Leadership Has Its Price

As marketers, we aspire to creating leaders. We admire leadership. We believe that from leadership accrues much goodness - respect, trustworthiness, and of course, profits and shareholder value. The recent tsunami in politics and economics (aren't you getting tired of that analogy?) got me thinking about leadership. Is it absolute or relative? Can leadership be both a strength and a weakness?

In order to understand more about leadership and its associated traits, we decided to look at the world's No. 1 leadership brand - the United States of America.

But wait, the United States isn't a brand, it's a country.

Now, that depends on how you define brand. More than 50 years ago, my company's founder, Walter Landor, said, "Simply put, a brand is a promise. By identifying and authenticating a product or service, it delivers a pledge of satisfaction and quality."

This still holds true, but practitioners now recognize that brands comprise a broader meaning. More recent definers tend to agree that "a brand is a collection of perceptions in the mind of the consumer." This admits that a brand may (and usually does) accommodate both negative and positive components. So, if a brand is simply a collection of perceptions, then why can't a country be a brand?



This expansive definition of brand is at the foundation of Landor's powerful research tool, the Brand Asset Valuator. BAV, the world's largest study of brands, is based on the knowledge that competition for mindshare is fierce. Not only is Sony competing with Samsung for customers, but the U.S. Army is competing with Disney for employees and affection. When we wake up in the morning, our Kellogg's Corn Flakes beg for attention while our Sharp television broadcasts images of San Francisco, promising a romantic vacation. In a multi-channel, multi-sensory, cluttered world, nearly everything becomes a collection of perceptions in the mind of the consumer and, thus, can be measured according to standard brand metrics.

Country attitudes
In every country, consumers rate their own country as one of, if not the strongest brand in their market. Almost universally, consumers believe their own country is differentiated - that is, it is distinct and unique with its own point of view. They believe their country is relevant, appropriate, and important in their daily lives. They hold their own country in high esteem and believe they know what it stands for. Taken together, the "Four Pillars" - differentiation, relevance, esteem, and knowledge - make up the elements of a strong brand, and clearly, countries are strong brands.

So, back to leadership and the United States. In all of the countries covered in BAV, the United States emerges as a very strong brand. Always differentiated, relevant, well known, and understood, we are only sometimes esteemed. Hmmm, maybe leadership doesn't always equate to popularity.

BAV also describes how consumers feel about each and every brand. So, how does the world see the United States - not necessarily the people or the government, but the idea of Brand United States?

Looking across 15 countries for which we have recent data, the Top 10 attributes of the United States are:

World's View of Brand USA

1. Independent
2. A leader
3. Arrogant
4. Unapproachable
5. Progressive
6. Daring
7. Different
8. Tough
9. Dynamic
10. Rugged

Not quite the impression we have of ourselves:

Americans' View of Brand USA

1. A leader
2. Unique
3. Best Brand
4. Progressive
5. Independent
6. Authentic
7. Dynamic
8. Kind
9. Distinctive
10. Intelligent

The world acknowledges Brand USA as a leader, while considering us independent, arrogant, and unapproachable. Not a lot of warmth there. We are viewed with grudging admiration for our progressive, tough, daring ruggedness. In contrast, Americans agree that Brand USA is a progressive leader that combines dynamism with authenticity, kindness, and intelligence. If the United States were a dog, the rest of the world might call us a pit bull while we believe we are a golden retriever.

Does this impression of our brand hold around the world or do different regions and cultures view Brand USA differently? Both Latin America and Europe find us, first, arrogant and independent. Latin America respects our progressiveness and daring and even finds Brand USA to be intelligent and charming in the midst of our toughness. Europe also finds us tough and progressive; apparently, this is attractive because they also declare us to be a bit glamorous.

Asia is quite different. Diverging from the rest of the world, Asians find us prestigious, upper class, energetic, and (again) glamorous. The underlying resentment that seems to be present in Latin America and Europe is not evidenced in Asia.

RankLatin AmericaEuropeAsia
1 Arrogant Arrogant Leader
2 Independent Independent Upper Class
3 Progressive Leader Rugged
4 Unapproachable Unapproachable Prestigious
5 Leader Tough Independent
6 Daring Unique Daring
7 Intelligent Progressive Energetic
8 Charming Different Unapproachable
9 Tough Daring Different
10 Up to Date Glamorous Glamorous

Clearly, leadership is not always 100% positive. Simply becoming a leadership brand (or country) does not necessarily mean you are beloved. As Americans, let's just be a little bit nicer to countries in Asia - some gratitude seems in order.

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