Brand Identity vs National Identity: A Very Welsh Problem

If you live in Wales, you won't be surprised to hear that 21% of Welsh business logos feature a dragon. Actually, that statistic is completely made up - but I'm sure there were at least a few people out there who were ready to believe it. National identity and brand identity are more closely intertwined in Wales than in any other country I've visited. The Welsh national identity has really come of age in recent decades (it's hard to believe that the red dragon was only officially recognised as the national flag in 1959), and it seems that Welsh business owners are tripping over each other to show off their patriotic credentials.

Possibly one of the first brands in Wales to build a positioning strategy off the back of this cultural awakening was Brains Brewery. Its 'Red Dragon' beer (the original name for Brains Dark) was first sold in the 1920s and became hugely popular. So popular in fact that Brains decided to capitalise on the product's brand equity by taking the red dragon symbol and merging it with the parent brand, creating the Brains logo that every Welsh beer drinker will recognise today.

Since then hundreds, if not thousands of other brands have attempted to capitalise on the deep sense of community, heritage and pride that the red dragon evokes. You can certainly see the appeal of trading off an already established icon; there's less need to invest time and resources in developing your own brand equity, and there's no shortage of die-hard Welsh patriots who will engage enthusiastically with a brand on the strength of a red dragon logo alone! That said, there are a number of reasons why I would avoid recommending the red dragon as a company logo in all but a handful of circumstances.

For a start, unless you're selling a heritage product like Welsh cakes or love spoons, tying your brand identity so closely to national identity will limit your potential to expand beyond Wales' borders. To potential customers in England, Europe or further afield, a brand that seems overly concerned with its Welshness might seem parochial and insular. It may give the impression that your company lacks the capacity to handle business on an international scale. International markets may question whether your business truly understands the needs of non-Welsh customers. If you have any ambitions to develop into an international operation, baking nationalism into your brand identity could become a real hindrance.

Even if your business will only ever trade within Wales, opting for ye olde red dragon logo still has drawbacks. How do you differentiate yourself effectively from the hundreds of other brands that have taken the same route? If you have a red dragon logo, and your main competitor has something more unique, who do you think has a better chance of being remembered? In the customer's mind, your business will be stored with hundreds of others in an overflowing box marked 'Dragons (Welsh)', whereas your competitor might have a snazzy box all to themselves.

The problem runs deeper than just the use of the dragon image; a business that co-opts the red dragon sends a signal that it has nothing original to say, that it's just another 'me too' brand without a clear sense of its own mission, vision and values. It's just patriotic, and that's simply not enough to build an effective and successful brand in the 21st century. The red dragon is a powerful image, and the red dragon logo has its place, but let's be a little more thoughtful about how and where we use it.

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