John Pearce on Provenance Marketing and How the Made in Britain Campaign Supports British Manufacturers Abroad

John Pearce, CEO of Made in Britain (MiB), in this interview illustrates how the non-profit organization is supporting British manufacturers abroad, how it is funded and the challenges Great Britain faces at the moment. He also tells us which countries and provenance marketing campaigns have inspired him recently – examples to learn from.

John, do you remember the first time you thought about Great Britain as a ‘brand’, or became aware of the country’s image abroad?

Despite having two left feet, I’ve been a supporter of world football for as long as I can remember. Seeing so many nations compete amicably on the field of play, knowing their leaders were often at loggerheads or worse, was probably the first experience of a British brand, the England football team’s shirt. In women’s and men’s football, England’s image abroad right now is arguably higher than it’s ever been.

It was teaching English abroad to the football-mad Brazilians that really forced me to investigate exactly what is the understanding of the UK’s image is abroad. Many of my students probably didn’t know that Great Britain is the name of an island, which includes England, Wales and Scotland, and that the United Kingdom includes Northern Ireland. That’s when I realised our image abroad might be rather confusing.

Fast forward 20-odd years, and whilst employed by the Foreign Office to work on the GREAT campaign, I was still having to clarify this, even to some Brits!

As CEO of the ‘Made in Britain’ Campaign you support and promote British manufacturing abroad. In your view, what does ‘Made in Britain’ stand for?

With more than 1000 incredibly diverse members and numerous detailed surveys completed, we know the most useful way to spend our time is to provide those members with support under our three pillars of expertise: marketing, sales, PR and exports.

But the group’s ethos starts with a commitment to making things in a place of significance, like Derwent pencils making millions of premium colouring pencils just a few miles from where it’s believed pencils were first invented. British manufacturing also means offering a unique work environment where people enjoy getting together to make the item being sold, and where the leadership of those businesses are absolutely passionate about high quality, compliant (safe) products being made and sold by skilled people who enjoy what they do and respect both people and planet. That’s what I see most when I visit our members and that’s what they stand for.

What role does sustainability play nowadays for the ability of a country’s manufacturers to export their products? Is this a topic which is becoming more relevant for purchase decisions, or operating licences?

Most Made in Britain members are exporters and all of them make a physical item that needs raw materials and effort and investment to make and sell successfully. So, their understanding of sustainability as a green issue related to raw materials, energy use and waste output is fundamental, and many are far ahead of businesses that only offer a service to their clients.

In manufacturing, risks are higher and rewards are generally lower and longer term. But sustainability also has a longevity element and I’ve spoken to members who see their own resilience as intrinsic to the idea of finding new, less planet-unfriendly materials to make the thing they sell. We encourage our members to speak about British standards in their business when exhibiting overseas and that includes environmental standards that are exemplary and the need to use renewable energy.

We encourage members to use the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) as a way to communicate with customers at home and abroad. It’s a language of sustainability that everyone can feel a part of. In decisions to engage and purchase, place marketers must think of the SDGs as the biggest survey of what people care about and what the mega-trends are right now in government and private sector procurement. It can’t be ignored by anyone, especially provenance marketers.

To your mind, what are the main challenges of positioning Great Britain internationally, as country of origin?

Right now, (July 2019) there’s a confusing message playing out in the media that will give some people in other countries the idea we’re not quite as sure of ourselves as we were when we hosted the Olympics in 2012.

But my personal view, based on informal conversations with people in countries in and outside the EU, is that people will not dwell on this period of country-wide reflection and, once we’ve completed this important dialogue and moved on, the EU member states and other countries far afield and their representatives will be very keen to re-engage. We all need each other, and all nations have periods when leadership is less certain of what’s best for the majority.

How do you measure success and demonstrate return on investment (ROI) of your country branding work through ‘Made in Britain’?

Three letters – CRM. Whatever you call it, a bespoke relationship management system for your organisation is as important for a non-profit like Made in Britain as it is for a multi-billion-pound corporation. And we know because several Made in Britain members are billion-pound businesses.

In the early stages of Made in Britain, there were only two people working on trying to reach all of Britain’s successful manufacturers, but we kept records of membership interactions and newsletter email opens and, of course, vital growth of paying members numbers. We’re measuring the transparency, progress and quality of more than 1000 factory-owning businesses that have a lot in common and are better promoted together than by themselves.

It’s important to let members know what your organisation is offering for the fee they pay and what they gain from maintaining their membership. We add new benefits every year for the paying members and we reward their transparency by making sure their businesses appear at the top of relevant directory searches.

And all of this is available to government departments such as the Department for International Trade; Business, Energy, Industrial Strategy; Crown Commercial Service and the Department for International Development, who all play a part in promoting our members.

How is the ‘Made in Britain’ campaign organised and financed?

All our funding comes from our members who pay an annual fee to be part of the organisation and use the protected mark under licence. Our governance is mapped out clearly in our constitution which was drafted and confirmed by our board of non-executive directors, who are all volunteers working for businesses that are members of Made in Britain.

Our meeting spaces are all on premises of our members (one of the benefits of members all having their own factories) which keeps the people who work every day on Made in Britain mobile around Britain, spending time learning from members on their premises. This works extremely well for an organisation that is gluing together a community for the first time ever.

Our accounting, membership management, communications, data and PR are all with delivery partnerships working under rolling monthly agreements.

As an expert in place image and communication, what place branding and public diplomacy practices and mistakes would you advise fellow country branding professionals to avoid?

Never underestimate the complexity of food provenance marketing. I call this the ‘Somerset Brie’ factor and it really matters to those of us trying to get clear messages to consumers and buyers about what comes from where.

The oxymoronic title is meant to be self-explanatory, but the idea that today’s sophisticated consumers will discern, in just two words, that their French-style soft cheese is preferable when made from milk from cows that live in southern England is terrifying for those marketers like me that are often trying to simply say, ‘Buy this because it definitely was made in Britain and here’s the evidence!’

We do have food makers in our membership but they are certainly in the minority and do struggle to deliver on achieving the right balance of ultra-local (a village) with local (a region) and national. And don’t get me started on Shrewsbury biscuits! I was born in Shropshire and the best of these delicious bites are now made pretty much everywhere but Shrewsbury – and they’re one of India’s most popular.

The romantic idealist in me would love to think that all Shrewsbury biscuits were hand-made just a stone’s throw from where I was brought up. Could make a nice brand story one day.

Made in Britain campaign in action
Licensed image on coffee machine which is exported around the world – Made in Britain campaign “in action”

In your view, which are the most important factors for countries to maintain a strong, positive reputation over time?

It depends on how much time. I love the SMART framework (specific, measured, agreed, realistic and timed) because everything we do is really just a campaign and, depending on budget, you might have one month, one year or one mandate to get the job done. If the job is maintaining a PR reputation score, your actions will be different from when creating it from scratch.

In April 2015 the board tasked me and our delivery partner with building a very high reputation for the brand-new mark that would serve the members forever. I chose to start with permanent fixtures in the weekly communications diary (such as our weekly #MiBhour forum on Twitter that is now in its fourth year) and that soon associates the mark and the organisation with reliability and frequency.

Branding the communications activity with a # is just a very handy way of tracing who has used it and finding new potential members. Being consistent will always be an attractive quality for a brand and, personally, I think you can never underestimate the power of being coherent.

Your favourite examples of best practice in country branding? Where do you look for, to get inspiration?

As a consumer (and insider) of place branding, and having recently made a friend from this country, I love the South Korean narrative using music and culture to drive perception uplift and bring a whole new audience to your country brand – it still pops up in the news now, looking just as fresh as when it kicked off as a beautiful place marketing project.

I read a lot and draw inspiration from sometimes weird world news stories and wonder if they might be part of a cunning plan by a provenance marketer in another country. Interesting recently were the stories of overseas authorities refusing to accept waste for recycling from other countries and re-patriating sea containers full of un-processed rubbish.

New Zealanders refusing to use the name of a terrorist and the USA women’s football team captain taking a clear stance on equality and human rights were two recent stories that got me thinking about the complexity of presenting a consistent country image when social media tends to deliver such high-speed change of opinion.

Collaboration clearly is key to maintain a campaign as important as ‘Made in Britain’. How do you involve your various stakeholders? How do you collaborate?

We are constitutionally a-political with an ‘open arms’ policy towards government and pretty much any organisation that believes everyone should look to see if they can buy something made much closer to where it’s being used.

We enjoy the independence of being self-funded and managing our own future (and cash flow) so we’re never vulnerable to any other party suddenly withdrawing support. This has evolved because the board has agreed that Made in Britain must stand on its own two feet forever. We cut our cloth accordingly and so far, that’s meant working with enthusiastic delivery partners that are proven to be competent in the area of specialisation we need.

Not all our collaborator relationships have worked out, but most have and any organisations that have moved on have always done so amicably. You never know when you might want to re-engage.

Anything else you’d like to mention?

For me, the fascination with country and place branding keeps growing every year. I’m a life-long marketer who had the good fortune to work on one of the world’s great country campaigns, GREAT. Six years on I’m still enjoying the infinite complexity of working to support government at a time when it really needs help.

I’m proud to represent the excellent businesses that are Made in Britain members, some of them going strong for many generations. We’re creating a coherent and measured on-going campaign about British manufacturing that’s based not on nostalgia but on truth, excellence and a passionate belief that we all can think and succeed better together.

Provenance marketers all over the world must step in and step up to the responsibility of working to an agreed creative plan and turning special places into brands that people really do love.

Thank you, John.

Connect with John on LinkedIn or get to know the work and services offered by Made in Britain here.

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