Brands in the News

Branding Lessons from Queen Elizabeth

16 Sep 2022  

The world this week is mourning the death of Queen Elizabeth. People are piling flowers at Buckingham Palace and lining up for miles to view the casket.

There is much to be learned from the queen’s long and eventful reign. I will leave it to others to address questions of politics and the monarchy. Instead, I would like to consider what we can learn from the queen about building a brand.

I think there are five things.

1. Branding Matters

Most people wouldn’t call Queen Elizabeth a brand manager, but she was that, and she seemed to relish the job. She was keenly aware of the importance and significance building and maintaining her brand, and the brand of the British monarchy more broadly.

Like all great brand managers, she carefully considered what to do. Here are some words that you won’t hear as people describe her style: impulsive, free-spirited, unexpected.

On the contrary, the queen understood that brands matter, and a brand manager’s role is to thoughtfully consider the optimal brand building moves.

2. Consistency is Everything

Great brands are consistent. Brand associations form over time with repetition. That was a hallmark of the queen’s approach to branding. She was always the same. She looked the same, she acted the same.

One would never ask, “I wonder which queen will show up today? The grumpy one or the funny one?” No. The queen was the queen.

Variety is the spice of life, they say, but not when it comes to branding. The strongest brands show up day after day. Nike, Coke, Apple, Patagonia, Emirates: all of these have a remarkable sameness.

The queen was consistent even in her choice of dogs. She got her first corgi at 18 and had them throughout her life. She missed out on the joys of having a Havanese, but she was, as always, consistent.

3. Sometimes It Is Best to Say Nothing

The most remarkable thing about the queen’s approach to the issues of the day is that she said nothing. How did the queen feel about the abortion debate? She never said. How about gun control? The price of pharmaceuticals? The treatment of pigs in factory farms? Prospects for the Buffalo Bills this year? The queen’s approach to controversial issues was simple: don’t say anything at all.

There is merit to this approach; if a controversial issue isn’t core to your brand’s purpose, then perhaps the best move is to stay silent. Should John Deere jump into the abortion debate? Probably not.

Now I suspect that in private the queen expressed more opinions. Over breakfast at Buckingham Palace, I imagine there were lively discussions about the affairs of the day. But the queen was careful not to voice these views in public.

4. Everything Communicates

What builds a brand? Everything. Each sense has an impact on branding: sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches.

Queen Elizabeth knew this and used everything to shape her brand. Every item she wore and everything she did created and reinforced her image. She favored bright colors, hats and small handbags. She said at point, “I can never wear beige because nobody will know who I am.” Vanessa Friedman wrote in the NYT this week, “She was so ubiquitous a pop culture presence that she was identifiable simply by her outline, the queen, a tiny woman in a hat with a handbag hanging off the crook of her arm, could be identified from her silhouette alone.”

She was particularly careful with visuals. As media outlets share photos of the queen taken over the course of her long reign, it is remarkable how almost each one reinforced positive brand perceptions. How many photos have you seen of the queen frolicking at the beach? The queen running? The queen with a spaghetti stain on her blouse? The queen exuberantly hugging someone?

5. Be Positive

The queen was relentlessly positive. Her infrequent addresses had a hopeful note. Even when she addressed the nation in the difficult days of COVID, her message carried a positive spirit, “While we may have more still to endure, better days will return. We will be with our friends again. We will be with our families again. We will meet again.”

This is an important branding lesson. People like positivity. If your message is positive, then people will embrace you. It was one of the points I made last week in my talk to new Kellogg MBA students about branding.

The queen was positive in public. Behind the scenes? That might have been a completely different matter. She might have criticized Boris Johnson for drinking at a Downing Street party during COVID. She could have said, “A party in the middle of COVID, Boris? Have you lost your mind?” She might have even had some pointed words for Charles along the way. But these negative thoughts never made it out of the house.

6 Responses

  1. Richard Regan says:

    Too bad the Queen’s brand included not talking about or doing anything about the monarchy’s legacy of slavery, colonialism, land theft and cultural assimilation and genocide.

    • Tim Calkins says:

      A fair point. By often staying silent she avoided controversy, but missed the chance to use her influence for greater good. That is where things really get complicated for brands.

  2. Elani Adasha Lila says:

    Beautiful Piece of Writing about the Queen ..

  3. Thank you for such a concise article but providing core elements of brand through life of the beloved queen. We can definitely employ these amazing lessons in both personal and enterprise brand building.

  4. Justin Kim says:

    Another interesting post! I wonder, though, how much of what you articulated is the brand of British queen’s generically versus the brand of Queen Elizabeth herself as the individual. And then there would be interesting parallels to draw to the business world as brands evolve under different stewards or owners.

    • Tim Calkins says:

      Hi Justin–There is certainly a lot of brand overlap between Queen Elizabeth and the monarchy more broadly. Still, I think she made a series of calculated decisions. She could have had a very different reign, and it will be interesting to see how Charles approaches the branding task. He has some challenges ahead.

Join the conversation