Countries, Branding and the Genesis Myth

When branding is a myth that actually works a country is no different to a brand. Its reputation and perceived value combine to create the intersubjective space necessary for it to acquire power that extends beyond its true capabilities.

That’s when the country’s flag acquires equity and the association of a country with a business stands for something greater than the sum of the country’s parts. 

Such perceptions are important for a country because they: 

  • Help attract foreign investment
  • Attract outside skills and talents
  • Drive passion and enthusiasm that unlocks cognitive capital
  • Become part of the shared belief system that powers sustained development
  • Create the bedrock of its national identity that defines the value of citizenship
  • Stem the “brain-drain” experienced when the brightest choose to leave a country

It is hardly surprising then that each country needs a genesis myth. Spartans traced their bloodline to a son of Zeus, Romans were the product of miraculous intervention, Persians sprung from the eternal struggle between Ahura and Ahriman. In modern times the USA traces its homespun values of hardiness, survival and cooperation back to the Pilgrims and celebrates it at Thanksgiving, the United Kingdom was powered by the outward excellence of the Victorian Era that went on to give such firsts as the Industrial Revolution which in itself powered a number of breakthroughs and inventions

You would argue that in a world where we rely on data mining to make decisions and have created equipment that can peer at the very fabric of the universe we are so rational that no genesis myth is necessary, but that’s not true.

Mythology, whether personal or national is needed to create the common backdrop against which everything else happens. In our complex societies it becomes the signal needed to coordinate the activities of large numbers of people so that a common purpose is achieved. America becomes “the leader of the free world”, Germany is “the industrial powerhouse of Europe” and Estonia becomes Europe’s leading e-Democracy and hotbed of innovation

A genesis myth for a nation does other things too. As it drives its brand and creates a sense of identity it also fosters what we may call national pride. This creates an insubstantial but nonetheless valuable commodity called “influence”. 

Nowhere is this seen more clearly or felt more acutely than in Brexit where British influence suddenly recedes stranding those who rode on it. That this ‘new’ Britain is aware of the loss is perhaps evidenced by its attempts to find a new genesis myth something that will justify the pulling up of the drawbridge and the attempt to go-it-alone at a time when international cooperation has never been more imperative. 

There are deeper implications to all this. A nation’s brand affects the value of its currency, the way its passports (and citizens) are perceived and its desirability as a place to do business in.

Until governments realize that they are custodians of a brand with real equity and have a duty to increase its value we will remain stuck in 20th century politics where short-term gains outweighed any long term impact and whichever is the current generation passed the buck for any problems to solve to those coming after it, disadvantaging them from the very start. 

Genesis myths are important because they become the point at which one generation of actors gets a values and goals buy-in from future ones through the shared intersubjective space that becomes the thread they use to weave the narrative of the national identity. The unraveling of that identity in the face of the ever evolving notion of nationhood is part of the wider global problem we are experiencing, at present.