Brand Health Check: The US

The US
The US

LONDON - Will a change of administration be sufficient to rehabilitate the superpower's image?

With the sort of feverish coverage one would imagine the second coming of Christ might inspire, Barack Obama was this week inaugurated as the 44th US president.

Since his election in November, Obama's every move has been micro-analysed as he edged from his senate office in Illinois to the Oval Office in Washington DC. Given that the Civil Rights Act, which finally granted universal suffrage was passed only in 1964, the election of the US' first black president is undoubtedly significant, but is Obama being set up for a fall?

The virtual collapse of the global economy - the genesis of which can largely be placed at the feet of the US government and a financial regulatory system that has been found more than wanting - and the unpopularity of the foreign policies of Obama's predecessor, has undoubtedly left the image of 'Brand USA' tarnished.

Indeed, when people think of the US today, it is unlikely that images of mom's apple pie and the Statue of Liberty are the first things to spring to mind.

Is there anything that Obama's incoming administration can do to rehabilitate the self-proclaimed Land of the Free? Or is it a matter of time before he too finds himself on the wrong end of a pair of Bata sandals? We asked Allyson Stewart-Allen, director, International Marketing Partners and co-author of Working with Americans, and Richard Lawson, business director for Metrotwin, BA's online community linking London and New York, at BBH.

 

Allyson Stewart-Allen director, International Marketing Partners

Now the US has a new CMO - Hillary Clinton - it's the perfect time to make sure her agenda wins back the indifferent 'customers' around the world who have been downgrading 'Brand USA' over the past eight years.

The US model of capitalism appears to be broken, needing urgent, but thoughtful, repair before it is re-exported to the world.  Over the past 20 years, the US public diplomacy scorecard has been steadily worsening, as have perceptions that the nation is an ethical, reliable, honest and admirable place in which to do business.

As evidence of this decline in goodwill, an initiative was launched last November by 17 of the US' biggest companies including Wal-Mart, General Electric and PepsiCo to improve the country's ethical standards.

Clearly our new CMO has her work cut out, but a few early fixes can win back the international loyalty, goodwill and spending the economy rightly deserves.

The US created marketing as a profession - now it must show how to use it.

 

Remedy

  • Price (in terms of time and stress): remove the hassle factor through which the US forces the rest of the world to go by managing unfriendly queues at airports and borders.
  • Product: make the model of capitalism a more transparent and ethical one.
  • Promotion: raise levels of investment in those within, and being recruited to, the diplomatic corps by improving their education on the rest of the world, including business cultures.
  • Place: broaden the points of presence where international business people can access US products, services and business culture in open, not protectionist, climates.

 

Richard Lawson business director, Metrotwin, BBH

'Brand USA' has a long and chequered history. But its recent past has surely been one of its lowest points.

The brand was built on two pillars: liberal democracy and free market economics. Those pillars have taken a hell of a knock over the past few years. First, the exporting of US democracy became a cover story not an ideal. Then all hell broke loose in the global economy, starting in the US.

Now the brand has a new spokesman. Will Obama be its knight in shining armour? Will he bring substance as well as style? Should we believe the hype? Only time will tell.

The signs are good. Obama is building a great team around him. With it, he can begin to rebuild the damage to the brand's two pillars.

His historic election was a shot-in-the-arm in itself for democracy. Now the dirty great cold that the world caught when the US economy sneezed needs

to be remedied by a giant injection of confidence.

 

Remedy

  • Offer certainty in uncertain times. Project confidence, not through blind optimism but by showing that the problems are being looked squarely in the eye and tackled to the ground.
  • Don't be afraid to redefine the two pillars for modern times. Reinvent what 'liberal democracy' and 'free market economics' should mean ina changing world.
  • Have a vision. Don't let the current difficulty of predicting one day after the next bog you down in the here and now. Articulate the country's future, then lead people toward it.
  • Create a dialogue. 'Brand USA' has talked at people for too long. Time to have a conversation.

 

Discussion

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