The USA Brand

February 6, 2009 at 5:40 pm 1 comment

by Rob Wolfe – Connected Places Global

A few months ago, following the U.S. presidential election, I posed the following question to colleagues from branding-related groups on the LinkedIn social network: Which component of the USA brand do you think currently needs our greatest attention: core values, personality, or positioning? As we all recently experienced the historical inauguration of Barack Obama—a dramatic turning point and new opportunity for the United States to market its brand identity, I think it’s an appropriate time to share these insightful, provocative and emotional responses representing five different nations.

Consider the following thoughts on the branding of the USA:

  • We should start at the center and work outwards. Core values are the beginning. We need to better understand what America is now as opposed to what it was in the 1950’s and 60’s. Then see how that can be interpreted through the vision of the founding fathers.
    (Tyrone Pardue, Owner, Pardue Associates, USA)
  • Core values ought not to be dismissed when branding our country. There is so much good that can be leveraged from our founding and rich historical account. Ours is a unique national experience; that alone differentiates America. … Communicating these unique aspects of the American experience may necessitate targeting citizens, as they need to agree with the message and own it (so as to act on it realistically). This would be analogous to communicating an organization’s image to internal stakeholders and employees. On the other hand, the branding message to visitors who reside outside of the US may need to be crafted in ways that explains the significance of the country’s founding, and why it makes America a worthwhile vacation destination, for instance.
    (Gloria Hieser, Consumer goods marketing professional, USA)
  • I see the president of USA having a similar effect on the USA brand, as the celebrity leader of a company brand (e.g., Trump and Richard Branson). Changing the president is only changing one of the brand’s touch points, but in the case of country branding, it may be a major touch point. I believe (and hope) the core values for US haven’t changed. It’s the personality that I think has changed the most during the last 8 Bush years.
    (John Lysfjord, Brand Manager at Mio Technology, Taiwan)
  • Customers “react” to the stimulus they receive. And as long as the stimulus is consistent and sends one key message through the myriad of touchpoints, the brand’s identity and personality will come through as planned. The issue is ‘execution’ of that one key brand message and what it is.Currently for brand USA, I believe a “re-positioning” is in order. First, it needs to take a stand and this should come from its core values. Secondly, having identified the relevant (competitive) positioning, the desired ‘brand personality’ should then be sketched/planned. This should then be “internalised” by key internal brand custodians with regards to the ‘brand image projections” they will do when they interact with respective target audiences. Therefore, over time, with a consistent approach, the desired brand personality coming from the brand positioning should be established and achieved.
    (Joy Abdullah, General Manager at TNBT, Malaysia)
  • The focus should be positioning, moving the USA brand back to a positive position in the minds on those outside the U.S. … A return to certain core values that where well received in the past would be a good starting point and then refining them for our current geopolitical environment and national goals. Also which segment of the world’s population are you targeting? Which segment is a priority? Current allies, current opponents, possible allies or possible opponents? How do you position the brand successfully across multiple often competing segments and affect cultural translation of that position?
    (James Nobles, Internet Marketing and Advertising at Appleton Manufacturning, USA)
  • Since a country’s brand is greatly affected by the political scene surrounding it, it could be difficult to work around the politics for tourism branding. Yet, it is a challenge that could be met. Politically branding a country is more about total positioning; it serves totally different purposes and is often directed at different audiences. Obviously both should be coordinated, but still, I believe, branding a country should be built to suit you target audiences and specific goals.
    (Or-Tal Kiriati, Business Communications Strategist, Israel)
  • I like everything Obama said in his campaign but suspect like all politicians that strike a nerve during campaigns, creating a truly connected worldwide and national community would be the deliverable to his promise. I have my own views on how to do this but I do see an informed, empowered America and as integrated in with our ally nations as our best brand “product” experience. … It’s less about what you make than what you stand for.
    (William P Van Eron, Owner, Headwaters Marketing, USA)
  • I think the attributes of a country (or place) brand are in reality not that different to an organisation. Understand what you believe in and embody that through your actions (all of them). The US has a pretty strong model of its beliefs in it’s Constitutional documents – enacting them while still working to stay in sync with the modern environment is never going to be an easy task, how successfully that task is managed is the measure of the brand strength at any time.
    (Michel Hogan, Principal at Brandology and Brand Alignment Group, Australia)

The USA brand, or the branding of any nation, and the defining of the brand is complex. Considering the collective perspectives of the group of marketing and branding experts cited above, here’s a basic “brand footprint” for the USA brand:

Core values: Freedom, Equality, Accountability
Personality: Honest/trustworthy, Optimistic, Innovative
Brand essence: Welcome! We offer the promise of comfort and protection, of fulfilling and living your dreams. Together we will share patriotic pride and responsibility and shape the future.

As Or-Tal Kiriati reminds us, this is “the land of the unlimited possibilities” and, says Gloria Hieser, “a young country with a great promise for all those who dare to persevere in the realization of a dream.” According to Bill Van Eron, there is “an emotional attachment that says ‘this is about us and doing something exciting together’.”

I believe that it’s the essence of the U.S. brand—the way people feel when they encounter our brand—that requires our greatest attention. While the brand elements that trigger the U.S. brand are well established and secure, our new leadership must consider all the other components of the brand, including core values, personality, and positioning, to understand and re-define the true essence of brand USA.

With each resident, organization, publication, community, and entity being a touchpoint in the branding of a nation, the greatest challenge comes in consistently marketing the USA brand, both internally and to the rest of the world.


Entry filed under: BRANDING, MARKETING STRATEGY. Tags: , , , .

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