Macron, Trudeau, Trump and the art of nation branding

Macron, Trudeau, Trump and the art of nation branding
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The old adage that good things come in threes rang true for French President Emmanuel Macron on February 15th as the country’s unemployment dropped to its lowest level since 2009, Amazon announced it would create 2,000 new jobs in France, and the head of the International Monetary Fund credited Macron’s economic reforms with the country’s growing economy.

The flurry of positive economic news comes on the heels of the high-profile summit Macron hosted last month right before the World Economic Forum in Davos where he touted the country’s economic reforms to executives like Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and announced more than $3 billion in foreign investments in France by Toyota, General Mills, SAP and more.

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At Davos itself, Macron was joined by other heads of state who used the global gathering as an opportunity to woo companies and investors. U.S. President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden, Sanders lead field in Iowa poll The Memo: Cohen fans flames around Trump Memo Comey used to brief Trump on dossier released: report MORE opened his speech by declaring that America is “open for business,” while Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reinforced his country’s leadership in gender equality by proclaiming it would be the top priority for Canada as it presides over the Group of Seven (G7) in 2018.

The maneuverings of Macron, Trudeau, and Trump at Davos provide a master class in the little known practice of nation branding.

Just as companies must carefully nurture their brand image to achieve success, these leaders understand that their country’s reputation — how they position their country and how others perceive it — is vital to their country’s economic growth, cultural influence, and foreign policy goals. A strong nation brand is essential to attracting foreign investment and skilled workers, adding value to exports, and drawing tourists. It is also critical to the wielding of soft power, the ability of a country to influence others and achieve the outcomes it wants without resorting to the traditional tools of military aggression or economic sanctions.

In an increasingly complex and interdependent world that seems to veer back and forth regularly between surges of globalism and populism, getting a nation brand right is more challenging than ever, especially for a new head of state. Macron and Trudeau have managed to do it so well and so quickly by striking the right balance between these opposing forces, backing up their rhetoric with results, and by mounting what some might call charm offensives to promote their country’s new images abroad.

To get a better sense of how to do nation branding right, it also helps to more closely at how two other fairly new heads of state fared at Davos: Argentine President Mauricio Macri and UK Prime Minister Theresa May, two leaders who may not rival the outsized personalities of a Macron, Trudeau, or Trump.

At Davos, Macri presented his country as a case study in successful nation branding. When Macri took office in late 2015, Argentina faced soaring inflation, a depleted federal reserve, and high deficits. One of his first major initiatives was the Argentina Business and Investment Forum, which brought more than 1,500 business leaders and investors from around the world to Buenos Aires to see its potential up close. It marked Argentina’s return to the international markets by putting a spotlight on investment opportunities across energy, agriculture, manufacturing, technology, and service sector industries.

Macri spent the next year and a half pounding away at this agenda at home, cutting inflation by 15 percent and growing the Argentine GDP by 3 percent, while spreading the message of the country’s growing economy abroad.

While Macri demonstrates how an understated yet steady approach to nation branding can work, it is a strategy that has proven to be more difficult for May, who received an underwhelming response from business leaders at Davos. A stalled economy and the looming shadow of Brexit pose major obstacles for May and the UK’s brand, but in order to succeed, May would be served well by following the first rule of nation branding: Take a clear and accurate measurement of the nation’s strength and soft power resources and then tout them.

The UK does not need to entirely reinvent itself to assure it remains globally competitive, as some analysts have suggested. Instead, May must find new ways to affirm the current “Brand Britain” and highlight its areas of leadership and expertise so that it continues to be seen as open for business The UK remains at the forefront of many industries: media; automotive; engineering; financial services; fashion; and technology.

May and other world leaders seeking to strengthen their economies at home and expand their influence abroad would do well to follow the lead of Macron, who can now take credit for a new “Brand France” in light of the recent economic news.

Nations with leaders who understand their assets, back up vision with policy, who speak with an authentic voice, and who understand the power of optics are demonstrating the power of a new type of national branding. All eyes will be on them to see if they can continue to provide a model for the world’s emerging nations and economies.

Richard Attias is the founder and executive chairman of Richard Attias & Associates, a global advisory firm and minority subsidiary of WPP that develops communications strategies and live public events for governments, corporations, and institutions including the Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Public Investment Fund, the Misk Foundation, the International Olympic Committee, and the World Bank. He produced the World Economic Forum in Davos from 1995 to 2008.