OMG We’re #4?

Building and sustaining a strong brand image is vital to the long-term economic success of any nation, state, or community. During tough economic times, or confusing geopolitical periods, a good brand reputation can be the difference between prosperity and disaster. When times are tough, capital investors and political leaders alike prefer to make transactional decisions with locations/nations they understand and can trust to walk the talk of their promise.

Trust Matters in All Relationships

In his scholarly book titled Trust and Mistrust in International Relations Andrew Kydd concludes – “Trust is a central issue in international relations, and that centrality is exemplified in the most important struggle of the second half of the twentieth century, the Cold War. When states can trust each other, they can live at peace, provided that they are security seekers, uninterested in expansion for its own sake.” Having and keeping a trustworthy brand promise is the key to creating trust.

I believe, Brand America has a trustworthy promise. It is inspirational and actively sought after. The fundamental challenge we have is ensuring that promise is kept at all relevant touch points. Against that challenge, I think the data argue Brand America has room for improvement.

Brand America has Room for Improvement

The Nation Brand Index is an annual global survey from Futurebrand that measures the relative strength of nations around the world. On one level, it is a proxy measure for the relative attractiveness of a nation’s promise and the degree of trust the world has that the promise is a true representation of intention.

I previously blogged about the 2009 study results in a post titled The World Expects Authenticity. In that post, I commented that the world now expects authenticity. I also blogged about in a post titled Brand America Image Improving. In that post, I made the comment “In my opinion, the ascent to #1 reflects global optimism that Brand America is beginning to address the authenticity of its promise. It also reflects a desire for Brand America to succeed.”

In 2010, Brand America has fallen off the medal podium dropping from the Gold medal position of #1 to the non-medal position of #4. Fourth is the position where people start saying: “It is not really about winning, it is an honor to have even competed.” I don’t subscribe to that philosophy.

Top 25 Nation Brands 2010

The expert analysis of the data suggests the 2010 results reflect an impact of the economic crisis. The Report assessment reads – “it’s crystal-clear that the economic crisis has been a powerful factor in country brand strength this year, but mainly for those that avoided it. For instance, the country brand winner Canada has shown strong performance among the G7 nations over the last years, being the last into recession and the first out, not least thanks to fiscal conservatism that helped it to avoid the sub-prime crisis.”

The assessment of Brand America’s performance reads – “Just as its rise to the top spot in 2009 reflected global attention, hope and anticipation of change promised by the new administration; the US’s nation brand has suffered with the diminishing approval ratings of its new president. This phenomenon shows that the nation-branding ‘Obama effect can work both ways. And it could also indicate that Brand America was in part artificially stimulated by the charisma of an individual. With unemployment nearing double figures and a slower than predicted recovery, the world’s largest economy has also been affected by the Gulf of Mexico disaster and sustained criticism over foreign policy.”

If you look at historical changes in Brand America’s ranking in the context of the economic crisis timeline the connection becomes even clearer. For reference, Brand America ranked #7 in the 2008 Nation Brand Index, #2 in 2007, and #2 in 2006.

Consider that in 2007, significant public reports of the wheels falling off the U.S. economy started appearing when five sub-prime lending firms declared bankruptcy and the DJIA dropped 3.3% in a single day. In August, 2007 it became evident the crisis was going global when France’s BNP Paribas announced it could not value assets held by three of its hedge funds. This global “pain” is likely reflected in the reported five-place drop in ranking of Brand America from #2 in 2007 to #7 in 2008. Taken in this context, it is very plausible the #1 ranking in 2009 was driven primarily by the world’s hope that changes promised by a newly elected President Obama (November 2008) would fix the global economic crisis.

How Can We Address the Challenge?

The 2010 ranking of #4 should serve as a reminder that Brand America has work yet to be done to ensure the world sees its promise as authentic. We still need to focus on doing a better job of walking the talk. In my opinion, failing to reach the medal podium is completely unacceptable given Brand America’s potential to be a perennial Gold medal winner.

One place to start is ensuring your community and state have a clearly articulated promise that is being delivered day in and day out at all relevant touch points. Making your community and state more attractive for capital investment will, in turn, strengthen Brand America.

Share Your Thoughts

What is your take on the decline in rating for Brand America? Is #4 good enough, or can Brand America do better? What are the hurdles you see that keep Brand America from being the perennial #1 nation in the world?

Please leave a comment and share your perspective. By sharing, you help everybody get a better learning experience.

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3 Comments so far

  1. Linda H DiMario

    January 18, 2011

    Inwards and Outwards
    Thanks to years of personal and corporate excess, greed and complacency, an almost delusional commitment of resources around the world and two+ wars, our economy goes into a nose dive and we are looking very much like the child who got thrown in the pool for the first time- thrashing about in a determined effort to find a stroke, a rythym, a pace that will keep us bouyant and help us get to shore. We had an opportunity as a nation to join forces – just as in time of war – and do what needed to be done to move this country forward. Instead our response was small, petty, mean-spirited, fear-driven, self-interest-driven and completely selfish. While I believe that we are an extraordinary country at heart, in time of crisis, we turned on eachother like rabid dogs fighting for the last scrap of food. We showed our darkest character flaws to a world that had long admired us – the country that can solve anything, rise above anything, meet any challenge – the nation of hope and compassion as well as innovation and prosperity. If our brand has taken a beating it is by our hand. Americans behaving badly at home not abroad. We can’t market our way out of this one. We must behave our way out of this one. Only a change in our approach to the compelling issues of the day in a respectful and mature way befitting the greatness of America will propel us back to #1.

  2. Tim Guen

    January 19, 2011

    Ed, I think the declining image and reputation of Brand America is a reflection of the gap between the potential of what the US should be (call it our “brand promise”) and the perception of its current standing. The survey results are a barometer of hope, and right now the pessimists are outvoting the optimists. Two years ago with the ascendence of President Obama, the trend was the opposite.

    If you look at the top three positions (#1 Canada, #2 Australia, #3 New Zealand), you can quickly conclude that the brand promise for each of these countries is not in the same tier as the US. Their aspirations are lower, their challenges are lighter, and in difficult times their potential gap is smaller. The key indicator for determining whether the new rankings makes any difference at all is to ask, “Would Brand America want to swap its brand positioning with either Canada, Australia or New Zealand?”.

    The more relevant point is: The US has the strongest brand ranking among the G-7.

  3. stooftjah

    March 1, 2011

    Interestingly written! Iron Man 2

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