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How Queen Elizabeth II gives the UK its business edge

Queen Elizabeth II eclipses her predecessors today to become the longest serving British monarch in her country’s history, beating the record currently held by her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria. After 63 years and 216 days on the throne, she is as important to the United Kingdom as ever — perhaps more so. Not only is her popularity at an all-time high – an Ipsos MORI poll in 2012 gave her an approval rating of 90% during her Diamond Jubilee year – but she has become an important influence for British business.

Not only does she play a large part in drawing in millions of foreign visitors to contribute to the UK’s £500 million a year tourist industry, but she gives UK businesses a distinct advantage in the global marketplace.

The Queen is the most prominent symbol around the world of Britain’s heritage and tradition, something that UK companies can amplify when marketing their goods and services to international markets. 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.

Her marketability contributes greatly to the UK’s £160 billion annual exports, and nowhere is this seen more than in the luxury goods market.

When my colleagues and I surveyed Chinese consumers in 13 cities covering five regions of China – which now makes up 30% of the €230 billion global luxury goods industry – it was remarkable how prominent a role the Queen played in their purchasing decisions.

For instance, when Chinese consumers were asked what words they associate with Britain, top of the list was the Queen, with 25.1% instantly thinking of her. And when asked what are the most important factors influencing their purchase intention of luxuries, having a royal connection was in the top four with 17% alongside excellent quality, brand meaning, and status symbol.

Whatever the Queen wears, eats, visits or even holds on to instantly increases in value, and it is mostly British. 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.

In luxury brand marketing, heritage is a critical resource and is perceived as a key attribute of brand authenticity and brand aura – the miasma of meaning surrounding a brand – plus it is a fundamental resource for retro-marketing and nostalgic branding. In addition, 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.

If a dress is worn by royalty, 46.7% of Chinese surveyed said it increases the chances of them buying it. Luxury goods are defined as those satisfying hedonic rather than functional needs and we found this is an area that Britain enjoys a distinct advantage in and the Queen is a significant reason for this.

A very important factor that makes Britain stand out in the global market is that it incorporates tradition and innovation seamlessly. Our survey of the Chinese showed that, particularly among millennials between 25 to 32 years old, British fashion is perceived as being “fearless” with a strong individual sense of style.

Put differently, Britain’s advantage lies in its so-called soft power, which is defined as the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than through coercion, and the UK’s royal heritage and Queen is a key part of that.

A recent ranking called The Soft Power 30 – by PR firm Portland and compiled using digital insights from Facebook and polling by ComRes – put the UK as the world leader. The extent of the Queen’s impact on the country’s soft power is hard to measure, but the way she or the royal family is used in diplomatic relations emphasizes the important role they play.

Prince William met Chinese President Xi Jinping in March, the first royal visit to China since the Queen flew there in 1986, and it coincided with the Great Festival of Creativity in Shanghai, put on by UK Trade & Investment, where many British companies were showcasing their products. As China promotes its own soft power, it has increasingly turned to Britain for inspiration, but it is proving hard to replicate with the biggest economy in the world at the bottom of The Soft Power 30.

The Royal Warrants handed by the Queen for goods and services used by her and her household are, thus, brand gold for any company that obtains. It is a symbol not only steeped in history – having been granted since the 15th century – but it is a stamp of high quality.

It is the sense of history and tradition that the crest garners a product or service that boosts its marketability. There are around 800 holders of a Royal Warrant, which allows companies to advertise that they supply the Queen with their goods, usually with the coat of arms, and they range from individual craftsmen to multi-national companies like Kellogg’s and Unilever-owned Hellman’s mayonnaise.

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

This year Prada, Louis Vuitton, Salvatore Ferragamo and Gucci have all reported declining or flat sales. Shares in luxury firms have dipped as a result, especially with China’s economy showing signs of slowing down.

But British products and services, such as luxury fashion brand Burberry, which posted record annual profits of £461m in 2014, and premium clothing company Barbour, famed for its wax jackets, which saw sales jump 10% in 2014, have bucked the trend, and re-affirming their link to the Queen and the country’s royalty has helped insulate them from this slump.

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.

Qing Wang is a professor of marketing and innovation at the University of Warwaick Business School in the United Kingdom.