The Business World: Nations move to develop their brand identity

COMPANIES ARE becoming more like countries and countries are becoming more like countries. The fact that the turnover of many multinationals exceeds the GNP of many countries has been widely noted, but the idea that countries are being forced to behave more and more like companies has been less widely recognised.

Most of us tend to think of this process in economic or financial terms. Multinationals, by their sheer size and wealth, have resources that most countries cannot match. Most countries, remember, are pretty small both in population and economic output. Countries, even large ones, are however being compared more closely with each other by would-be international investors. So if they wish to get their share of world investment funds (and the knowledge that is transferred with these) they are forced to adopt best-practice policies - best from an economic point of view.

But you can also see this process from a marketing point of view, and I am grateful to Wally Olins for writing a pamphlet (K) pointing this out. He is best known as co-founder of Wolff Olins, a brand consultancy, and sees the issue in terms of branding. Countries are being rebranded, with varying degrees of success: "Cool Britannia" would not rank as a triumph. Meanwhile, countries that are unbranded need an identity. How do you tell Uzbekistan, Kyrgistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan apart?

Add this to the practical ways in which countries are changing - in particular the downsizing of government, and the setting of performance targets - and you can see corporate management attitudes and techniques becoming more and more evident.

As for companies, they are developing marketing features that, up to now, have been developed most strongly in countries. One is corporate patriotism, the way in which companies develop myths about themselves and encourage their employees to think of themselves as identifying with the company rather than their original nationalities. Another is ethics, with companies seeking to establish policies of their own on issues like employment and the environment independently of the policies of the national government concerned.Another is welfare policies, where companies provide benefits independently of those offered by countries to their citizens.

Beyond these familiar functions, Olins points out that companies now have "embassies" abroad: foreign offices that gather information and lobby on their behalf; they have democratic functions, producing "corporate constitutions", and may start to develop multinational agencies to foster their aims - a "NATO for companies" perhaps.

The newest ideas here are the branding ones: why brands seem to be becoming more and more important for countries as well as companies and why "corporate patriotism" is becoming more important for companies as well as countries. Are we really moving to a world in which style everywhere triumphs over substance?

Well, not everywhere. But branding is becoming more important for at least three reasons. First and most obviously, the surge in information means that any body, be it a country or a company, finds it harder to be heard. Shouting louder is at best pointless and may even be counter- productive, for it merely adds to the clamour. For countries,the surge in new nations is a catastrophe. The more countries there are, the harder it becomes to distinguish between them.

Second, branding is needed to counter the noise from the news media. Next time you see an advertisement from Libya, saying what a wonderful place it would be to visit, ask yourself: am I really likely to go there as a result of the ad? The strongest brand image of Libya is Colonel Gaddafi, a chap who doubtless has many sterling qualities, but not ones that are going to do much for the tourist trade. Any signal from the advert will either get lost in the background noise or remind people of the Lockerbie crash. To get a positive message across needs a clear brand identity focusing on the historical and cultural virtues of the country, which are many, rather than the present political leader.

Third, the growth of international trade in goods and services means that consumers are flooded with choice. Take tourism again: not only are there are many more countries, cheap air travel brings into reach many destinations that previously were only accessible to the few. The same goes for products. If consumers are faced with a plethora of choice, they will tend to grab names they know. Brands again.

As for companies, they are needing to brand to hold on to employees and attract potential employees. Go back even 10 years and solid, well-known companies could fill most positions without too much difficulty. Small companies always struggled to attract talent, but big ones went into the local pool and usually found what they wanted.

The jobs market has utterly changed. Talent has become global: the pool of one country, however big, cannot supply the needs of a multinational. US companies cannot staff their global offices with ex-pats: most Americans lack the cultural and language skills to do the overseas jobs. Japanese companies have found even greater difficulty in staffing overseas activities.

In addition, multinationals have found that key staff can be lured away by tiny start-up companies. This phenomenon is beyond their ken. Big companies used to be able to get the top talent because they could pay top dollar; now small companies can offer shares in the business that will potentially make people far richer, and probably give them more fun in the process.

Further, multinationals can no longer offer more job security than small: waves of redundancies remind people, if they needed any reminding, that there is no such thing as a job for life.

So suddenly, large companies, seeking clever people the world over, are having to try and brand themselves as good employers - places that will inspire loyalty even if the jobs can never be guaranteed.

What should anyone running a company try and draw from all this? There is, I think, a general rule that any wise manager should note. It is that many of the skills needed to run a successful democracy - in particular the ability to persuade people of a different opinion - are now needed in companies too.

Command and control management works badly with clever people who can walk out of the door at a moment's notice. If companies can give lessons in marketing and branding to countries, countries can in return give a few lessons in democracy to companies.

K `Trading Identities', published by the Foreign Policy Centre, 25 Haymarket, London SW1

News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
PROMOTED VIDEO
Travel
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
Sport
footballManchester City 1 Roma 1: Result leaves Premier League champions in danger of not progressing
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
News
i100
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
booksWell it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Real Staffing are currently lo...

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Graduate Recruitment Consultant - 2013/14 Grads - No Exp Needed

£18000 - £20000 per annum + OTE £30000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

Law Costs

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - Law Costs Draftsperson - NICHE...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?