With the Bank Holidays and the pageantry now behind us, and the bunting safely packed away, now is a reasonable moment to ask what the recent celebrations represented.
The Platinum Jubilee was the most obvious signal to date of the transition – hopefully a long one – from the current queen to the future king. The four generations of monarchy appearing together on the Buckingham Palace balcony radiated seamlessness. But now the cheering crowds have departed, the Royal Family is left with the challenge it has always faced: how to adapt to changing times and a changing society while continuing to stand for continuity.
No one wants to keep their existing customers at the expense of winning new ones, or to chase after new markets while neglecting those who have previously been central to success. Most businesses and brands will recognise the dilemma. The secret to resolving it successfully lies in understanding what motivates the people you have and the people you would like to acquire; the things these groups have in common but also the differences that need to be respected.
Where to start? First you need to take the population – in this case Britain – and show how circumstances and identity combine to shape people’s opinions and the decisions they take. Doing this, you’ll find very quickly that everything from the brands people like, through the media they enjoy, to even the causes and political parties they support, are driven by two fundamental forces: security – people’s sense of health, wealth and well-being; and diversity – how close people are to their neighbours both physically and demographically. Differences in outlook, in attitudes, and in behaviour tend to reflect differences in people’s relative diversity and security scores. And understanding these differences is crucial for any enterprise trying to navigate change while maintaining a sense of continuity – up to and including the Royal Family.
Take a less happy time for the Monarchy: the beginning of last year and the Sussexes interview with Oprah Winfrey in which they intimated that racist views remained within the Royal Family. As Buckingham Palace famously said, “some recollections may vary”, but whose recall people were most likely to trust very much depended where they found themselves on the Yonder Clockface – our model of the British public built from mapping the way the forces of security and diversity in our society interact. At the time across Britain, slightly more than a third of people sided with the Sussexes. But this rose to close to 50% in those higher security, higher diversity areas dominated by urban professionals, and to nearly 60% in the higher diversity but lower security parts of the country where many of Britain’s ethnically diverse communities are found. By contrast, in that half of the country characterised by lower than average diversity, support for the Duchess‘s interpretation of events reached barely 20%.
Of course it’s not just the treatment of the Sussexes that divides Britain when it comes to the Royal family. In fact, differences over the value of the monarchy, its role, and future, mirror more profound cultural and economic divisions running through British society. Those in the highest security, lowest diversity parts of the country, where the most well-off and most established parts of the population tend to live, are twice as likely to say the Royal Family is an asset as those living in lower security, higher diversity areas. These people, drawn from communities that are among the most urban and hard pressed in the country, are also much more likely to think that the Royal Family should be scaled down, that it has no real idea about how ordinary people live and that it needs to modernise in order to have any chance of surviving.
All of which leaves the Queen’s eventual successor with an unenviable task. The question of who that should be divides opinion along different lines, but not perhaps in the way you might expect. It is among traditionally minded and more overtly patriotic people from less secure and less diverse backgrounds that skipping a generation and passing the crown from Queen Elizabeth to Prince William finds greatest support. Those least in favour are the kinds of urban professionals who live in areas of greater security and more diversity. Whether this is because of a previously undetected warmth towards the Prince of Wales among the professional and media classes or a concern that the Cambridges might breathe new life into an institution which many of them would like to see scaled down or phased out is a moot point.
The royal challenge should be easily recognisable to any business trying to appeal to an audience with different priorities, interests and values. Success requires a sophisticated understanding of people, whether they are those you would like to get to know better or those that you think you know already. The key is to understand what different groups have in common and what sets them apart from one another. This is the bigger picture which helps to make sense of changing realities and the opportunities they generate.
Few have a better, more intuitive grasp of this than the House of Windsor.
The Monarchy will endure for as long as it is able to satisfy the public’s needs. As a brand it has no direct rival; its biggest threat is indifference. Like some of our most famous household names, the Royal Household must maintain its appeal by offering something for everyone in a way that adds up to more than the sum of the individual parts. That means pleasing loyal and long-standing supporters while reaching out to a new, more restless and demanding generation.
Business leaders may think they have it tough but for the family they call “the Firm” the stakes really couldn’t be higher.