RALLYING BEHIND A NATION
|JOHN FANNING GIVES HIS VERDICT ON THE MARKETING INSTITUTE CONFERENCE|
The Marketing Institute national conference focused on Brand Ireland. The concept of the country as a brand annoys many people, who believe the language of marketing demeans the idea of nationhood. But there is a growing acceptance worldwide that it makes economic sense to understand other countries’ awareness and attitudes towards their own, with a view to stressing the positives and minimising the negatives.
I use the word ‘effort’ because nation brands by their nature are difficult to ‘manage’ in the conventional brand management sense. This increasing level of interest was probably responsible for the sell-out attendance, which included more delegates from government departments than would normally be expected at a marketing conference.
Like most conferences of this type it was a bit of a mixed bag with three of the speakers; from Google, Diageo and Kerry Foods, giving standard corporate spiels which added little to the day’s theme. UCD marketing professor Mary Lambkin charted the rise and fall of Ireland’s reputation as a result of the financial crisis and ended with a spirited defence of the current government’s actions for recovery.
Professor Gary Davies from Manchester Business School talked about strategies for a declining reputation. He said the unpredictability of nation brands can face sudden cataclysms resulting from a political crisis or scandal or, in the case of the US, when the president decides to go to war. Going to war seriously damages your nation brand.
But there is always the possibility of the unexpected success and Davies gave an entertaining account of how K-Pop; a particular brand of shiny, glossy and heavily manufactured dance music, Gangnam Style, originating in South Korea, now dominates the Asian charts and has transformed the country’s nation brand image.
The only speaker to attempt a proper study of nation brand images was Tom Adams from Future Brand, a company that has conducted a global survey of nation brands for the past eight years. Nations are assessed using a complicated but comprehensive questionnaire, ranging from basic awareness to ‘what qualities come to mind when you think of that country?’ The results are then sub-divided into a range of categories; value system, quality of life, business environment, heritage and culture and tourism.
We rank 21st overall, which is not bad considering our size and attributes. Not surprisingly, our most strongly-rated attribute is ‘heritage and culture’. The top five countries are Switzerland, Canada, Japan, Sweden and New Zealand. NZ may come as a surprise, but the Kiwis are serious about nation branding. Ireland’s beaches rank only 65th in the world, which places us between Iceland and Bangladesh.
The company forecasts that changes in the world geo-political landscape will see the emergence of new contenders for top 20 positions in the future and tips the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Chile, Malaysia and Qatar to improve their rankings.
It suggests Ireland may have problems in the future. As Anglo-American influence wanes at the expense of the East, power moves from areas where we are well known to areas where we are comparatively unknown. But we need to treat these results with some caution; the sample size for the world was only 3,500, they were not representative but described as ‘international travellers’ and although the questionnaire covered 118 countries the sample was confined to only 18 countries. Nevertheless, in view of the long-term trends we could usefully consider how to capitalise on the fact that many of the political and administrative elite in the emerging countries were educated by Irish missionaries.
Consultant Noel Toolan, once of Bord F