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Brand Storytelling and Place Branding: A lesson from the United Kingdom

Written by: Gabriel Troiano

In Branding, we always talk about the importance of creating brand stories, not only for their own acceptance and approval, but also to activate their human side that involves, above all, people. And, as we also like to look outside and get out of our world, we recently had our eyes on one of the most well-known nations in the world: the UK. In addition to political and socio economic teachings, we have a lot to learn from the English when it comes to Brand Storytelling and Place Branding.

The UK is a nation that has been suffering some dramatic changes lately, with the passing of Queen Elizabeth II and Liz Truss’s short-lived mandate as Prime Minister to the growing energy crisis that is set to hit its peak during the European winter due to the war in Ukraine. How does a country, regardless of its economic, political, and social capabilities, bounce back from such heavy blows? Well, this is one of the many strengths that the UK possesses, and, anchored by strong historical foundations, they are likely to prevail over these challenging obstacles.

And what is Brand Storytelling and Place Branding? Brand Storytelling is nothing more than connecting your brand to customers, weaving an emotional narrative. Place Branding, on the other hand, is the practice of applying marketing strategies to the economic, political and cultural development of cities, regions and countries. For a more detailed understanding of the work we did on Place Branding with the construction of a Brand Storytelling, you can see our project with the neighborhood where our office is located, Baixo Pinheiros.

Brand Storytelling and Place Branding have many different elements, but for the purposes of this article, we will focus on how the British, with their fascinating history and presence, are able to craft their own version of Storytelling through Place Branding. Having said this, the first important factor in building a good brand story is making sure that the protagonist of your story has, well, something to tell! A strong brand, that has built up resilience and reputation over the years, is much more likely to captivate the public and create true engagement. Again, let’s turn to the UK for some inspiration: The nation’s history is marked by constant struggle and warfare, but most of all, conquests. From the Seven Years’ War to WWII to the recent Covid-19 pandemic, the country has risen above all expectations and endured some of the harshest conditions known to man, coming out on the other side with great spirit and vitality. As a brand, the UK is, without a doubt, a beacon of resiliency and fortitude, with its solid commitment and values inspired by the monarchy, whether we like it or not.

All this helps to create a brand that has an impactful story to tell, with ups and downs and moments of anguish and triumph, which certainly can provoke emotions in people. It is difficult to remain indifferent to the United Kingdom. I would liken the captivating history of the UK to a writer's ability to arouse emotions in the reader, but this can only be achieved when the emotions themselves have been felt by that same writer - or, as the great Robert Frost says, "no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” Place Branding in the UK has also used the idea of ​​its greatness for years, in a strategy and creation made by Interbrand.

In addition to these elements, Brand Storytelling and Place Branding follow the path of Aristotle's rhetorical appeals, more specifically, pathos and its relationship with authenticity. This “pathos of authenticity”, if I can call it as such, is the key to creating brand stories that linger long after they’ve been presented to the public. And how does the UK manage to weave this into their narrative? By systematically electing great leaders capable of inspiring us with their own stories. As a great admirer of Winston Churchill, I have always been fascinated by his behavior during and after the Second World War. One of his most famous quotes still remains with me to this day: "We will fight on the beaches, we will fight on the landing grounds, we will fight on the fields and in the streets, we will fight on the hills..."

I must say that, in Brazil, we are far behind this reality and we have just started our Storytelling and Place Branding journey. We have things to tell, but we haven't been able to articulate them coherently and consistently. But one thing we can learn from the UK is the strength and scale they've managed to create around their history, which, by the way, has been around for many centuries. As the English writer John Heywood said, “Rome was not built in a day,” and so we cannot expect a memorable brand story mirrored by Place Branding to be written quickly. Many times in Brazil we are in a hurry, expecting immediate results and harboring impossible expectations. For these reasons, we must learn from the English, who teach us that brands are based on real, well told stories, that work together with consistency and time.


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