Countries as Brands

“The most valuable thing a company owns is its position in the consumer’s mind. When you tamper with this position, you are asking for trouble. Yet many companies spend much of their time doing just that. Tampering with the brand’s position.”

– Branding Strategy Insider

Why do countries brand themselves? The main purpose for doing so is to attract investment. It is a way to package a people, culture and identity to influence perceptions, and in certain cases, to separate oneself from either an unstable past or from a region in turmoil.

Just like branding for corporations, country branding involves finding the unique selling point (USP) for a country, to differentiate it from others in an increasing globally competitive world. And one of the most significant factors is sound governance and the reassurance that sound governance exists.

With Davos on the horizon this week, I had a look at the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report to see what shifts had taken place over the past several years during considerable change and instability in many regions of the world, particularly in terms of “public institutions”. And the United States caught my eye.

The report was last published on September 5, 2013, before the government shutdown and a near fall off the “fiscal cliff”. The report noted a decline by the US over “four consecutive years” stating, “the assessment of public institutions is slightly more positive, which is a hopeful outcome after a number of years of weakening confidence in this area.”

FutureBrand’s Ranking of the Top 25 Country Brands has also reflected a decline. In its 2012-13 report, it noted that the country had been on a steady decline in rankings since 2009 and classified it in a separate article as “an iconic brand in decline.”

The Future of Brand USA

The United States has been an iconic brand for such a long time that it is almost taken for granted. The backbone of that strong brand has been the country’s long-term political and relative economic stability.

After a year of uncertainty – a government shutdown, near default, NSA spying allegations – a nervous new start begins now in January.

Much will depend on how that iconic brand matches its changing reality. Any dissonance between the two will lead to a lack of trust between the consumers of that brand and the brand itself, further eroding confidence in Brand USA over the long-term.

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