It was an impressive experience to walk around the marquee at the Great Cornwall Food Festival on Lemon Quay with aromas of cheeses, meats, chocolate and fish all melding into an intoxicating mix of passion for product. It was equally exciting to look at the range of ways used to brand the foods and drink on offer. The visual stimulus worked hand in hand with the entertainment of your senses of smell and taste. Moreover, there was an underlying theme of businesses using a strong sense of local distinctiveness.
Many of our most successful companies in the sector use Cornish identity in a powerful way: Kernow Sausages, Kernow Chocolate, Gwenen Apiaries and The Cornish Food Box Company are all good examples of the use of strongly Cornish linguistic branding. Many more will use imagery to underline their Cornish identity with the black and white flag, maybe some gold in the design and perhaps with others such as Skinners, there will be a use of pseudo-mythological characters in the label designs.
With the food and drink sector in Cornwall forging ahead and making a mark at home, in England and abroad, it is interesting to see how this example can be rolled out to other sectors in the Duchy. It is easy to see how this can be applied to tourism and the arts. However, can it also be applied to finance, IT and engineering? For many business leaders, they will want to first get to grips with what values are actually meant in the Cornish identity and culture. They will then be asking if those values apply to them – and also whether they will add value to their service or product.
You may think that this is all uncharted territory and one that has dangers as well as advantages. However, this is well trodden territory across many parts of the world – using a local distinctiveness and identity to benefit business and increase profit. Guinness has built Ireland’s national tourism sector – every gift shop has shelves full of Guinness t-shirts, green hats and bodhrans. Every English visitor to Scotland is likely to return with a tin of shortbread covered in tartan and a set of whisky miniatures.
These might not be the exact models that Cornwall wishes to follow at all. However, we have a growing concept of Cornish identity and distinctiveness that can be used for the benefit of business. How do we use that? How do we want Cornwall to be perceived in England? How do we want Cornwall to be thought of in Europe and further? What are the opportunities and threats that using ‘Cornishness’ can bring?
Many of us have questions like these – and with the recent recognition of the Cornish as a national minority as well as the recognition many years ago of the Cornish language as being under a national charter for protecting minority tongues – we need to consider the issues and work out how to use all of this for a positive and prosperous future.
This is why the Cornish Gorsedh held a seminar last month in Torpoint on ‘Brand Kernow’. It is why a seminar is being planned on identity at the Exeter University ESI (Penryn Campus) and why I have put together a seminar this month at the Pool Innovation Centre (contact the centre for more information or look it up online on Eventbrite).
This topic puts Cornwall and its aspirations into a wider European context where cultures from Spain to Scotland are re-engaging with their identities. It would be foolish to just think this was political and down to independence movements. This is driven by recognition that a homogenous identity does not let you stand out in an ever more crowded marketplace. There are so many companies out there trying to find a USP and to get recognised – but it is becoming harder and harder. The European revival in minority cultures and identity is being driven by a need to be recognised for values closer to home, rather than pooled in a central pot in an anonymous bureaucrat’s office in a far-away city.
If Cornwall is to make its voice heard even more powerfully, we need to engage with this movement for profit born out of our identity. We need to discuss how to do this – and make sure we do it in an inclusive way and one that is not inward-looking.
So sign up and come along to hear thoughts from business and cultural champions in Cornwall.