Нов български университет

Департамент “Масови комуникации”

The value of Heritage and Culture for creating a sustainable country brand

Boryana Gosheva, PhD student, NBU




Researchers are increasingly recognizing the role of culture as a source of variation in many phenomenons of central importance to consumer research. We can highlight a series of important perceptual and cognitive differences across cultures and offers a new perspective of framing these differences among cultures - that of “culturally conditioned” perceptual and cognitive orientations. Cultural differences often lead to notorious misunderstandings. For example, some cultures perceive certain simple gestures as positive (e.g., a thumbs-up signals approval in American and European cultures), whereas others view them as negative (Islamic and Asian cultures consider the same gesture offensive). Recurring market failures when launching products in non-western regions of the world illustrate the importance of understanding cross-cultural differences regulating international consumers and markets.

Brands and markets are increasingly global, but understanding of consumer perceptions and consequent marketing strategies are still culturally bound impeding effectiveness. Extensive cross-cultural consumer research suggests that cultural differences account for variation in consumer reactions to several phenomena, including perceptions of advertising and brands, consumer evaluations of and reactions to service, utilitarian versus hedonic consumption and consumerism in general. Researchers are increasingly interested in studying “cultural-conditioning” effects but cross-cultural consumer psychology research remains in its infancy in several important domains. A substantial lack of knowledge has led to calls for investigations into the differences or similarities of consumers across nations and regions to understand their origins and specific dimensions.

Cross-cultural marketing literature mainly describes observed differences in behaviors across cultures. Business-related research in these domains is growing yet relatively little research examines cross-cultural differences or similarities covering these two areas to lend significance to consumer behavior, with even less attempt to synthesize existing evidence. Perception and cognition play a central role in subjective human experience and thus studying differences in these two domains is crucial to understand cross-cultural consumer behavior.

Culture shapes the way people perceive their self and others, as well as the relationship between the two. Cultural values affect the relationship between the individual and others or groups.

An explanation of cross-cultural differences in consumer behavior requires better understanding of the role of these cultural differences. We can provides a basis for re-conceptualizing consumer’s perceptual and cognitive orientations across the world significantly shaped by collectively generated and shared practices, values, norms, and beliefs behind culture, as well as self-views and language. After all, if perception is reality, as surmised in the corporate world, examining perception - and subsequently cognition - becomes even more crucial for successful marketing.

But why we need a deeper explanation of cross-cultural differences? Those differences give us a competitive advantage?! Competitive advantage in the today’s battlefield world, where our decisions relate to the things that are closest to us - where we live, the companies we work for, the products we use. And those decisions are often informed by brands. As a result, brands are among the most important drivers of the future.

The same is true for country brands, but on a larger scale. As travelers, business leaders, employees, parents and consumers, we make decisions related to countries every day: how we describe our identity, where we choose to live, who and where we buy our products from, where we educate our children, where we set up our companies and where we go on holiday. To the extent that we choose countries in these contexts, our decisions are largely informed by the automatic associations we have with them. For instance, Switzerland is good for banking and watches, Japan is good for cars and electronic goods, Costa Rica is good for coffee and beaches, Italy is good for cultural heritage tourism. Our choices are also informed by how familiar we are with countries and whether we have visited them or not.

Every time we make a decision informed by an association with a place, it creates the future. When we multiply that with billions of people around the world every year, it can create waves that dictate the shape of our lives for decades to come. We just have to look at the decisions being made by hundreds of millions of new Chinese consumers to buy luxury goods, home appliances and trips abroad. These affect global exchange rates, quality of life and new relationships the world over - many of which are informed by their intention to buy a little bit of other cultures through their brands, capital cities and entertainment. It’s interesting to see what qualities people associate with different places and their strength of perception, giving us a good indication of the decisions they will make in relation to those places today. This will in turn have a positive or negative effect on every country in the future.

The basic elements of a country’s brand’s strength today are five in general. The first is “Value”, which includes: political freedom, environmental friendliness, stable legal environment, tolerance, freedom of speech. That’s related to gouvernance and investment. The second is “Quality of life”, which includes: education system, healthcare system, standard of living, safety, job opportunity. That’s actually the human capital. The third is called “Good for business” and it means: investment climate, advanced technology, regulatory environment, skilled workforce. We can relate it to growth and sustainability. The forth factor is “Heritage & culture” and includes: history, art and culture, natural beauty and that means influence. The last factor is tourism. Here, we are looking for value for money, attraction, resort and lodging options and quality of food.

If we take Switzerland for example like a model nation for a modern era /last year country brand winner/, we can see which place took in each criteria. As a symbol of economic, cultural and social stability in our tumultuous world, Switzerland shows that the cultivation of freedom, tolerance, transparency and environmentalism can put a country’s brand ahead - even in difficult economic times. Clearly, it’s a place people want to visit. In fact, Switzerland’s rankings in the Tourism and Heritage and Culture dimensions have increased sharply last year, with History up seven places, Art and Culture up fourteen places and Authenticity up four spots, to number three. Switzerland epitomizes the enduring country brand, with a favorable economic climate supported by a strong culture and set of values.

But that’s not just Switzerland. Every country brand, which is in progress, saw significant increases in perception in the Heritage and Culture dimension. Even USA brand climbes eight places in this criteria.

Let’s see some country brand, that we easily relate to Heritage and Culture, like UK. The United Kingdom has seen last years of national celebrations and international coverage. From the Royal Wedding in April 2011, to Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee in June 2012, to the London 2012 Olympic Games, the royal baby boy, after that baby girl, UK has captivated millions of people around the world. And seeing significant gains in a country brand’s performance means impacting the lives and livelihood of residents, visitors and potential visitors in significant ways, long-term - a task the UK has eagerly embraced.

Brand UK’s performances for Awareness, Familiarity and Preference are among the highest in the world - a fact that Olympic media exposure will certainly reinforce. But with approximately 900 million opening ceremony viewers, over six million visitors and 100,000 hours of broadcast coverage, the Games were an extraordinary opportunity to showcase British heritage, pageantry and nostalgia- not to mention project a new sense of ambition for a modern Britain. The opening ceremony, for instance, was widely regarded as a success, bringing Danny Boyle’s celebration of British heritage and culture to lifethrough everything from a parachuting Queen Elizabeth, to dancing NHS patients, to The Beatles and Tim Berners-Lee. This fresh proclamation of British-ness captured the imaginations of visitors and commentators around the world - including the New York Times, who called the ceremony “weirdly and unabashedly British.”

These displays of cultural abundance - everythingfrom music, to fashion, to entertainment and beyond - confirmed brand UK, and Anglo-American influence in general, as a cultural icon and fixture in pop culture. Notably, brand UK’s performance for History improved two places to number five, Art and Culture held steady at number five, and Authenticity is up eighteen placed to number twenty two - the UK’s best performance in this attribute since CBI’s inception.

Brand Scandinavia may be a role model for the world. A country’s soft power is a measure of its ability to attract and shape preferences - through culture, institutions, political values and foreign policy -without coercive forms of persuasion. These countries get what the want through admiration and respect, for everything from values to ambitions to prosperity and openness. For those with soft power, country brand strength is naturally a valuable form of currency. Collectively, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark are unique brands of cultural relevance and influence, most visible in the way each nation treats its residents. Brand Scandinavia is essentially a cultural entrepreneur, bringing its moral leadership and strong example to bare on the international stage. From sponsoring the Nobel Prize, to providing generous foreign aid, to monitoring human rights abuses in the international community, these countries have created the model for cooperative culture in the world.

Let’s see India for example. Despite facing significant obstacles in the public sphere, India’s growth and influence have helped the Asian giant dominate. With a population of nearly 1.24 billion people and some of the highest annual export growth rates in the world, economic success has long been a springboard for India’s rise to power and prominence. What’s more, India continues to “wow” with its rich culture, historic sites and deep heritage. Indian music, movies and food are found in every corner of the globe. Everybody like it or not, has ever heard “Bollywood”.

Not to mention Italy, which is of corse the strongest-performing country brand last year for History, Art and Culture and the Heritage and Culture dimension overall. So, every country has to capitalize on its history and culture. That will drive durable brand strength.

Among the six future drivers that helped identify these countries, “Influence” is the final future driver, and is closely linked to the Heritage and Culture dimension. Here, we assess a nation’s weight in the global community, via economic, political and cultural influence. This is a key measure of power and often determines global trends in investment, social attitudes, political policies and cultural preferences.

From history and language to art and cultural attractions, Heritage and Culture is the culmination and expression of a country’s own unique cultural assets. Intrinsically linked to Tourism, the Heritage and Culture dimension reflect a country’s commitment to responsible infrastructure projects that support travel and tourism, while protecting the legacy on which their societies and way of life have been built.

Heritage and Culture celebrates strong brands from around the world. From Europe’s iconic destinations, to Asia’s authentic beauty, to the beaches of Oceania, to the history of the Middle East, this is a dimension that knows no boundaries. Italy and France have traditionally performed well in this dimension, and continue to hold strong at number one and two respectively. Switzerland and the United Kingdom have each moved seven places ahead, and the latter has proven to be a strong contender across the dimension overall.

Like we mention, after the years of festivities, it appears the London 2012 Games helped communicate a compelling story around the UK’s ambitions and what it means to live in modern Britain. Promoting a country’s heritage often falls to both public and private entities, including the influence of iconic brands that operate across borders and draw from well-defined and established associations. Despite a record of underperforming in the dimension, it is interesting to note that Canada and Australia have made important gains last year - signaling an opportunity to better leverage assets both countries possess but were not previously recognized for.

Continuing a two-year upward trend in Heritage and Culture, a number of Eastern European countries have been climbing the rankings. With more Russian travelers to the region, a general shift in focus from West to East and co-hosting the UEFA Euro 2012 Cup, Ukraine jumped nineteen places to sixty four. Additionally, Estonia advanced ten places to forty seven in the dimension overall.

While, the weakest-performing country brands for Heritage and Culture are Afghanistan, Somalia, the Philippines, Qatar and Albania, every country in the world - including these - has its own unique heritage and culture to express. The challenge is turning real assets into perceived strengths through clear and consistent communications.

We can measure and rank global perceptions around the world’s nations - from their cultures, to their industries, to their economic vitality and public policy initiatives. A country’s brand is closely tied to the full spectrum of factors that impact an individual’s decision to choose one country over another - from values and quality of life, to economy and culture.

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