When I was studying for my MBA I had a great Marketing teacher, Professor Marco Protano. He teaches all over the world - China, Morocco, Scotland, France and many other places. If he is ever in your corner of the planet, and you have a chance to take a class from him, do it. It was one of the best classes I had at ENPC because he is an energetic, euridite, and really funny guy.
Yesterday I found myself trying to recall some of the information he imparted to me as I discovered the fellow who created the term "nation-branding". Simon Anholt is the author of a number of books, one of which I read yesterday: Competitive Identity: The New Brand Management for Nations, Cities and Regions. I am now in the middle of another, Brand America.
The latter is clearly the better book. The one on identity is really just a collection of essays that needed a better editor. Between the two books, and what I watched yesterday on TED and Youtube, it gave me, I think, a decent grasp of his overall pitch.
Using the language of marketing when talking about nation-states, regions, ethnic groups is very clever. He's able to say some very profound things by relating something everyone recognizes - brands - to something that people are unsure about - identity. It's a trick, a little like when you can't solve a problem using your first language so you shift to your second, and suddenly things look a little clearer.
But as I've said before, People are Not Products, and I stand by that. The notion that all people, cities, regions, nation-states are in this competitive struggle to survive in a globalized world is probably partially true but not always in all places. I think opting out is alive and well. There are consequences to that surely but most of the time they are not catastrophic. I do not buy into the Get On the Global Road or be Roadkill mantra. (You might think differently and if so, please say so.)
I'll let you watch Anholt in action for yourself so you can make up your own mind. The first video is a talk he gave at the European Conference on Public Communication in 2011. The intro is a long but interesting lecture worth watching but not to be confused with the heart of the matter. It's when he gets past that he really shines as he poses and answers the question: What does Europe Have to Offer the World? Quite a lot, he says, and I agree.
The second video is a recent TED talk he gave that has gone viral. He took his Nation Brand index that he'd been working on and created another that he calls the Good Country Index. Now, the idea is sure to raise some hackles, especially among Americans because the US is not even in the top 20 here.
His point, which I think is an important one, is that there are some small countries that do quite a lot of good in the world, and there are some big countries that don't do nearly as much good as they think. If looking at the rankings makes folks drop their idées reçues - those one-dimensional negative sterotypes of places like Switzerland or Kenya, then I think it has served a useful and important purpose.
Which Country Does the Most Good for the World?