BT joins rush to push Scottish credentials

Just as BT’s global ambitions were being thwarted by Worldcom’s successful 14.7bn merger bid for MCI, the company was making a much less heralded, but still significant, localised change of its own.

BT Scotland was born in January to distinguish itself from the old UK-wide British Telecom moniker. It has now emerged that the name change is part of a wider discussion within the company – including separate advertising and marketing – to tap into Scotland’s national identity ahead of the opening of its parliament in the year 2000 (MW April 30).

The architect of change has been BT Scotland director Doug Riley who, as a response to the political change, ordered an audit of the company’s Scottish operations by a ten-strong team of BT experts. The existence of the ScottishPower-owned Scottish Telecom, which has operated a Scotland rate for calls since 1994, is a further factor.

BT Scotland executive Eddie McGowan, who is involved in several of the new projects, says: “BT contributes a lot to Scotland and there is a different environment now because of the political climate, there is more emphasis on Scotland.”

But BT, which already employs 11,500 people and 3,500 suppliers, and has a 1bn turnover in Scotland, is not alone in reconsidering its approach to branding and marketing in light of devolution.

Both Scottish businesses and UK business in Scotland are considering how to beef up their Gaelic credentials. Cynical tokenism and misconceiving Scottish traits are the pitfalls to avoid. Scottish Office spokesman Peter Lewis says: “Devolution is a reality and businesses will be working within a new environment, looking for ways to build a national identity.”

Scottish National Party industry spokesman Alasdair Morgan MP strikes a note of caution. “Increasingly, devolution will help businesses focus on how ‘Scottish’ they are, if they think it will give them a competitive edge,” he says. But he stresses that Scottish consumers will still want the same quality and value from products and services, as other consumers – the insertion of a Scottish voiceover is not enough.

Mark Gorman, managing director of Edinburgh agency 1576 Advertising, says attempts to ‘Scottify’ brands can be seen as cynical: “Some companies think they can get a broad Glaswegian accent in and that will do.

“Tokenism is the obvious one to avoid, it is very easy to get it wrong, as is protesting too much. We’re not different now, not everybody voted for devolution. It is an opportunity for the marketing industry and national advertisers to look more carefully at Scotland.”

CBI Scotland assistant director Allan Hogarth claims the creation of Scotland’s parliament is a once in a lifetime opportunity to stress Scotland’s brand value: “Scottish companies will try to emphasise their Scottish heritage but non-Scottish companies have to be careful not to over stretch credibility – they can’t just put a kilt on something and give it a tartan background.

“Scottish customers demand more. They are less likely to be taken in by notions of hills and glens, which go down well with ex-pats and the export market,” says Hogarth.

But what exactly are Scotland’s brand values? It is a subject currently being researched in seven international markets by “Scotland the Brand”, established in 1996 to promote Scottish products abroad.

Scotland the Brand marketing director Nick Boyd says building a Scottish brand is a huge task, made no easier by outmoded conceptions of Scotland: “It is seen for whisky, tartan and shortbread when in fact we have a big electronics industry and are at the forefront of IT.”

Three years ago Scottish Gas renamed itself after ten years as British Gas Scotland. Communications manager Hamish McPherson says the advent of competition in the energy market was more of a factor than devolution. “We believe identifying with the Scottish brand was a sensible marketing move and tied in with what customers want,” says McPherson.

The company employs 2,000 people in Scotland, has a director for Scotland and has rebranded its 24 Scottish Gas Energy stores over the past year. In January it struck a 3m four-year sponsorship deal with the Scottish Football Association. McPherson credits its Scottish branding with a “significant” factor in retaining 85 per cent of its customers since deregulation.

Looking to the future, The Leith Agency’s senior planner Gavin McDonald believes a more independent, separate Scotland may well be seen by global players as an ideal testing ground.

All are agreed – devolution brings Scotland centre stage. BT and BG are among those which are adapting to reflect the change. But there are many other national and international companies which will have to go through the same process before the doors of the Scottish parliament open in less than two years’ time.

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