Interview with Nicolas Papadopoulos

The people at the Greek International Communication Policy Forum, which last week published an interesting interview with country branding expert Keith Dinnie, are doing a great job and this week they have interviewed another reputated country brands expert, Nicolas Papadopoulos, the Greek-Canadian professor of Marketing and International Business at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.

The interview is as follows:

Professor Papadopoulos, as a renowned country branding scholar in Canada, which do you consider the primary factors for the success of Canada as a leading country brand (2nd place in Country Brands – Index 2008)?

Essentially there are two reasons. One has to do with quality of life, perceptions of people about the general level of development of the country. The other one is the perception of Canada as a peaceful country in international affairs. These two perceptions evolved partly because we are next to the United States, which makes it easy to think of us as a developed country with a very high standard of living. But the U.S. is also a very powerful country, so every time someone gets angry at them, by comparison they look of Canada as a friendlier country. Canada is like a bigger Sweden or Switzerland. It has no negatives, really. It has never done anything wrong: the peace-keeping efforts, the contribution of Canada to the solution of the Suez crisis and so on. All these things developed an image of a peaceful country that doesn’t bother anybody. The interesting thing about Canada, which is in some ways shared by Greece, is that the image of Canada doesn’t have so much content. In our research, every time we go and ask people ‘what do you think about Canada?’, the ratings are always very high. But when we ask them to tell us ‘why’, they just answer ‘nice country’. We ask ‘why is it nice?’, the answer is ‘well, I don’t know’. Yet Canada, much as Greece, has a lot of successes. Canadians have invented everything from basketball to insulin, the telephone and so on. But people don’t know that, they just like the country in a general sense. A very similar thing or even worse happens with Australia. Everybody loves Australia. There are three countries that everyone loves around the world: Australia, New Zealand, Canada. But try to ask people ‘why’… Australia has sheep, we’ve got bears, they are hot, we are cold and that’s it!

Do you think that the reputation of a country could influence the promotion of its products? Could you please elaborate on the Country of Origin Effect on Consumer Behavior?

Definitely there is an effect. Many times the effect is not direct. There are not many people who think that when consumers buy a product, they may buy it because of where it comes from. In another branch of international business, research in investment studies, there is actually a thing called the ‘liability of foreigners’. Foreigners have a disadvantage. Why? One reason is that they don’t know the local customs. However, in the case of imported products, there may be an advantage of foreigners in most countries, in that there is something exotic about them. We are doing some research at the moment where we compare how different companies present their products in advertising in different countries. We have collected about three thousand magazine advertisements from Canada and the United States, and about the same from Italy, Britain and Greece. Among other things, we find that many Greek companies advertise in Greek magazines, for Greeks, using the English language or the Italian language or French or whatever. Because there is an advantage in portraying yourself to be from somewhere else, which brings me to the country of origin. I prefer to use the term ‘country of association’. Take Wind, for example – this is a mobile network here in Greece, but the brand name is English and the country of association is Anglo-Saxon: it is English, it is American, it is British. It’s not German, it’s not Italian, it’s not French. Look, on the other hand, at L’ Oréal or any French brand of cosmetics, or Italian brands for shoes or suits for men. There are these associations between certain countries that are thought to be (and very often are) especially strong in certain product categories. So, companies try to find these perceptions and use them, even if their origin is different, by borrowing an association. So you have Greek wines that have French names. Country of association has a huge impact. Its effect doesn’t necessarily work at a conscious level. It may work subconsciously as well. You go to someone and you ask ‘why did you buy this?’ and he or she might tell you ‘oh, because it’s cheap’ or ‘because it’s the best quality’. They will give you rational reasons. But this is not the way we actually think and behave. People don’t necessarily behave rationally. Most of the time there is a combination of reason and emotion that makes us behave in a particular way, and very often the emotional side is the deciding factor.

You have supported that the key element of a successful nation-branding strategy is to provide an image of trustworthiness regarding both the country and its people at an international level. In your opinion, has Greece managed to develop such an image? Which actions should be implemented in order to enhance its trustworthiness towards public opinion?

The word ’trustworthiness’ doesn’t come up for every country. It comes up as a great strength of countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand. People in some countries don’t trust the Americans, for example, and the ratings for France are quite low in some areas. I don’t remember where Greece might score, and I would not know to tell you because I cannot remember of any study that has used this measure for Greece. But I would not guess that this may be a characteristic of Greece.  That may not be a negative thing necessarily – or it actually could be, based on anecdotal evidence. There is an international saying, ‘beware of Greeks bearing gifts’, because of the Trojan Horse. That’s actually a very widespread feeling. Is trustworthiness important in general? Yes, it is. Because it affects tourists, it affects a lot of individual parts of behavior, if you consider things in technical terms. For example, it is very important in business-to-business relationships. Trustworthiness may at times be more important than the price charged for a product or its other characteristics. Trustworthiness translates into things like reliability, the relative value of a product. An interesting case in point is Canada. Among consumers, Canada always scores very high on trustworthiness. Yet, among business people, it does not score as highly. Canadian business exporters to business have a reputation, which they deserve to some extent, of not following through. At the first difficulty some of them give up and run back home. This kind of thing hurts trust enormously. And there are a lot of examples like this. In Canada, we have a foundation called Asia-Pacific Foundation. They did a big study in six or seven countries along the Pacific and the levels of trust they found for Canadian business people were quite low. Independent of country of origin, trust has emerged as a major issue in marketing. Domestically and internationally, it is one of the hottest topics that people study. Trust in everything: trust when you decide what product to buy, trust when you decide to buy that skirt over the other one, from one dealer over another. Trust seems to be a very central theme in human relations, particularly in our time when things are getting busier, and it’s harder to cope with the world around us. That’s why branding has become so important, since a brand is a ‘promise’ that consumers can trust that it will deliver what it says in terms of quality, satisfaction, or its other characteristics.

Which specific nation branding strategies do you believe that Greece should adopt in order to build a competitive image and streamline a clear brand name abroad? Should Greece continue to lay emphasis on its traditional competitive advantages or should it re-orientate its nation-branding policy?

Here is where I will disappoint you because I don’t know, at least not on the basis of research. I don’t think anyone has done the research to find out. I participated in a conference organized by the Athens Institute for Education and Research just after the Olympics, and someone there was presenting the results of the Olympics and what might happen to the image of Greece – and yes, there was a positive image. We also had done some research here in Greece in the mid-90s, which is quite old by now – but I don’t see why anything might have changed – about investments. What we found is that even though there were a few investors who had the usual complaints (bureaucracy or whatever), there were a lot of very positive comments by current investors, by managers of companies that had already invested in Greece. I don’t know what people who are outside of Greece think. Lots of people would see Greece as what it really is in some sense, which is a point for distribution and accessing the Balkans, Eastern Europe, the European Union, the Middle East, the Mediterranean and so on. There might be other countries but Greece seems to have predominance, at least for the Balkans. The last thing I would say about Greece is that even the image about the antiquities and tourism is not necessarily the right image. How many times in Canada people come to me and say, ‘we are going to Greece, tell us where to go. Of course, we want to go to Santorini and Mykonos, we don’t want to stay in Athens at all, maybe one day to see the Acropolis and that’s it’. And I keep telling them ‘don’t even bother going to the Acropolis, you are going to be just another stupid tourist who goes and looks at just some more stupid marbles and columns which would mean nothing to you and you will leave. This way you gain nothing. If you want to enjoy the Acropolis go to Athens and stay for a week. The marbles and columns are important but to appreciate them you must ‘feel’ them. You must walk around, to more than just the Acropolis. You go, you know, to Plateia Kotzia. You look at how the antiquities are all over the place. You try to imagine how the city was, you go to the various museums’. It’s the same with tourism. Everybody goes to Santorini – ok, that’s interesting – and Mykonos – ok, I love Mykonos too – but there are so many other things. And they are not being promoted.  So as not to accuse just the Greeks, there is no country that anybody knows of, anywhere in the world, that has managed to have an overall strategy. All countries have exactly the same problem: they have a Ministry of Tourism that does one thing, there is another Ministry which does something else and so on. I was speaking, two months ago, with the Ambassador of Sweden in Canada, who participated in the development of an amazing new Swedish campaign for country branding. When I asked her ‘how do you coordinate all that’, she said ‘no way to coordinate’.  The only thing you can hope for is that the images presented by various ministries for various purposes would not be conflicting with one another. In Greece you don’t have such a problem. Because the existing images with the antiquities and tourism don’t really conflict with each other. They do hurt Greece, however, in that nobody thinks of the country as modern, industrialized, developed, which it is. In my view, Athens is one of the most beautiful capitals. I’m not saying this because I am an Athenian by birth. Everyone says that Athens is ‘lots of concrete’ and nothing else. Well, go to any city, go to New York – it doesn’t have the avenues we have, the trees in every neighborhood, and yet no says “lots of concrete” about it. Of course, London has Hyde Park and New York has Central Park – but we have the National Gardens and right next is Lykavitos and right above is Alsos Pagratiou and right below is Pedion Areos. So the city has as much green space as many others – but we let this kind of “all concrete” image persist.

Do you think that nation branding can be influenced by negative incidents of current affairs or it is something more “steady” with long term effects?

There can be a great negative effect, but how long will it last, and how bad it is going to be, depends on the nature of the event and which is the country, among other things. For example, we did a study with a colleague in Australia in 1992 and in 1995. Between those years the image of  France declined significantly because the French sank that ship of Greenpeace which was protesting against the French nuclear tests in the South Pacific. I don’t have more recent evidence of my own, but a colleague of mine did a new study in 2005 and the image of France was back to where it used to be. It took about ten years but they fixed it up. Why? Because France has a generally good image. It is a big, stable and important country. Greece is not. It starts from a negative point, partly because it is thought of as part of the Balkans, a region with quite a negative image abroad. If a country starts with such an image, it has to be running twice as fast to stay in the same place. On the other hand, for every negative aspect, there are a lot of positives that can be used to balance them. In the case of Greece, there was some positive image created because of the Olympics but it has to be capitalized on to prevent losing it.

In the future, will nation branding last or is it just a temporary trend?

I don’t think it is a temporary trend. l think it is a huge, permanent development. It is very early and a lot of the problems we just talked about occur exactly because it’s too early. It takes time for people to think things through. Nation branding has not existed for more than about 10-15 years. Marketing has been around since antiquity and still most people don’t understand it. We need to get away from the word nation branding, because ‘branding’ is only part of marketing. The correct term is ‘nation marketing’. But since many people still don’t understand what ‘marketing’ is all about, it will take us a long, long time to achieve a correct understanding of ‘nation marketing’. I will give you an example. In Canada there is a TV channel, CPAC, dealing with public affairs. They have a show called ‘The World Today” or something like this and a few years ago they invited me to participate in a discussion about Greece. They had the Greek ambassador, myself, and a lady of Greek origin, a member of the parliament in Ottawa. I said something like ‘we need to promote our country and country branding is important’ and the ambassador became really upset and said something like ‘you cannot promote a country like a detergent or soap, a country is an important sacred thing’. The journalist was a bit surprised at the level of vehemence of the ambassador, but l have had this reaction before. Half an hour later the journalist asked the ambassador what does the embassy in Canada do to attract more investment to Greece. And the ambassador replied that ‘we do a lot of promotion, a lot of advertising’ and the journalist was smiling. At the end he asked how this differs from what the professor had said before and the ambassador graciously accepted that he had been wrong. This is a typical image from people who have grown up to believe that marketing is something bad. We need another ten or twenty years to get away from that logic.

You are a member of the Greek Marketing Academy. How do Greek Marketers stand internationally?

On the practitioner side, I don’t think that there is anybody internationally who knows much about Greek marketers because Greece doesn’t export anything world-known except for a few agricultural products and some processed product brands, like Metaxa brandy. But there are many success stories on the academic side. We have a rather large number of very well-known Greek professors internationally. George Avlonitis, the president of the Greek Marketing Academy, ‘Father George’ of Greek marketing, is well known abroad. Internationally, there is myself, Adamantios Diamantopoulos, who is extremely famous and he works at the University of Vienna. There is another fellow by the name of Konstantinos Katsikeas at the University of Leeds, UK, also very, very well known, and also Antonis Simintiras, who is now in at least part of the time in Thessaloniki but he used to be full time in Britain. There are a disproportionate large number of Greek names in international marketing and international business research in general, which is good.

Public Diplomacy and Nation Branding: Is there difference between the two terms or do they mean exactly the same thing?

They are a little bit overlapping but I wouldn’t say that they are the same. I would imagine that public diplomacy would include some activities and concepts that normally one would not classify as marketing. But that depends on how one can understand public diplomacy. What is public diplomacy? l worked together with Simon Anholt when he launched a journal called Place Branding and Public Diplomacy and we had a lot of discussions about this at that time. One of our big arguments was that if you say public diplomacy and place branding, it means two different things. My view was, why don’t you leave it as ‘place branding’ and let it include everything. Many people call it ‘nation branding’, but as I said before I prefer the term ‘nation marketing’ – and the fully accurate term is ‘place marketing’, because it is not only nations, but also cities and other geographic areas that are relevant to it. Place marketing, since it is marketing, includes a lot of things that go very much beyond diplomacy and communication. Marketing includes pricing, distribution, packaging, corporate design, and so on. Therefore, I see public diplomacy as one manifestation of place marketing. Traditionally, whenever there was an attempt to apply marketing to a non-commercial field, the people in that field didn’t like it. They are always trying to find some nicer way to refer to it. In Ottawa, we have a National Arts Centre and many years ago they established a marketing department to market it – and do you know what they called it? ‘Audience development’ department. Similarly with ‘public diplomacy’, it seems to be a more agreeable term. There is an overlap if you define public diplomacy very very strictly. There would be some differences, there are some activities that diplomats would do that marketers would normally not do but that’s about it.

My compliments to the ICP Forum for another great interview! It seems Greece is finally grasping the need and importance of managing its country brand!

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