Friday, November 9, 2007

Jamaica might have something to learn from Switzerland

Just got back from Interlaken, where I spoke at a conference organised by Promarca. Switzerland is one of those very few places whose identity is so powerful, so positive and so universally understood and admired, that the main task facing Swiss industry, Swiss people and the Swiss government is not how to improve or even maintain their national image, but to protect it against contamination from sub-standard products, firms from other countries claiming to be 'Swiss-made', companies using the Swiss flag without authority, and many other related threats.

Only a few other places have this kind of reputational power: New York (you can put "I ♥ New York" on a t-shirt and it's immediately worth more money), Amsterdam, London, Italy, France, and that's about it. Most other places on earth face a much harder task: how to earn that kind of profile in the first place.

There are a number of other countries out there whose natural, national identity is also well worth protecting, even if their "brand image" isn't quite as perfect as Switzerland's. Jamaica is a prime example: for decades, the sounds of Reggae and the colours of Rasta and all the rest of that extraordinary country's rich national identity have been loved, admired, recognised around the world .... and then stolen.

Jamaica has scarcely ever benefited economically from its national identity: the American and Spanish-owned resorts make most of the money from its tourism, the foreign sports shoe and clothing companies that decide when Rasta is cool make the money from its colours and images, the foreign record companies make the money from its music - and the extraordinary thing is that Jamaica keeps producing the culture without ever enjoying more than a small portion of its benefits.

As Switzerland figures out how to protect and manage its natural intellectual assets around the world, a host of countries like Jamaica might find that a very interesting case to study, and perhaps to emulate.