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Barak Obama guards $ 19.7-trillion Brand USA; offers lessons for Sri Lanka

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Wednesday, 23 March 2016 00:00


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In an unprecedented move last week, the world saw US President Barak Obama comment on the ongoing competitive US elections at a St. Patrick’s Day launch event. He accused billionaire businessman Donald Trump of damaging America’s image around the world and scaring the country’s children, which I guess is an example to the world of how political leadership must protect a nation brand. 

It sure caught my eye as a marketer. Let me attempt to dive in on this in the midst of President Obama’s historic visit to Cuba, the first by a US President since 1959.


Obama on Brand USA

If I may go back to the St. Patrick’s Day speech that President Obama delivered, he was very clear with his thinking. Obama said he was “dismayed by the vicious atmosphere in our politics” and the use of “vulgar and divisive rhetoric aimed at women, minorities and Americans who don’t look like us.”

Thereafter the US President went on to say that “this is about the American brand. Why would we want to tarnish that? Who are we? How are we perceived around the world? The world pays attention to what we say and what we do. This is not an accurate reflection of America and it has to stop. This corrosive behaviour can undermine our democracy, our society, and even our economy. Too often we’ve accepted this as somehow the new normal. All of us are responsible for reversing it.” 

When I heard these words on CNN news the thought that crossed my mind was ‘this is the action that makes the United States the most valuable brand globally at a value of $ 19.7 trillion dollars.


Brand USA worth $ 19.7 trillion

As per the latest brand value survey conducted by Brand Finance in November 2015, Brand USA is valued at $ 19.7 trillion and ranked number one globally. A point to note is that brand USA has grown by only 2% from the $ 19.2 trillion registered a year back, which in actual fact is a good performance given that China as a brand has declined in value by 1% from $ 6.35 to 6.31 trillion dollars.

Brand USA is undoubtedly a powerful brand which has the potential to attract foreign investors into the country given that brand image and FDI are linked. However, in my opinion its real value comes from the country’s sheer economic scale. Not only is there a large, wealthy market predisposed to ‘buy American’ but also an unrivalled group of established companies and organisations exporting worldwide whose American heritage forms part of their appeal. 

The US’ world-leading higher education system and soft power arising from its dominance of the music and entertainment industries are pillars that China cannot compete against even though it has economically been very strong. 

But a point to note is that we see the Head of State giving leadership to Brand USA, when he finds a wrong message being communicated to the world. In his eight-year term this was the first time that he used strong words to protect Brand USA, a real pick-up for the world.


Obama leadership to Brand USA

If we analyse the development of the $ 19.7-trillion brand, there are many characteristics that have contributed to Brand Obama having a positive rub-off on Brand USA.  After all, the brand, the most valuable on earth, was worth $ 10 trillion when he took custody of it. By November this year, when Obama exits, he would have virtually doubled its value. Let me shed more light on the traits that make his personality so in sync with Brand USA.

1. Giving balance – During the last eight years President Obama displayed a strong balance that nobody else has come close to showing and he also demonstrated the power to inspire balance in others. Weigh the two sides, find a fair solution, be willing to compromise, talk about it, balance ones emotions with your mind…like he did in Cuba yesterday. 

2. Inspiration - When Obama walks into a room, people get inspired. But it’s not merely charisma or oratory. He represents the possibility of overcoming impossible odds, challenges, achieving the impossible dream through hard work and incremental success which he demonstrated when running the US economy.

3. He has this amazing ability to identify with every man and woman in every country while maintaining his American identity. People have this feeling that he understands them on a personal level, that he cares about them and what happens to them. He has succeeded in having a mass personal relationship with people and this is very interesting for a marketer. 

4. When the world is in turmoil, we need someone on an even keel. It’s that incredible, unflappable temperament that pulled Obama through some of his hardest times.

5. A sharp mind - Obama has demonstrated that he has a great mind and he actually uses it responsibly. He has demonstrated an ability to intelligently work his way through complex issues which many of us at leading organisations could learn from.

6. Flexibility, willingness to cooperate - This is essential to building goodwill in world affairs as well as domestic ones. In my view democracy without cooperation is not democracy and this is where Sri Lanka faces a challenge today. 

7. Obama is a multicultural success story - He blends continents, wildly varying cultures from Kansas to Hawaii to Indonesia, plus of course, Africa, and yet it all somehow works into a very superior ‘product’ which is the talent I guess we need to work on. The best example of this came when he visited Kenya.

8. Honesty and making good on promises, not just for PR but because it’s the right thing to do - Barack Obama, through his loving relationship with his wife, daughters and family and his tendency to make good on promises, ensure clean administration and hone thoughtful and honest relationships with others in government, has become an example to the world. Obama never got into a compromising situation which is where his brilliance comes in.

9. President Obama is just cool - This is an intangible. It’s God-given. It’s something you either have or don’t and is something I guess we cannot debate.

10. Obama resurrects work ethic - Hard work is part of his success story and it’s something that’s true and which people can relate to. After all, work, and not just rhetoric, is how economies are ultimately built.

What next for Brand USA?

1) While the US is driving up its brand value it must now focus and develop the service sector business once lost to Bangalore’s Silicon Valley, especially because poverty levels are entering the double digit region.

2) The percentage of college-educated adults entering the workforce is 33%, slightly below other developed countries (35%). Maybe the US can change the curriculum to fit the needs of the business community and thereby drive economic growth and reduce unemployment levels.

3) It is said that USA’s strategy on war is believed to be linked to the business of selling weapons and technology. While accepting the fact that comparative advantage is the basis for trade globally, it adversely affects the value of Brand USA. This needs to be managed while driving the ‘Land of Dreams’ imagery globally.

4) The greener concept was developed by the US and it is the champion for protecting the environment globally. However, it is alleged that it is the biggest polluter in the world due to its high industrialisation and carbon emissions. This creates a contradictory imagery globally and affects the image of Brand USA. This needs to be corrected since how a nation behaves is how they are perceived globally and not by advertising campaigns.

5) The law of the free use of weapons by the public is creating a dangerous environment in the US, which affects and tarnishes the imagery that a campaign such as the tourism campaign ‘Land of Dreams’ communicates. Stronger gun control must be enacted.

(The writer is a multiple award-winning marketer and business leader. The thoughts expressed are his personal observations and not the views of any organisation he serves. He received the Global Business Leadership Award recently in Singapore and is on the UN global roster)

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