What does Canada have in common with Tiger Woods.

Since I published my book on branding last year I have received a great deal of feedback on branding topics and have had the opportunity to write a number of blogs on branding.

Recently, as a result of the Tiger Woods situation a great deal of attention has been given to branding.  Branding in the commercial sector is pervasive and fairly easy to understand and recognize. But branding in the public sector is a bit complicated. I have never really given much thought to “Country Branding” until I saw  a Maclean’s magazine screaming headline on their cover in  December  “Why the World Hates Canada.”

I must say as someone who has traveled extensively (in many cases as a Canadian representative of our government) this came to me as quite a shock. As a branding and marketing professional my first thoughts were what is this going to do to the Canada’s brand with potential tourists, investors, or even immigrants.

We have certainly all witnessed the powerful role marketing and branding  can play in advancing a nation, from its capacity to shift perceptions or introduce a new country to the world to its ability to communicate a destination’s focus or superior export.

Country branding offers many benefits according to futurebrand.com:

  • Provides the glue among political, social and economic pillars
  • Defines how a country’s own citizens and the world perceive it
  • Balances substance and form―perception and reality
  • Enhances a nation’s ability to achieve its objectives across foreign policy, FDI, trade, tourism, etc.
  • Creates a seamless connection between the country’s strategic intent, its marketing and its experience
  • Delivers a unifying platform that builds synergy, allowing for cross-promotion and alignment across the public and private sectors

Canada has always had a great international reputation but now it seems its stand on environmental issues may be undermining its standing in the world. Yes it may be true that we have taken “hits” in the past because of the “seal hunt” and the way we treat our aboriginal peoples, but in general Canada had has a strong brand .

For example  the latest rankings from the CBI show our strong position where Canada is ranked second.CBI tracks the perceptions of approximately 3,000 international business and leisure travelers from nine countries—the US, the UK, China, Australia, Japan, Brazil, the UAE, Germany and Russia. The insights from an expert panel of 47 tourism, development, policy and academic professionals are also featured.

Now with issues like climate change and treatment of Afghanistan prisoners our brand may be taking a real hit.

(In my blog I am not going to get into a discussion on climate change, seal hunt, treatment of aboriginals and Afghan prisoners. This is not my area of expertise. Yes I have personal opinions on all of these matters but I prefer my blog focus on marketing issues like branding.)

Tiger Woods like Canada had a tremendous reputation and one of the best brands in sports. Who would have thought in the matter of weeks Woods would be viewed as an adulterer and his brand like is Cadillac Escalade would crash so quickly. He has lost a number of sponsors and it will take years, if ever to redeem himself.  It is hard to remember a brand being destroyed so quickly. “How the mighty of fallen”. Not only has he hurt his brand but he has also seriously hurt the PGA who was very dependent on Woods. Will Woods and the PGA be able to recover from this fiasco remains to be seen? But never think that your brand, no matter how strong, cannot be destroyed in an instant?

So why am I concerned about Canada’s brand and that it might take a “big hit” just like Tiger Woods?

The Ottawa Citizen reports that a new poll gives us something to worry about.

The world thinks a lot less highly of Canada than last year, thanks in large part to our poor showing at the Copenhagen climate change conference and a problematic prime ministerial trip to China. A BBC World Service poll of public opinion across 18 countries released last week found that people’s view of Canada’s influence has worsened during the last year, particularly in the U.S., Britain and China. The poll of more than 20,000 people, which was conducted by international polling firm GlobeScan, showed a decline in Canada’s reputation around the world for the first time since tracking began in 2005.

“Canada still has a very favourable rating overall,” Oliver Martin, a GlobeScan spokesman based in Toronto, told CTV.ca on Thursday. “But that’s largely driven by lack of knowledge of Canada.” “We’re seen as Mounties, snow and polar bears — we’re the warm and fuzzy Great White North,” he added.

But that changed after Canada came under widespread criticism, from environmentalists and other nations, at the UN climate summit in Copenhagen, Martin said. There were sharp drops in positive ratings of Canada in several countries included in the survey, including some of our most important trading partners. In the U.S., the proportion of people who rated Canadian influence as positive fell from 82 per cent to 67 per cent. In the U.K., those who saw Canada as a positive influence fell from 74 per cent to 62 per cent, and in Australia from 77 per cent to 72 per cent.

Overall, comparing views in 15 of the countries that were surveyed last year, the proportion rating Canadian influence in the world as mainly positive has fallen on average from 57 per cent to 53 per cent. Martin said the most likely explanation was that the survey was taken in December and January, when the Copenhagen summit was taking place. Our reputation took the most serious dive in China, which went from 75 per cent to 54 per cent. Martin attributed the slide to widely negative coverage of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s visit in the Chinese media. “The rhetoric was really dialed up in terms of Canada’s record,” he said. “And all the Chinese media was negative.”The numbers of people giving Canada a negative rating remained broadly steady compared to last year, but those saying that Canada’s influence was neither negative nor positive overall increased.

Canadians themselves are also less positive about their country’s influence than in 2009, with 75 per cent now rating Canada’s influence in the world as positive, compared to 86 per cent last year.

Until this year, perceptions of Canadian influence had been on the rise in many countries. Results last year showed higher positive ratings for Canada in China, the Philippines, Britain and the U.S. — but in all these cases, positive ratings have now fallen

Despite this recent drop in our popularity, Canada is expected to remain among the most positively viewed countries when results on the way other major nations are perceived are released by the BBC in April.

The results are drawn from a survey of 20,176 adult citizens across 18 countries, conducted for BBC World Service by the international polling firm GlobeScan, together with the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland. http://www.globescan.com/news_archives/bbc_global_canada/

Now it is quite possible that Canada’s brand may improve in future … a lot depends on the Government’s actions in the next few years but a weakened brand is not something we should “take with a grain of salt”.

Some may agree with many or all of our stances on the key controversial issues like climate change and treatment of prisoners that are affecting our brand and some will say who cares what the world thinks of our positions on various issues.

But this is short-sighted thinking . Many companies and personalities have learned that it doesn’t really matter if you think you are right or wrong. Canada, which is very dependent on international trade (and we can’t keep depending on the USA), attracting tourists from around the world as well as attracting the best and brightest immigrants, needs to be concerned being called the “Fossil of the Week” by 450 non government organizations in Copenhagen .

An article by Andreas Markessinis is very revealing:

What does having a strong nation brand really mean in practical terms? Many things of course, but generally speaking countries enjoying a good (and strong) nation brand typically enjoy at least these 10 benefits:

  1. They are better at attracting talent – people like scientists, researchers, students or entrepreneurs are better disposed to move there than to other countries
  2. Exports coming from that country sell more, and sell for higher prices, which means turning greater margins back to the country
  3. Nationals overseas are more likely to get good jobs – foreigners trust people coming from that country more than people coming from other countries
  4. More tourists visit the country – foreigners have more interest in good-branded countries and accept to pay higher prices
  5. Their culture (language, costumes, traditions, movies, books) is perceived to be more attractive abroad and consequently more successful
  6. Their diplomatic interests are reinforced – most countries want to have that good-branded countries in alliance
  7. They are less vulnerable to changes in people’s trends, appetites, wishes – they enjoy greater nation brand loyalty
  8. Their population is more likely to be respected abroad, be they travelers, sportsmen, tourists, artists, migrants or businessmen
  9. They compete from a privileged stand to attract FDI and other sorts of inwards investment
  10. They are better positioned to advance their international policy agendas, because they are considered and trusted

These benefits of a good nation brand are very general, but also very real. A good and strong nation brand helps virtually every aspect of a nation’s life. Some say nation branding can cost millions of dollars, but do never forget that having a good nation brand is worth billions.

So maybe I am overreacting a bit here and making the comparison of Canada with Tiger Woods is a bit over the top, but I am concerned. I hope the government and businesses across Canda  are paying attention before it is to late.

Let me know what you think

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About jimmintz

Managing Partner, CEPSM Jim Mintz is a veteran marketing professional with many years of experience as a practioner and academic. He is presently Managing Partner at CEPSM and Program Director of the “Professional Certificate in Public Sector and Non-Profit Marketing” at Sprott School ... Specialty Areas: Social Marketing, Integrated Marketing Communications, Public Sector and Non Profit Marketing
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