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How Are American Brands Perceived Abroad?

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How Are American Brands Perceived Abroad?

JWT just released a very interesting report called Brand America, examining how American brands are perceived abroad. Given that President Trump has prioritized a policy of ‘America First’, which includes travel bans, changes to immigration policy and still talk of building a wall on the Mexican border, it’s only logical to assume as the world’s perception about the US changes, so too would their perception of America’s brands change.

While the study has found that the reputation of “Brand America” has suffered, American brands are still thought of favorably. Perhaps some of this is related to size. Brand futurist Tom LaForge is correct when he says, “As companies get more powerful, their country of origin is harder to identify.”

When the world is asked to think about American brands, the first ones that come to mind are Apple, Coca-Cola, Ford, McDonald’s, Microsoft and Nike. The follow-up question “Which of the following brands do you believe are American brands, if any?” yielded some surprising results:

  • 31% of Indian respondents think Ford is American
  • 40% of Chinese respondents think Facebook is American
  • 59% of Britons think Amazon is American
  • 62% of Americans think Apple is American
  • 63% of Mexicans think Coca-Cola is American

This should serve as a reminder that large American brands are complex. In Mexico, Coca-Cola is made with cane sugar rather than corn syrup, making “Mexican Coke” a specific item on many American shelves. Ford in India is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Ford Motor Company. Facebook, Google, or Amazon feel local to your country; your friends, your news, your currency, and often your language.

The study is quite extensive and includes case studies from Under Armour, Budweiser and the New York Times and is well worth a read. It concludes with these five takeaways:

1. The Bigger You Are, The More Good You Must Do

In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville identified Americans as following the principle of “self-interest rightly understood,” explaining that “an enlightened regard for themselves constantly prompts them to assist one another.” LaForge sees this as a key way of thinking for American brands. “Some brands are getting that. They’re behaving in a way that recognizes that we’re all tied together,” he says. “These are people-oriented brands, ones who don’t exploit their customers or workers.” His advice is simple: “Being a big company is automatically seen as being evil. Prove you’re good.”

2. It’s Time To Take A Stand

Mark Di Somma says, “Brands need viewpoints. But they also need judgment. They need to know when it’s important to their consumers that they get on the soapbox, and when it is best to just have an opinion for those who are motivated enough to look.” Following this summer’s racial tensions in Charlottesville, Virginia, Apple CEO Tim Cook said this in an email to staff: “Dr Martin Luther King said, ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.’ So, we will continue to speak up. These have been dark days, but I remain as optimistic as ever that the future is bright. Apple can and will play an important role in bringing about positive change.”

3. Adopt The Local Language

While the findings reveal consumers prefer global brands to local ones, there’s still much to be said about a brand’s ability to integrate with communities. Martin Lindstrom agrees. “Brands should seek to dial up local values from their international markets,” he suggests. “McDonald’s and Nike have done so with great success, by promoting the heritage of the food ingredients or playing up the nationalities of their international athletes.”

4. The Importance Of Authenticity + Transparency

On social platforms, it’s obvious to see that never have so many known so little about so much. A mixture of fake news and little appetite for context continues has created a potential minefield for brands. The best way to mitigate this is being true to yourself (authentic) and true to others (transparent). If diversity is an important value to your brand, be sure that is reflected in your leadership and your supply chain. If fair trade ingredients are important, make sure information is easy to find and well documented. Media brands like Facebook are being adversely impacted because even amidst concerns, there is still not enough transparency.

5. It’s About How Brands Make Customers Feel

You’ll be hearing more and more about post-capitalism and post-materialism because at some point, we will run out of resources to make more stuff. Books like Stuffocation and Hormegeddon show the dangers and lack of happiness that comes with having too much stuff. By prioritizing experiences over simply selling products, brands will find new ways to grow customer value from the intangible.

The Blake Project Can Help: Disruptive Brand Strategy Workshop

Build A Human Centric Brand. Join us for The Un-Conference: 360 Degrees of Brand Strategy for a Changing World, April 2-4, 2018 in San Diego, California. A fun, competitive-learning experience reserved for 50 marketing oriented leaders and professionals.

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Licensing and Brand Education

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