The Design Council helpfully defines a brand as “a set of associations that a person (or group of people) makes with a company, product, service, individual or organisation.” Sustainably managing these associations are crucial to increasing brand value and consequently, the fundamental challenge facing brand managers today, is to determine the (constantly changing) factors that contribute to these associations being formed in the hearts and minds of consumers. In turn, this will help to deliver a marketing strategy that will lead to increased profits.
Traditionally, domestic brands enjoyed local and often national success, as their reputation was strengthened through word of mouth, reliability and trust. Gaps in the market were soon filled by branded products that fast became household names (such as Jabon Chimbo in the Basque Country). Some even became market leaders and a point of reference for many people. Globalisation has changed this, opening up a new, international playing field where the referee’s role is being fulfilled by the consumer, and not sales executives.
During the 20th Century, many brands adopted the “Made in” label, taking advantage of the reputation earned by the country of origin, to give their own brands a competitive edge. The danger with this approach however, is that if the country of origin’s reputation is questioned, the brand is put at risk. Apple’s message “Designed by Apple in California Assembled in China” is particularly strategic. The country of origin and the brains behind the product are clear, but Apple relinquishes responsibility for assembly.
Highlighting that its products are built in China allows for transparency with the consumer, winning valuable ethical points for Apple, but at the possible expense of calling into question build quality. My father would warn me in the past of buying a product that had been “Made in China” as he perceived them to be of poor quality, which they invariably were. This long-standing negative association is no doubt a major hurdle for China as they seek to climb up the global Country Brand Index.
According to Futurebrand, “defining the country of origin or the meaning of ‘made in’ with a view to creating associations and trust at the consumer level, has become critical”. In the case of the Basque Country, where I live, it is an issue that I am particularly interested in.
A Basque nation branding problem – Naming
Country stereotypes are common, and depending on how sensitive you are, they can be quite humorous. I heard a sermon once where the Pastor described the difference between Heaven and Hell as follows:
“Heaven is where the police are British, the lovers are French, the mechanics are German, the chefs are Italian, and it is all organized by the Swiss.
Hell is where the police are German, the lovers are Swiss, the mechanics are French, the chefs are British, and it is all organized by the Italians.”
In 2014, the following image cropped up on Twitter, showing how different countries tackle problem solving (someone else added the Basque approach at the bottom):
Naming is a significant and as yet unsolved problem that has plagued the Basque Country brand for years. Until an agreement can be reached, it will persist to be a thorn in the side of economic development and a stumbling block to political resolution and advance.
There is no denying that Basques are different — in DNA, language, culture and tradition, but also by name, which not only creates confusion for visitors, but it poses a serious internal dilemma when it comes to nation branding.
According to the Basque Government Tourism website, “The Basque Country is a land of people always looking for something new, whose work is characterised by creativity, innovation and the power of a job well done.”
This is reflected in history as well as industrial productivity, where Basque provinces boast the highest levels of GDP in Spain. Basque people are also known for their honesty and the Spanish phrase “palabra de Vasco” (a Basque’s word), is the verbal equivalent of a binding legal agreement.
These are great personality traits that add value to the Basque nation brand. However, the Basque Country’s name also needs to be clearly defined in both Euskara (Basque language) and English. In the native language at least, the name is a stubborn bone of contention, determined largely by a person’s political allegiance. Examples include: Euskal Herria, Euzkadi, Euskadi, Nafarroa (ancient kingdom, not province), Vasconia, País Vasco, Pays Basque, Euskal Autonomia Erkidegoa-Comunidad Autónoma Vasca…and the list goes on.
The Basque government political majority has been held by the EAJ-PNV party for over 30 years, and during their legislation, they have introduced various marketing campaigns to bolster national identity. However, many Basque nationalists disagree with these on various levels, including the use of the name, staunchly defending the all-encompassing “Euskal Herria” (literally both “Basque nation/country”) as opposed to the EAJ-PNV’s choice of “Euskadi”, which refers to three of the seven provinces, under current political juristiction.
Whilst one team flies their flag, the other puts up their road signs. Meanwhile, the national football team (that is itself campaigning for official recognition) is at a loss as to where they live and opt to endorse the “one country, one team” popular movement, painting the slogan in English with a green marker pen, as at their last game against Catalunya in December 2014 — a poor application that just goes to reflect current discord.
Internally, each party believes they are right, but the reality is that confusing, mixed messages are weakening a potentially strong country brand. If Basques could at least agree on the name, it would be a good start.
A Basque nation branding solution – Basque made
Despite not being recognised as an independent nation, to an outsider, there is little doubt that the Basque Country refers to seven (or six if you are a pedantic anthropologist) provinces (Bizkaia, Araba, Gipuzkoa, Nafarroa, Lapurdi, Nafarroa Beherea and Zuberoa). National sentiment reaches this far even if political law does not.
This raises an interesting question: Should the use of the “Made in Basque Country” label be governed by political license, or can it be freely administered according to intellectual property? Can a start-up company from Donibane-Garazi, with Basque speakers at the helm, brand itself with the “Made in Basque Country” label, even if it isn’t officially “in the Basque Country”?
To label a product “Made in [country]” limits the associations a consumer makes with it by geographical boundaries. In the case of the Basque Country, that is made even more complex by the absence of a political agreement. A much better branding solution would be to use “Basque made” as opposed to “Made in Basque Country”. Basque heritage and skill must not be restricted to a land whose borders are so hotly disputed. This would allow for example, a Basque person living in London, to open a restaurant and brand it using the “Basque made” label. It would still need to be officially regulated and managed in order to protect the Basque nation brand, but this solution would launch the brand into the global market, free of the political baggage that its connotations have carried to date.
The secret to successful nation branding is to recognise the difference between a country and a nation, and to deliver an authentic brand message that celebrates the very characteristics that make each of us different.
• Check out Futurebrand’s excellent “Made in” report on their Country Brand Index page.
• Made in GB — Helping people recognise British-made products
• Made in the Basque Country — Report by The Guardian
• Nation branding for the Basque Country by Iñigo Fernández Ostarloza
• The Power of Branding — Design Council UK
Follow Joseba on Twitter