Brand value is the degree to which an individual or organization’s identity is recognized and valued by others. As such, it is not a single static measure. Rather it’s a dynamically fluid asset that is constantly increasing or decreasing. A good way to illustrate the ever-shifting dynamics of brand value is to liken it to the fluctuating stock market where stock prices are constantly measured by the changing identity, production, image, and profitability of public companies.
Ultimately, brand value is gained or lost through expressions of good will, behavior, desirability, promotional activity, social proof, and more. These exchanges occur continuously in all areas of life as consumers, governments, allies, evangelists, lovers, haters, etc. are all constantly assessing and reassessing each other’s ability to perform and deliver.
These transactions have the most power to improve or damage a brand specifically when they relate directly to the brand’s core values. If a Toyota is reported to not be the fastest car in a comparison test, for example, it doesn’t really affect that manufacturer’s brand value because no one expects a Toyota to win races – speed is not a part of Toyota’s core brand assets. But if a widely reported unintended acceleration problem gets covered up and goes un-repaired, Toyota can (and did) lose significant value, reported at over one billion dollars, because we consumers expect the marque to be reliable and dependable above all else.
With this background in mind, I was invited to speak on FOX’s Varney & Co. about whether or not Germany’s recent spying allegations against the United States have devalued our country’s brand standing.
Of course the country’s brand is so broad and all encompassing that except in the most egregious cases no one activity could raise or lower it appreciably or for very long. Instead, our brand is constantly on the rise or fall and circumstances and momentum will continue to move it either up or down over long periods of time.
But the most recent spying allegations, combined with other foreign policies of late (such as drone attacks) have all worked in concert to damage our brand because they all relate to our core values. In fact, one of the most damaging of all was the recent government shutdown. Why? Because it signaled to the rest of the world that those very core values — strength, consistency, reliability, freedom, and democracy — the aspirational assets that the rest of the world looked up to us for and Ronald Reagan referred to when he called the U.S. the “shining city on the hill” — may not be as unassailable as we once thought.
Combine those big disappointments with the shock of hearing that perhaps we don’t respect the privacy and sovereignty of our most valuable allies (remember that we weren’t accused of spying on Afghanistan, Cuba or Iran — no one would have complained about that except Afghanistan, Cuba or Iran), and I believe our brand value has taken a big hit.
Of course it’s hypocritical for countries such as China, Russia, and even France to chastise us for spying when they are repeatedly caught with their digital hands in our secret cookie jars. But since when has hypocrisy ever stopped a critic from being an opportunist?
Looking further ahead, the effects of international espionage and even the shutdown pale in comparison to the thought, image, and distinct possibility that the full faith and credit of the US, our currency, and what we stand for could be at jeopardy if we should default on our financial responsibilities in the near future. Keep an eye on the debt limit argument because that’s where the real potential damage to our brand value lies.
For the United States to maintain and increase its brand value – which directly relates to our ability to accomplish things at home and overseas – we must demonstrate to the world through words AND actions that we do take the moral high road and that we deserve to be seen as the greatest country on earth.