Brand America Image Versus Identity

Brand America may be digging itself into a hole.  We need to put down the shovel and focus on delivering the promise.  It is time to address the gap.

The Strengthening Brand America Project is designed to help bridge the gap between global perception and the reality of Brand America through more effective use of place branding.  The concept is to is to help economic development professionals and government officials see how the choices they make in asset creation, infrastructure investment, public policy reform and diplomacy impact both the image and identity of Brand America.  While admittedly Brand America is more complex to manage, the lessons from product and corporate branding are instructional and highly relevant.

Understanding the reapplication and making better choices at the local level will help strengthen Brand America and bridge the gap.

In previous posts, I have commented about image versus identity and the critical importance of authenticity for a brand promise.  If a brand does not “walk the talk” of their brand promise, then the gap between image and desired identity will only get larger and eventually the desired identity will be no longer be attainable.

I’ve also commented on the remarkable turn around of Brand America’s global image in the annual Nation Brands Index study.  In spite of the great news, I purposefully positioned this turn around as the world voting in expectation.

Brand America would do a better job of walking the talk.

And now I’ve become aware of The Last, Lost Empire authored by Dr. Ted Becker and Dr. Michael Briand.  In my opinion, it is a sobering reinforcement of the need for Brand America to work even harder on ensuring the authenticity of the American promise. Failure is simply not an option.

The way I became aware of the book was from a blog post Ted authored that caught my attention. It shares three pictures that highlight the gap between Brand America’s emerging global image and the desired identity of its citizenry.  Pictures that serve as a reminder we have a lot of work to do.

How we address the political challenges facing our nation matters and clearly impacts Brand America’s image.  Brand America’s promise of being the one place on this planet where “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among them are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”, rings hollow if we do not ensure the authenticity of that promise in today’s world.

Here are three questions Ted’s blog post raises with respect to authenticity –

  1. How do you reconcile the abandonment of hope and hatred for a major private sector company depicted in a grafitti message with the promise of Brand America?
  2. How do you reconcile the picture of a For Sales sign depicting unprecedented foreclosure rate on homes and loss of the American dream for so many people?
  3. How do you reconcile the existence of a wall on America’s southern border with the inscription on the Statue of Liberty which reads “…Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teaming shore.  Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” ?

Because I do not know how to ask for input without inviting political bombast, I am going to treat the above as rhetorical questions designed to stimulate your thinking around how important it is the decisions you make in economic development are aligned with Brand America’s promise.

I will undoubtedly have more thoughts after I read the book.

In the interim, the question I would like you to answer is – What are some impressive examples of where Brand America is doing a good job of “walking the talk”?  I look forward to some uplifting and hopeful input.  Thanks in advance for responding.

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6 Comments so far

  1. Ted Becker

    June 7, 2010

    Thanks for coming into http://www.last-lost-empire.com/blog and reading some of what’s there. I think you got the feeling of what I am trying to do with this new kind of digital book on the American and Global Political Economy.

    Using your terms, yes, I am trying to get Americans to “RE-BRAND” America using a core of its traditional political and economic values…the authentic America….and ditch the phony image of America that has been polluting the world’s thinking and feeling about the USA for several decades.

    All the scientific world polls (there are several that measure various attitudes in many countries every year and thus have trend lines) show that the USA or America “brand” is in great disrepute at this pivotal time in world history. How sad. And our government, and the global corporations that run it–know this…and are trying to use what they call “public diplomacy”, but is only very bad advertising and PR.

    The final three chapters of LLE are the rebranding strategy for the United States of America if we are to retake any global leadership role in restoring the ecology and becoming a role model in small, cooperative capitalism and genuine democracy at all levels of governance. “American Capitalism” must become a brand that is respected, not what it is now: “cowboy capitalism” and “casino capitalism.” LLE shows many ways this can/must be done.

    And dump “Leader of the Free World.” That is an old brand that doesn’t sell anymore anywhere. We need to become “The Leading Democracy in the World.” Right now that is Switzerland. If we do it, we can claim it. Until then, people can see the way by reading this very long, but easy to read and understand, interactive, web-based book. It may cost a lot for a book these days, but it is well worth it.

    If you can help us do this, you will be helping our country emerge from thirty some years of its Dark Age.

    Ted Becker

  2. Back to Basics

    Could Brand America’s CEO – Obama – lead the world’s most valuable country brand back to the future: Home of the American Dream – its cultural source code or Brand DNA?

    Then re-export its brand values to the rest of the world without the use of military might – based on a false premise?

  3. Tom Buncle

    June 8, 2010

    In answer to your 3 questions, the answer, as Alan Williamson hinted at, is one word – Obama.

    At home he may be under fire and questioned over domestic political issues (and always will be), but it wld be a shame if this prevented Americans from seeing the impact he has had on changing America’s image internationally – and still can for years to come.

    Resolving brand conflicts such as those you have identified requires a measured, rational response, which admits the possibility of different perspectives and gradations of interpretation of brand values that must nevertheless be consistent with an overall brand feel. (e.g. Freedom is always relative, never absolute; types of democracy vary from country to country.)

    So,as long as the direction of travel is consistent with the brand values, commitment to them is palpable and sustained, and there is substantial evidence of brand values in behaviour throughout the country without any extreme incongruities that will destroy brand credibility, then America is in with a chance.

    But if the incongruities remain too great and once-in-a lifetime assets such as Obama and what he stands for are not capitalised on, negative perceptions and prejudice will get in the way of lesser and less credible attempts to rebrand America.

  4. Linda DiMario

    June 8, 2010

    I am relieved that a company of your stature is preparing to take on this issue. I have been concerned about America’s brand for some time now but particularly so with the announcement that the U.S. was preparing to launch a new international tourism campaign.

    I have done a few newsletters to my clients on this issue and collected some international perspective, if you are interested.

  5. Bill Carney

    June 8, 2010

    Ed,
    After reading your piece I have the following thoughts. First, America is not a “brand”. It is rather a very complex society whose popularity on the World Stage rises and falls and rises again over time. I spent almost the entire period of the Vietnam war period working in Europe. Our image abroad today is nowhere as low as during those years. But because a growing number of today’s punditariat came of age after that period, they seem to lack that historical perspective.

    Second, like it or not, the United States is the world’s great hegemon and as such will be broadly reviled, resented and, I might add, envied in many parts of the globe as long as we remain so.

    Better that we focus on advocating for policies at all levels of our society that foster free minds and free markets, that encourage and welcome the the best and brightest to come to these shores and that continue to reward hard work and entrepreneurial effort. IMHO, that is where our economic development efforts should be focused.

    Bill Carney
    La Verne, CA

  6. Zachary Alexander

    June 15, 2010

    Post-Globalization, we work in a single marketplace that stretches around the world. There is an undeniable competition for all available resources which has the possibility of reshaping our potential for success. I believe in American Ideals. And, I think that our future prosperity is tied to how closely we are willing to live our ideals.

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