Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Backing Brand America

On this blog, I have often written about places I love – Auckland, tiny St Maarten, Buenos Aires, Dubai, Cyprus, as well as the incomparable Rio de Janeiro and Paris. I’ve also thought about these places and written about what makes a successful place brand (Signs of a Nation 1 and 2).

A note from Edward Burghard grabbed my attention. Edward is a Harley Procter marketer. That means he is one of P&G’s top people and wants to stay in marketing rather than take on the role of general manager. P&G offers these specialists the opportunity to remain in senior marketing roles while stretching their expertise and enriching their contributions. They get biennial sabbaticals so they can broaden their marketing experience and work on suitable projects outside P&G.

Edward decided to stay in Ohio but wanted to start something big. He is convinced that place branding as a driver of economic development can be dramatically improved by the use of private sector branding skills and principles. To do it he has instigated a place branding community of practice. The explicit goal? To help strengthen Brand America. Edward doesn’t sugarcoat: “Brand America is in trouble.” It may have been the biggest economic engine in history, it could still be the economic powerhouse that returns us to economic stability, but it is a brand under serious competitive pressure across both dimensions of the Love/Respect Axis. The Pew Global Attitudes Project reported in 2007 that, “Since 2002, the image of the United States has declined in most parts of the world. Favorable ratings of America are lower in 26 of 33 countries for which trends are available”. Edward made these connections and explores them in his blog post, “Love – The Secret Ingredient in Place Branding”.

  • Lovemarks have important potential in place branding.
  • The top 50 Lovemark places sent in by the community to are a valuable resource of places that have successfully created valuable connections inspired by emotion.
  • Lovemark status can help increase tourism revenue as well as improved competitiveness in accessing capital investment.
Edward shows how a clear simple idea can create energy and focus but there’s an element missing. In my experience you need to put what you aspire to on the table. People might disagree but that’s the way to start the conversation. I don’t think there would be any disagreement about the need to strengthen Brand America, but what would that brand stand for?

Bob Seelert took a “start with the answer” approach and has put “a harmonious and sustainable society” on the table. Every action governments, businesses, institutions, and individuals take can be measured against this. America would stop doing a lot of stuff and start doing a lot of different stuff if it was committed to this no-brainer goal. Check out Edward's site, subscribe to the blog, and join the conversation. And don't forget to buy Paper, New York's hippest magazine. I'll be writing some ads for the new America in their June issue. The series includes Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger. It should be fun.


Edward Burghard said...

Kevin's challenge is spot on.

All locations need to align around an identity definition that is relevant, authentic, and competitive. It should also be both mind and heart opening if the location aspires to lovemark status.

Starting with the answer (the place identity), and having the dialogue will help you get a handle on the current image, and enable you to reverse engineer an effective place branding plan that effectively closes the gaps.

The journey is always challenging, but success is very rewarding. My sense is Bob Seelert has much to teach as we explore the challenge of strengthening Brand America. I am looking forward to reading Bob's book, and can hardly wait for it to be available in the U.S. on May 4.

I've also registered on Bob's site and encourage everyone to do the same.

Peter Quinn said...

Here's an interesting perspective on Brand America in Forbes.Paul Maidment brings up the issue of whether the negative brand image is the result of ineffective P.R. or bad policy. I'd suspect it's the latter. And the following might explain how traditional brand damage control is failing.

"It is not that the brand has been neglected. Shortly after 9/11, the Bush Administration launched a TV campaign for Brand America, broadcast to predominantly Muslim countries. Last year, it spent $685 million on promoting America's image abroad-- Coca-Cola's (nyse: KO - news - people ) annual non-U.S. marketing budget tops $1 billion--and has had some of Madison Avenue's brightest and best laboring in its cause (see: " Extreme Makeover: America's Image")."

But that being said, as an American, and not a terrifically proud one at that, I think the average American still identifies himself as an immigrant and this kind of ability to transcend class is still its brand's strongest defense. (Canada included of course :-) I'm sure Kevin could contest to this being Irish.

Peter Quinn