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When it comes to country brands, we are often our own worst critics

The brand equity of one’s country of origin can be an important competitive advantage or disadvantage in export markets. However how that brand boost is perceived can be very different – especially by those exporters who stand to benefit (or suffer) the consequences of a national image.

Last week I was tasked with managing, along with Juan, two of the seven Global Consumer Trends workshops that the Wine Intelligence team has recently been presenting in cities around the world. Juan and I went to Porto and Madrid, where part of the workshop consisted of asking attendees to list what, in their opinion, were the main issues in their countries from the perspective of the wine industry. The attendees were mostly export-oriented wine industry professionals and therefore keenly aware of what their national brand could offer (both good and bad).

When we were in Porto, the group concluded that Portugal, as a brand, was not as strong as other wine producing countries such as Spain, Italy and France. The consensus was that Portugal is poorly branded, which doesn’t benefit its wine exports. The Spanish however benefit a lot from the “Spain” brand, which goes beyond wine and has a wider symbolic connection with consumers around the world. Spain stands out more than Portugal with its archetypal associations (bulls, tapas, fiesta, Seville, flamenco, Barcelona, Dali, etc.) when it is time to choose a bottle from a supermarket shelf or a restaurant wine list.

Worse still for Portugal, consumers can find a Spanish wine section in supermarkets around the world, there is no section for Portugal, whose wines are either mixed with the “Rest of the World” section or non-existent. Sometimes they are even mixed with the Spanish section. Apparently, not only is this lack of distinction confined to Portugal and Spain as countries, it is also true of the decision to use Spanish names and not Portuguese for the varietals: an extension of the Portuguese mega brand Mateus Rosé is Tempranillo, which is the Spanish word for the Portuguese varietal Aragonez.Picture4 300x134 - National envy

In Madrid, when the attendees (all Spanish, all export-oriented) were faced with the same challenge during the workshop, it was the same story: Spain the country, as a brand, is poor when compared with the other producing countries. Hard to create value, hard to find a Spanish section in the supermarkets, and therefore hard to compete. Almost everything that the Portuguese attendees stated regarding Portugal, the Spanish attendees repeated regarding Spain by comparing it mostly with Italy and France.

So, are the Portuguese over-rating Spain? Or are the Spanish under-rating themselves? Are both under-rating their country brands? Or is the problem simply the old tale of familiarity (in this case, with one’s own country brand) breeds contempt?

Picture5 - National envyThe academic literature would appear to support this last point – psychological studies* have found that the more one knows about someone, the less likely one is to be impressed by them. In the practical world of building export strategies, the key would appear to be having at least some people in the room who can bring a perspective that is less familiar with a country brand – an importer or distributor, perhaps, or a journalist…. or even a consultant.

*Norton & Frost: ’Less is More: the Lure of Ambiguity, or Why Familiarity Breeds Contempt’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2007

Author: Luis Osorio

Email: Luis@wineintelligence.com