We need to articulate a clear idea of what we stand for or we risk being defined, for better or worse, by others.
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The one defining characteristic of the Canadian brand, after almost 150 years as a nation, is our inability to define ourselves. We still suffer from the default perception of “moose and Mounties,” and, lately, dirty oil. Until you know what you stand for, it is impossible to bring coherence to the range of touch points that define the national brand, and others will define it for you. We need to crystallize and promote the essence of “Canadian-ness” that makes our country and our brands attractive and desirable.
The branding challenge for any nation is to distill the complexity of all that it does and says locally and globally into a unified and simple communications platform. The brand perception of a country is created by the aggregate impact of activities in six major areas: tourism, export brands, culture and heritage, its people, foreign and domestic policy, and investment and immigration. Aligning these channels is a difficult task, and it cannot begin without proactive self-definition. Government and business need to work together on an agenda for identifying the country’s unique value proposition and competitive attributes, and for making them part of a consistent national narrative.
If Canada is vulnerable to being perceived as a resource-intensive, eco-unfriendly country, it is because we have not been aggressive in positioning and messaging the many positive aspects of our resource-industry ecosystem, as well as our many other national qualities and values. Resource industries are critical to a strong global economy and fundamental to life on the planet. They create jobs, provide significant tax revenues, and drive innovative new technologies, including environmentally responsible solutions for extraction and processing. Our fact-based voice on these issues needs to be as loud as, or louder than, the voices of our detractors.
To avoid being hostage to the overriding perception of Canada as primarily a rocks and trees economy, we need more companies like RIM, Bombardier, Thomson Reuters, and Lululemon, which have succeeded on the global stage and help to expand understanding of Canada’s diverse strengths and capabilities, including our capacity for innovation across multiple sectors beyond commodities. We need our financial institutions to continue growing around the world and promoting their proven risk-management and governance practices. And we need all of them to underline their Canadian origin, which they will only do if it is an ingredient that enhances their own brand (no one would argue that Mercedes doesn’t leverage its German DNA as pivotal to its brand personality and appeal). If Canada can articulate its beneficial differences and establish a consistent and shared understanding internationally of what we stand for, then the country and its brands will enjoy greater chances of success.
The brand perceptions of Canada and Canadian enterprise are symbiotically linked, and are formed either by design or by default. We must choose to manage them proactively and strategically, or let the market define who and what we are as a nation.
This article was originally published for the Canadian International Council.
Photo courtesy of Reuters.