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.

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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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