With the coronation bank holiday and the pageantry nearly upon us, and the bunting going up, now is a reasonable moment to ask what the upcoming celebrations represent.
The King’s Coronation will be the final step in the transition from the late Queen Elizabeth II to King Charles III. The three remaining generations of monarchy appearing together on the Buckingham Palace balcony will no doubt radiate seamlessness. But soon the cheering crowds will depart, and the Royal Family will be 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.
The last couple of years have been tumultuous ones for the Royal ‘brand’. There have been moments of unity in the public appreciation of the life of Queen Elizabeth and in the mourning of her death, but also a lot of division sparked by the revelations of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and the reaction to them. As Buckingham Palace famously said, “some recollections may vary”, but whose recall people are most likely to trust very much depends on where they find 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. Across Britain, at the height of the storm after Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah, 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 Sussexes’ interpretation of events reached barely 20%.
Of course it’s not just the treatment of Harry and Meghan that divides Britain when it comes to the Royal family. In fact, differences over the value of the monarchy, its role, and its 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 King Charles with an unenviable task. Whether it should have fallen to him at all divides opinion, though 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 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 new King among the professional and media classes or a concern that the new Prince and Princess of Wales might breathe fresh 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.
Confidently predict how audiences will respond to your business initiatives.