Six brand management lessons from the Royal Family

Whether you are a staunch royalist or fierce republican, there’s no denying the passing of HM Queen Elizabeth II is big news. Claudia Macdonald, Executive Director, Mango Communications, and PRINZ Board Member explores what branding and reputation management lessons we can learn from the Royal Family.

There’s only one story in town this week – the sad but inevitable passing of HM Queen Elizabeth II.  It’s as it should be – no matter your leanings (Republican or Royalist), this was a woman who displayed an incredible sense of duty for 70 years.

Notably, she did this all in the public eye. And, aside from the misstep (well, PR disaster) around her response to Princess Diana’s death, The Queen’s brand has only grown. And with it, the Royal Family’s reputation.

I am struggling to recall another person – or organisation – that has been so visible for so long, with so little damage to her – or indeed, the Royal Family’s brand as a whole. Some of you may wince at calling the Family a brand, but they are indeed one, all carefully managed by one of the largest and most strategic communications teams in the world.

There are many comms people here and in other Commonwealth countries marvelling at the scale and success of their brand management. Admittedly the Crown has had centuries of practise but their job has become tougher with the advent of social media allowing everyone to question every decision, every move and every motive.  Add in the collective focus of the tabloid press’ search for salacious headlines, and it’s quite remarkable that the Royal Family brand is as robust as it is, both in the UK and around the world.

Of course, I am not saying they have always got it right. And they’ve had some major issues to manage recently that took the shine off the brand for more than a brief moment – Prince Andrew’s affiliation with Jeffrey Epstein and Harry and Meghan’s defection to the USA to name a few.

But through it all, the Royal Family communications team has controlled the narrative and struck just the right balance in maintaining and growing brand love in these times.

The founder of Ideas Foundation, Robin Wight, recently wrote  in Campaign Live1 that the Queen was an ‘instinctive’ manager of the Royal Family brand, partly through careful management of Family issues but also through her ‘natural compassion, her utter integrity, her driving conviction and her ability to embrace more changes than any monarch in our history”.

He adds that her use of continuity (or consistency) is a brand weapon more organisations should emulate.   “The temptations of social media have meant that continuity as the ultimate driver of brand success has been so frequently discarded.  We sang God Save the Queen happily for years but we don’t ….hear Coca-Cola talking about The Real Thing [anymore].”

Weber Shandwick research on the State of Corporate Reputation (2020)2 revealed that ‘everything’ impacts a company’s reputation, with 76 percent of executives attributing their organisation’s market value to its reputation.

The same report listed marketing and communications and the visibility of senior leadership as critical drivers of reputation, alongside the need to strategically communicate with stakeholders throughout.

I like these four tenants of building brand loyal customers from a CMSWire article3, that lists Trust, Emotional Connection, Personalised Experience and Feedback as critical.  Adherence to these four pillars marries perfectly with the Queen’s behaviour. And we’ve already seen how King Charles cleverly picked up from where she left off with walkabouts featuring kisses and warm handshakes.

Too many organisations still think that if they keep their heads down and make a profit for shareholders, they’ll be fine; that little is likely to damage their reputation.  Dare I say it, some CEOs are a tad arrogant and think they can handle it.  Of course the now infamous Simon Henry of DGL’s comments on Nadia Lim proved otherwise.  Excellent comment on this can be read here

So what can the Royal Family teach organisations about brand reputation management?  Here are my top six lessons:

  1. Maintain consistency:  From key messages to the behaviour of the top team, keep it on song.
  2. Have a plan: This is everything. The Queen’s funeral was planned for years based not only on history, but also on modern responses, like what to do sustainably with the flowers.  All organisations should have not only a crisis plan but also a brand reputation building plan.
  3. Show humanity and authenticity: How many have commented that the Queen was ‘so normal?’ She may or may not have been, but that’s how she was portrayed.  Demonstrating these traits will help any leader build trust and brand affinity.
  4. Add gentle humour: This relaxes people and develops an emotional connection. Charles showed signs of humour in the last week, but he needs to keep practising. A chuckle rather than a tanty will be a better response next time his pen springs a leak.
  5. Remember the small stuff: Small but seemingly insignificant gestures are worth their weight in gold. For instance, the invitation extended to Megan Markle to come to Balmoral was a carefully thought through decision, presented in a very low key way.
  6. Make it right: If you get it wrong, acknowledge it, fix it and start to rebuild trust.  

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