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Strathclyde Business School

Address to a Scottish brand

By Alan Wilson - Posted on 23 January 2015

With Robert Burns Day taking place this weekend, Alan Wilson, Professor of Marketing and Academic Director of the Executive Masters in Hospitality and Tourism Leadership, takes a look at the ‘Scottish brand'…

With Scotland’s Bard’s day of celebration taking place on Sunday, we turn our thoughts towards our heritage and consider what makes this country great.  An entrepreneurial spirit, a creative flair and a sense of humour – traits that are demonstrated best through Rabbie Burns’ most famous works such as Tam O’Shanter, My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose and Address to a Haggis.  These characteristics are additionally conveyed through the marketing efforts of iconic Scottish businesses, and contribute to the concept of the ‘Scottish brand’, but what is the ‘Scottish brand’?


A clear theme of heritage is prevalent with long-standing, luxury brands built upon exports that have become synonymous with Scotland, such as whisky and textiles.  The whisky industry is worth £4.3bn to the UK economy a year making up a quarter of all Scottish food and drink revenues.  Additionally, many of our major tourist attractions are linked to the history of whisky production.  It is no surprise then that the leading brands all use their origin stories as a major marketing tool.  Links are prominently displayed on their website homepages leading to full accounts of their business’ heritage.  Glenfiddich, for example, presents a timeline titled ‘Our History: A Family Story’.  It shares anecdotes of the company’s growth, such as the first drop falling from the copper stills on Christmas Day in 1887. Further down the line it regales the tale of founder William Grants’ grandson Grant Gordon increasing production during the prohibition era while other distillers closed down.  This led to the business meeting unprecedented demand when the law was overturned.

The link between Scotland and whisky is undeniable, as is the relationship between heritage and Scottish branding.  Strathclyde Business School has invested on adding to the success of traditional exports with the tailored MBA 25 course, taught part-time over three years.  The programme was created in collaboration with William Grant, and focuses on family business and luxury branding, aiming to create the future business leaders of high-value Scottish brands.


There is another side to many of our leading brands – innovation. Through the centuries, Scots have had a major impact worldwide on a whole range of sectors with their contribution to the invention of the steam engine, the bicycle,  the telephone, the television, penicillin, radar and insulin. Today,innovation is embodied by Scotland’s thriving tech industry which is worthhalf a billion pounds.  Edinburgh was recently named Scotland’s top technology hotspot by professional services firm KPMG, where the concentration of tech businesses is more than twice the Scottish average.

Our software sector grows 16% a year, three times the European average.  Scotland is hailed for its influential gaming sector, its most successful export being the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) series. The record-breaking game’s own history begins in 1988 in Dundee at DMA Design.  Its developers later moved to Rockstar North in Edinburgh.  The most recent instalment, GTA V has been hailed as redefining the industry, breaking seven Guinness World Records including ‘best-selling videogame in 24 hours’ and ‘highest revenue generated by an entertainment product in 24 hours’.  Despite GTA V being set in the fictional American city of Los Santos, the unmistakable Scottish humour is reflected in the storyline.  An ice cream parlour is named The Sundae Post, after Dundee’s newspaper.  When driving about the city there is a news bulletin informing players that an extension to the city’s tram system could run years over schedule and cost billions over budget.


This  self- deprecating humour demonstrates that even with this greatness of heritage and inventiveness, much of Scottish branding is in some way honest and down to earth.   The Scottish brand is all about businesses staying true to their roots whilst embracing change.  We don’t overpromise what we can deliver and we have the vision to see our brands from the customer perspective.   This trait is one that closely chimes with the views of Rabbie Burns in his poem “ To a Louse”:

O wad some Power the giftie gie us

To see oursels as ithers see us!

It wad frae mony a blunder free us,

An' foolish notion:

What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us,

An' ev'n devotion!

A sentiment that should be embraced by all businesses and managers.  Happy Birthday, Rabbie Burns, a true Scottish icon!

What traits do you believe leading Scottish brands incorporate and what other business ideas should we take from Rabbie Burns?  Share your comments below.

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