Many of you reading this will still feel loss, sadness and even slight disbelief: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has died.
The country stopped to cry and reflect for ten days. Events were paused or cancelled. Broadcasters and media owners suspended advertising and holders of Royal Warrants such as Burberry and Selfridges closed their doors. Hundreds of thousands of people queued to see the queen’s coffin in state and an audience estimated in the many hundreds of millions watched her state funeral.
Some commentators have admitted their surprise at the strength of the reaction to the Queen’s death. Realistic or not, we have seen this sentiment more widely, on our social media and in conversations among our friends and family.
What lies behind this has lessons for all of us, and for brands and brand owners. At a time when brands, more than ever, need to compete with private label brands and when technology moves at the speed of light, making long-term “ownership” of a functional benefit almost impossible , the queen ‘s approach to her role has lessons .
And remember that the roles of monarch and monarchy are by no means a given. They exist by popular demand. Surviving ebbs and flows in popularity, representing something at once invaluable yet intangible; current but timeless. No one accomplished this better than The Queen.
As President of the Royal Horticultural Society, I have had the honor of meeting Her Majesty on a number of occasions.
The most memorable moments were her visit to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in May, where I sat next to her in a buggy for 45 minutes to chat, and last year I visited her at Windsor Castle to present her with the Duke of Edinburgh’s Rose. to commemorate His Royal Highness. 100 years of the Duke of Edinburgh.
Both times, we talked for some time. I was particularly struck by his curiosity and interest in what was happening in horticulture, whether it was the boom in gardening during the Covid lockdowns or understanding why RHS has added container gardens, houseplants and balcony gardens to the Chelsea Flower Show.
Big brands are curious about trends and the changing attitudes and habits of their consumers, and want to learn how to serve them better. The queen seemed to instinctively do this.
I am not suggesting that Her Majesty was running a branding campaign. Yet she inherently knew how to live her life consistently through her values with remarkable impact.
As a marketer, I draw three lessons from the Queen’s life over the last 96 years:
We are judged by our actions, not by our words. Even more than that, we are judged by our motives and values, which are crystal clear.
The Queen exemplified this. Her speech on her 21st birthday promised her a lifetime of service and duty. These were extraordinary words at such a young age. And she was in evidence every day, until two days after her death, when she accepted the resignation of a prime minister and then welcomed her successor.
His constant service was not in doubt. But it would have been possible to do it in a superior way or by suggesting that we should be grateful.
What is truly remarkable is that the Queen was visibly “serving” her nation, and it was for this reason that she garnered deep respect and affection.
Apply them to the strongest marks and you’ll see they do the same thing. They are clear about their identity and purpose; they never stoop to cheap opportunism; they evolve in a way that makes them always relevant but somehow the same at heart.
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, once said, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
From the comments and tributes we’ve heard recently, I think we’d all agree that Her Majesty The Queen’s brand was, and still is, very strong.
You have to play the long game to hold on. This lesson is for brand owners, but it implicitly transfers to the brand itself. It means having a long-term vision; be cautious with fashions and avoid sudden movements and position changes; have record in the custodian of the brand; and be very clear about the purpose of the brand.
Not surprisingly, the work of Les Binet and Peter Field, analyzing input data from the IPA Effectiveness Awards, shows that the brands whose communications perform best are those that spend the most (60% or more) of their funds in building and reinforcing their long-term core brand equity.
The mark of success is, in part, a brand’s ability to be tactical, to be playful, to reward its consumers with ingenuity and observation.
The Queen did this brilliantly, on several occasions. One was the skit of her at the opening of the 2012 London Olympics, another was the wonderful film of her for her Platinum Jubilee celebrations, having tea with Paddington Bear.
Who can look at pictures of her now, lugging her ubiquitous black bag, without imagining a jam sandwich in it?
Both of them could have failed badly, but instead they deepened our affection for her. Why? Because they were clever. They were brilliantly executed and because they strengthened the Queen as someone who didn’t take herself too seriously, but was part of the fabric of our nation and in service to it.
Beyond values, brands need their own recognizable visual assets. Once again, Her Majesty led the way with her unmistakable style, dressing to be seen from a distance by opting for brightly colored coats, hats, and gloves.
However, it is the unique image of his crowned profile that we see on stamps and banknotes that is iconic, world famous and instantly recognizable. There are other nations with a red, white and blue flag, but only one Queen.
His Majesty owned the name globally more than any other person owns a name.
She was very much at the top of the “celebrity brands”.
The Queen was not only an iconic figure, but also a global household name and one of the most successful brands in the world.
As Emmanuel Macron, the French president, said after her death: “For you, she was your Queen. To us, she was The Queen.” Ella’s unique and powerful brand image has lent style and appeal to many famous British brands, from Barbour to Fortnum & Mason.
However, Her Majesty was the ultimate brand ambassador for Britain with her remarkable soft power.
The Queen and all things royal have helped develop and enhance the UK’s brand positioning.
Now the Elizabethan era is over. The final years of her reign coincided with a period of increasing volatility – three prime ministers in four years, the pandemic, Brexit and then the energy and cost of living crisis – but Her Majesty continued to provide us with a sense of stability and simple reminders of constancy.
For that alone, we must say: thank you, ma’am.
Keith Weed is President of the UK Royal Horticultural Society and Past President of the Advertising Association. He is a member of the board of directors of WPP and Sainsbury’s and a former director of marketing and communications for Unilever.