Troubled countries should think more like brands do

When a brand gets into trouble, there is a fair chance that it will be taken over, and there are many examples in recent times where such brands have only survived as a result of a merger with a stronger competitor – Continental Airlines’ takeover by United Airlines springs to mind. In fact, such a course of action is encouraged to protect jobs, warranties and the wellbeing of society.

Secret Marketer

So why is it different with countries? Over the past few months, we have seen the likes of Iceland, Greece and Cyprus get into serious financial situations – perhaps far worse than society has ever seen. If they were businesses, they would have been knocking on the door of the liquidators long ago. But I haven’t seen a single suggestion that they should be acquired by a neighbour. So why is this such an outrageous thought?

In the case of brands, the argument is that a merger would allow the two organisations to share costs and drive through synergies, for example by having one head office, sharing assets, becoming more vertically integrated, or to remove a competitor from the market. Why is this different for two countries? Think of the operational savings from a single infrastructure, a single currency, a single monarchy/presidency or owning the supply chain from mine to consumption?

The counter argument is history and heritage – you just can’t get rid of a country, its monarch or its football team. But why is that any different to some of the greatest brands that we have lost in recent times – many of which have better pedigrees than some countries – the loss of SmithKline Beecham to Glaxo Wellcome, or NatWest to Royal Bank of Scotland.

As marketers, few of us have the chance to market a country (tourist board marketers being the exception), but for those who have managed a brand through a merger or acquisition, the skills are specific – retaining displaced customers, making snap decisions about significant legacies – but just think if you were making those decisions on behalf of an entire nation.

Oh well, back to my game of Risk World Domination.

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