You don’t own your brand. Your customers do.
Most business owners who have some understanding of branding already know this. But here is another reason you are not fully in control of your brand: it is also the product of your environment. You are part of a brand ecosystem.
Don’t believe me? Think about Japan. Are you old enough to remember when “Made in Japan” was not a good thing? And yes, I mean long before the Toyota fiasco. How about now? Japanese exports are perceived as premium products.
Wine, electronics, cars, clothing, the list goes on. How many product brands get a huge boost by simply leveraging their country of origin? German engineering: that has a resonance even before you say BMW or Mercedes.
I’m Canadian. What does the Canadian brand add to my brand? How does where I live shape people’s perceptions of my brand before they have even met me?
A recent article by Canadian Business does a good job of spelling this out. As a Canadian business, here are some of the values you can add to your brand simply because of your postal code (yes, the one with letters in it!):
- Our banking system is remarkable. Who’d have thought Canadian banks would ever be sexy? But it’s true. When you do business internationally now, the relative strength of the Canadian banking system is something others remark on. That creates an opportunity for a Canadian brand to continue the conversation by underscoring the prudence and conservatism that gives typical Canadian businesses a lower risk profile. Typically we are not loud, we just get the job done.
- Reliable yes, dull no. The Vancouver/Whistler 2010 Winter Olympics demonstrated that not only can we put on a heck of a show, but we can score resoundingly when competition is at its fiercest. This tough-to-duplicate demonstration of understated but brilliant performance was a huge boost to the Canadian brand. In an International Brand Index, Canada went from 12th in 2006, to number 1 in 2010. The message for Canadian businesses to their partners? Don’t mistake reserve for passivity: we can be fiercely competitive. Canadians just let results speak for themselves.
- We are gracious hosts. The Olympics set the stage, but the cheque got signed when China granted Canada Approved Destination status. The combination of natural beauty, multiculturalism, and a live-and-let-live attitude (the same one that attracts Hollywood stars to our major cities because we don’t hound them to death) is irresistible. The message for business? We understand the value of relationships and of going the extra mile to understand our suppliers, customers, and even our competitors. We just get it.
- RIM, Cirque de Soleil, Four Seasons Hotels, McCain Foods. What do all of these brands have in common? Outside of Canada they are not generally known to be Canadian brands. While this may be a challenge from some perspectives, from others it carries an interesting message: we show up, we don’t bring baggage, we get the job done. The colonialist, nationalist, or imperialist baggage that some European, Asian, or American businesses sometimes have to distance themselves from, we are largely free of. The Canadian business message is one many brands covet: we solve problems and fulfill needs successfully because that is the only thing we are here to do. We have honed our product and service delivery chops in a multicultural environment and next to a competitive giant. We listen, we understand, and we get to work.
The biggest strengths that Canadian brands bring to the table are best described in another article: Stages of Cross Cultural Awareness from the Culture and Language Learning blog. In the article, the highest stage of cross-cultural awareness is described as being “aware of our own cultural filters and begin[ing] to adapt our perceptions and behaviors. Through repeated exposure to or education about other cultures, we develop a deeper understanding of a culture’s unique traits, values and norms. People in this stage can shift communication style and behaviors to effectively and appropriately interact with diverse cultures.” Or as Jeannette Hanna, branding expert, and co–author of Ikonica: A Field Guide to Canada’s Brandscape, says “That ability to ‘when in Rome, act like a Roman’ — that chameleon quality — is a huge advantage.”
Those abilities, to get the job done, to be quietly but fiercely competitive, and the ability to deeply understand our partners and customers to the point where we can shift and change with cultural expectations and norms, make Canadians the ultimate world business partners.
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