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Minister of Immigration, John McCallum and Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef, greet Syrian refugees Husam, left, and his sister Minisa. The Liberal government’s welcoming of Syrian refugees is helping to change Canada’s image abroad. (Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Minister of Immigration, John McCallum and Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef, greet Syrian refugees Husam, left, and his sister Minisa. The Liberal government’s welcoming of Syrian refugees is helping to change Canada’s image abroad. (Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

LYNCH, MACKLEM & SOBERMAN

More companies should embrace ‘Brand Canada’ Add to ...

Kevin Lynch is vice-chairman of Bank of Montreal and the former Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet. Tiff Macklem is Dean of the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, and former senior deputy governor of the Bank of Canada. David Soberman is Canadian National Chair of Strategic Marketing, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

Canadians are increasingly doing business in a global marketplace, where firms from anywhere now compete everywhere.

In these crowded global markets, with a multitude of choices, why does a Brazilian tourist choose a Canadian destination? A Beijing restaurant buy fresh Canadian seafood? An Indian student study at a Canadian business school? A Hong Kong couple purchase wealth-management services from a Canadian bank? Or a UAE investor buy Canadian real estate? Beyond the value proposition of the product offering itself, part of the answer is the country brand – “Brand Canada.”

But why do business people tend to shrink from the concept of country as a brand, and yet embrace it wholeheartedly in the corporate world? According to Forbes, the brand value of Apple is tops at about $150-billion U.S. or roughly 20 per cent of Apple’s market value. For other top global brands such as Google, Microsoft, and Coca-Cola, the value of the brand is in a range of 18 per cent to 30 per cent of their market value.

While less easy to quantify, does anyone doubt that the intangible brand value of Harvard, Oxford or MIT is a significant element of their global appeal to prospective students, faculty and donors, as well as their ability to charge premium tuition fees?

The value of a country brand is even harder to measure, but no less real. A country’s brand value is much more than the relative size of its GDP, its international competitiveness ranking, or how it scores on the UN development index. It is a reflection of how the world perceives a country and its values – the strength of its society, the respect for the rights of its citizens, the way it treats the environment, the stability of its political system, the vigour of its economy, its entrepreneurship and innovativeness, the quality of its government and governance institutions, and its voice on the world stage. The sum total of these perceptions, spread globally by interconnected media, international communications consortia and social media networks, creates a country brand.

Team Canada in the 1990s was widely admired (and copied by other countries) as an implicit form of brand building. “Cool Canada” was the cover of The Economist in 2003, not only for repairing our fiscal books and restoring healthy growth, but also for a “certain boldness in social matters,” including legalizing gay marriage, welcoming immigrants, providing more self-government for aboriginal groups and developing an internationally successful cultural community. The resiliency of our financial sector in the face of the global financial crisis, when those in the U.S., U.K. and Europe were failing, significantly boosted the economic management brand of Canada at a time of great uncertainty.

On the other side of the brand ledger, in recent years, perceptions of ambivalence towards the environment and over-reliance on the energy-super-power-brand, strident one-sidedness in foreign policy, and less inclusiveness in domestic policies and politics have taken a toll on the international perception of Canada.

For countries like Canada, with few recognizable global corporate or educational brands, a clear and strong “Brand Canada” is a key element to commercial success in far-flung but rapidly growing markets from Asia to Latin America to the Middle East, influencing buying decisions, investment decisions, education decisions and tourism decisions.

A compelling Canada brand attracts customers the world over to buy and invest in Canada, it is a source of confidence for Canadians – a key ingredient to successfully competing in global markets – and it can co-ordinate governments across Canada around what we want to be.

In this light, the Prime Minister’s efforts at Davos this year to reset and reignite brand Canada, combined with the new government’s welcoming of Syrian refugees, respect for and celebration of diversity, reinvigorated multilateralism, leadership on climate change and sheer optimism about the future, should be seen as a welcome investment in Canada’s global mind share.

We are in a time of disruptive change, pervasive globalization, economic challenges throughout the global economy and increasing geopolitical tension. We should not underestimate the value of a strong country brand to our economic success in these circumstances, or leave it to chance. Nor can we leave it all to government – our brand reflects who and what we all are: business, education and civil society are a also core elements of our brand promise. A strong country brand is worth investing in. We need a re-imagined and updated “Team Canada 2.0” to ensure the world knows more about us and what we have to offer.

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