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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