Yorkshire's positive image can help our brands succeed

Tuesday 11th March 2014 - Posted in Marketing
By Stewart Arnold, Director at Stratton Park Associates

In the 1990s comedians Hale and Pace featured a spoof based on the fictional ‘Yorkshire Airlines’. The sketch by the two (southern) comedians drew on the typical Yorkshire stereotypes: flat caps, whippets, mushy peas and Geoffrey Boycott. I am not that po-faced to think it wasn’t funny but seeing it now on You Tube I wonder if the largely negative stereotypes may be a product of their times.

The Hale and Pace piece came to mind the other day when I went to a nearby farm shop and cafe in South Cave. Drewton’s makes much of its award-winning all day ‘Yorkshire Breakfast’ suggesting in that name elements of quality and (no doubt) quantity. The use of the word ‘Yorkshire’ at Drewton’s is a short hand for customers who can expect certain (positive) values from their breakfast.

Some hundreds of companies across the region use Yorkshire in their company name. These range from financial services to suppliers of fence panels. Many will have markets in the UK beyond Yorkshire and indeed many will export overseas. It could be argued that the Yorkshire element of a company name is no more than a geographical identifier in the same vein as British Airways or Deutsche Post. However, it can be equally argued that ‘Yorkshire’ adds to the company certain values associated with the region and its people. In the same way, many companies use Yorkshire in their brand portfolios whether it be the Drewton’s Yorkshire breakfast or Yorkshire Tea.

There is no denying that brands have become prevalent in our modern world. We are surrounded by brands and, in many cases, they have become short cuts to telling us something about their ‘offer’. For example, Versace, Armani and Gucci hope to signal to the customer positive recall about the quality of Italian fashion wear and, in the same way, Rolex, TAG Heuer and Tissot give us cues about the superiority of Swiss watches.

However, understanding what makes up a brand has filled numerous books over the years so that many definitions exist. What is broadly understood though is that a brand is complex. One definition (and one which is as good as any) has a brand having both intrinsic and extrinsic cues. Intrinsic cues would generally refer to physical product attributes, such as shape, colour, weight, taste and performance. On the other hand, elements of the product which have nothing to do with its physical properties are referred to as extrinsic cues. These include brand name, the packaging of the product, price, promotional support, country of origin, consumer evaluation, distribution channel and the provision of a guarantee and servicing if appropriate. If this definition is applicable and the Yorkshire ‘brand’ does indeed comprise certain intrinsic qualities, what are they?

In order to test what these intrinsic Yorkshire qualities might be, a survey was carried out amongst University of Hull students in November 2013. Given a list of possible attributes, the students were asked which they would associate with the term ‘Yorkshire’ in the brand name of a product. Those attributes that scored over fifty per cent were, in descending order: Friendly; Welcoming; Honest; Unpretentious; Quality; Good value; Trustworthy; Natural. When asked in the same survey whether having the word ‘Yorkshire’ in the brand name would make them more or less likely to purchase the product, 54% said no difference but 38% said more likely and only 8% less likely.

It might be possible to start to extrapolate from the findings of this initial survey whether a pattern emerges in that some attributes lend them themselves more to particular product areas. For example, ‘honest’, ‘friendly’ and ‘trustworthy’ could provide a company in the financial sector with the positive attributes they surely need after such a battering in recent years. Equally, food and drink products should perhaps could see ‘natural’, ‘quality’ and ‘good value’ as suitable values in their sector. Given this range of positive attributes, on the negative side, it is disappointing to see, that none of the companies bidding to take over the East Coast mainline used what could have been a hugely useful marketing tool by incorporating Yorkshire into the brand name. (However, I still think it would take a substantial effort to overcome the negatives of the Hale and Pace piece if a ‘Yorkshire Airlines’ was to be launched!)
I plan to broaden this study both quantatively and qualitatively but, at this stage, it already starts to provide much food for thought and consequently I am very happy to discuss possible branding projects with interested people in the future.

Stewart Arnold
Director, Stratton Park Associates

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