of state.
She doesn’t morph. Her values don’t change. She doesn’t try to be something she isn’t. She has a strong belief system and simply flexes intelligently and empathetically based on the audience she is in front of. It works and it works brilliantly. I don’t know anyone who has been lucky enough to talk to Her Majesty without coming away believing that she spoke to them personally. And if you want perfect proof for this, just look up the story of David Nott, the author of War Doctor, who tells about the time he had a PTSD attack at dinner with the Queen. It is a masterclass in adaptation and empathy.
Brands often have to talk to multiple audiences at the same time. This is the lesson all brands must learn. My mum always said that you should learn from studying the best at what they do. So, learn the lesson from the greatest luxury brand we have. One that has adapted, survived and thrived across 70 years.
Words by Kev Chesters, brand consultant and Co-owner of Harbour Collective. harbour.london