As you contemplate the austerity that your government has wrought upon you, spare a thought for how national branding can make the whole thing both more acceptable and successful. You don’t believe me? Well try this.
So tied up are we with the dire straights that Greece finds itself in, we might forget that not so long ago Latvia faced a worse economic plight than Greece or Portugal are facing right now. Latvia fixed it with extremely stringent austerity measures and bounced back to become a very successful economy, in a far shorter time than we are anticipate will be the lot of the Greeks. What’s more, during the process their government was re-elected. So, what’s the trick?
There’s a hint in the fact that at the time of their crisis, polls of the Latvian public revealed a marked spirit of shared endeavour or one-ness. They were definitely meeting the challenge in the spirit of all for one and one for all. Now, that’s a state of collective minds that only a strong national brand can generate. While the Greek people (and to some extent pretty well all of the rest of us) play the blame game and try to lay responsibility for the mess on someone other than themselves, the Latvians kinda’ got the fact that arguing about whose fault it was, wasn’t going to fix it, and knuckled down to the task. Result – they fixed it in record time and suffered far less than the rest of us are going to unless we wise up fast. The big tick in the satisfaction box also makes the exercise self-perpetuating, serving to strengthen the community spirit and give the subject organisation or country the scope for more and bigger challenges.
The difference between Latvia and Greece or Portugal is national pride. The Greeks, despite their claims to the contrary don’t have any. If they did they would have been paying their taxes for the last few decades, which might have averted their current plight. Greeks are largely in it for themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they are any different from most of the rest of us, driven as we are by the belief that the only difference between happiness and abject misery is lodasamoney. From that perspective it’s but a short step to topping Gran for her pension.
National pride, in turn, is a product of good national branding (A subject that I have been beating on about for years). Once you have that sorted you can do some neat stuff – like win wars, bring home the world cup or sort one of the worst financial crises in recent history, in no time at all.
In fact, national branding is no different from any other kind of branding and the benefits it brings are no different either. Contrary to what I sometimes think is popular myth among businesspeople, branding isn’t just for customers, it’s for employees too. In fact, employees are where you start with any brand development programme, because unless they are on-board and have that feeling of belonging you aren’t even going to get to first base with customers.
A strong brand is represented, among other things, by a spirit of shared responsibility and those businesses that have set about building one have found that with the right guidance it can be channeled in any direction. Southwest Airlines employees famously went to all kinds of extreme lengths to create one of the most successful airlines in commercial aviation history. ABB Brown Boveri returned from the jaws of death and reduced their product development time from three years to three months. A one-man-and-a-dog operation called Saatchi & Saatchi (The real one not the one we know today) did the reverse takeover trick on the monolith Garland Compton and went on to build the world’s biggest advertising agency and Apple have persuaded millions of people that lap-tops with iffy software are best thing since sliced bread. I could cite innumerable others, but you get the idea.
So, if you are running a business or a country that’s facing a bit of a challenge right now, consider what the power of a strong brand can achieve and start building yours. You’ll be able to achieve more with less, probably give your competitors a good kicking and could even do all of this with a smile on your collective face throughout.
June 7, 2012