How the Queen gives UK businesses a competitive edge

8th September, 2015

The Queen and the British monarchy give UK businesses an edge in their international marketing, that’s according to new research performed by Warwick Business School.

Queen Elizabeth II is set to become the longest reigning monarch in Britain’s history this week and tomorrow will overtake Queen Victoria’s reign of 63 years and 216 days.

Meanwhile, professor of Marketing and Innovation at the University of Warwick, Qing Wang, has been studying the opinions of Chinese consumers with particular reference to the associations they make with ‘Britishness’ that they like so much.

The findings were recently published, which reveal that the Queen and the royal family topped this list.

In a recent article which summarises some of the key findings, Professor Wang highlights the fact that the Queen is the most prominent symbol around the world with regards to Britain’s heritage and tradition. She also points out that this is something that UK firms can amplify when marketing their goods and services to international markets.

She said: “The Queen and the royal family inject a sense of continuity and national identity in the globalised and ever-changing world we live in today. She is such a well-known face and instantly brings a sense of history, giving British brands an edge and distinctive advantage that can be utilised.”

Professor Wang’s survey asked Chinese consumers across 13 cities, spanning five regions of China, what words they associate with Britain. Top of this list was the Queen, with 25.1% instantly identifying Her Majesty.

An ambassador for luxury

The royal family play a big role in attracting tourists to the UK, which currently contributes £500 million to Britain’s economy annually. However, the Queen’s marketability also helps to contribute to UK exports, particularly within the luxury goods market.

Luxury items are defined as those satisfying hedonic rather than functional needs and Chinese consumers make up 30% of sales in this market globally.

When asked what the most influential factors were when purchasing luxury items, 17% of those surveyed said a royal connection. This was one of the four most important factors, alongside brand meaning, status symbol and excellent quality.

Royal Warrants were identified as a particularly powerful endorsement for British brands exporting to China, the rest of Asia, the Middle East and the US.

Royal Warrants have been granted since the 15th century to recognise people or companies who have regularly supplied goods or services for a minimum of five consecutive years to The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh or The Prince of Wales. The list of over 800 Royal Warrant holders includes the likes of Jaguar, Barbour, Fortnum and Mason, Twinings and Cadbury, but a full list can be found here.

The royal endorsement can add significant value to products in the minds of consumers, acting as a stamp of approval, an indicator of quality and prestige and signifying the desirability British lifestyle.

In the survey, 57% of Chinese consumers, 57% said the Royal Warrant is important or very important in increasing desirability of British lifestyle brands. Furthermore, 27% said that they get their inspiration for fashion and home style from the Queen and the royal family.

“Whatever the Queen wears, eats, visits or even holds on to instantly increases in value, and it is mostly British,” Professor Wang points out.

“When it is seen on or near the Queen then it is wanted by millions around the world; James Lock hats, Cornelia James gloves and Ettinger bags have all gained in prestige and sales by Her Majesty wearing them.”

Amongst the mist surrounding brand aura and authenticity, Wang identifies heritage is an important attribute and a critical resource for retro-marketing and nostalgic branding.

“Our research on the consumer’s authenticity evaluation of luxury brands shows that luxury brands are characterised by a founding myth, history, craftsmanship and a link to the leisured class, something that the Queen certainly helps British products embody.”

46.7% of those surveyed said they would be more likely to buy a dress that they had seen being worn by royalty.

A provider of ‘Soft’ Power

In her article, Professor Wang suggests that Britain’s advantage lies in its ‘soft power’, which refers to its ability to achieve its objectives through attraction and persuasion, rather than coercion. In other words it attracts (or pulls), instead of pushes.

PR firm Portland Communications explain that it is becoming increasingly important for nations to achieve their foreign policy objectives by building networks, communicating compelling narratives, establishing international rules, and drawing on the resources that make them naturally attractive to the world. Whereas in the past, governments carried a lot of weight in the shaping of world events through political, economic and military might.

In its Soft Power 30 Index Portland ranks the UK above all other leading global economic powers in terms of soft power resources.

Professor Wang identifies that that the Queen and royal family play an important role in developing soft power for the UK and she points to Prince William’s royal visit to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this year as a prime example of this. The first visit by the royal family since 1986 coincided with the Great Festival of Creativity, put on by UK Trade and Investment in Shanghai, where a number of British business were showcasing their products to potential buyers.

Professor Wang identifies that Britain is particularly good at incorporating tradition and innovation seamlessly and that this perception helps British brands to stand out in the global market.

Results of the research show that British fashion is perceived in China as being “fearless” with a strong sense of style, particularly amongst the millennial generation (25-32 year olds), compounding this point.

An insulator in periods of decline

Although the global luxury market - which includes fashion, fragrances, cosmetics, jewellery, handbags and watches – was valued at €230 billion last year, the likes of Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci and Salvatore Ferragamo have all reports a slowdown or reduction in sales this year. As a result, share values have also slumped, particularly since the recent slowdown of the Chinese economy.

However British products and services have managed to defy this trend, which Professor Wang puts down to the Queen and the UK’s royal heritage protecting British brands throughout these tougher economic climates.

“The continued profit and sale decline of luxury brands is a strong indication that they are losing their lustre due to over exposure in the global marketplace and outsourcing of production to other countries. There is a trickle-down effect of shoppers looking to emulate the luxury lifestyle, but the conspicuous consumption of middle-class consumers is threatening the very essence of luxury being exclusive,” she suggests.

“The link to the most important British heritage - royalty - reaffirms to consumers the brand’s authenticity and reminds the public of the golden bygone age. Unique product offerings with exquisite craftsmanship combined with the royal association and British lifestyle continue to hold strong traction in emerging markets.”

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