Place branding is worth a lot because it costs a lot to create and maintain. Cities, regions and countries around the world pour taxpayers money into promoting themselves to attract investment.Scotland is fortunate in having a fundamentally positive image in Germany with brand capital that would be impossible to buy. Unfortunately, though, nothing has been done in Scotland to understand exactly what this image is and how best to capitalize on it. 2014 will be the ideal year to have a go at benefiting from the “free” marketing generated in the German media by the political debate in the UK about Scottish independence.
First, it is crucial to clear away the Scots’ own misconceptions and to see ourselves as others, in this case the Germans, see us. The first myth to explode is the idea that anybody outside of Scotland gives a monkeys whether we invented the television, the telephone or Grand Theft Auto. It is just not relevant. Obviously, as well, the whole tartan thing just passes the Germans by as the Scottish granny factor only applies in the places to which Scots emigrated. Interestingly though, people here have picked up on the myth of the skinflint Scot; but this is because the Germans are great savers themselves so thrift is seen as a really positive attribute.“Plucky braveheart” probably best sums up the image of the Scot in Germany. The film that most connect with Scotland is not “Braveheart” but “Highlander” which appeals to the deeply romantic German soul. And the fact that Sean Connery has a starring role in the film certainly helps.
The “plucky” part comes from 2 sources: an often surprisingly detailed understanding of Scottish history and the centuries of conflict with England and, secondly, from football. Germans love football and, fortunately for us, they haven’t really noticed that the Scottish team doesn’t qualify any more for international competitions. Most have a memory of hard-battling teams from this small nation going out in a blaze of glory and supported by woad-daubed, kilted fans who were always in good spirits – in contrast to English fans.
When I worked for the Scottish Government in the 90’s promoting Scotland for investment by German and Austrian companies we carried out extensive market research to benchmark the location against the competition.
So we asked a few hundred decision-makers within companies about their general impressions of Scotland and also how they saw the country as potential manufacturing location for their business.There was close to zero perception of Scotland as an industrial location with only residual awareness of shipbuilding (“Silicon Glen” was one of the myths that hadn’t made it to Germany). That was the first problem. The second was the fact that many of these German businessmen loved Scotland as a “wilderness” holiday destination and didn’t want to mess it up with their factories. (The Germans still love Scotland and last year spent around £140m on holidays there.)
The good news was that these individuals mostly had a surprisingly definite and thoroughly positive perception of our country as being unspoilt with attractive landscapes and traditions, friendly people and, of course, whisky. In our marketing campaigns for Locate in Scotland we tried very hard to “convert” this positive view into investment pounds but it was a struggle. You can change people’s minds to a certain extent and we did but it is very expensive to achieve. Also, as soon as the campaign is over, they then revert to their default position.However, the fundamentally positive view in Germany of Scotland and its people continues and, if anything, has increased as a result of improved access to Scotland by way of direct flights from continental Europe. There is, therefore, a tremendous opportunity to capitalise on the goodwill here towards things Scottish.
Manufacturing is no longer a topic of interest – that stays in Germany or moves to China – so what can we sell? Scottish companies desperately need to engage more in foreign markets. 70% of current exports go to England and, whatever the outcome in September, that is not a sustainable situation for a country which is so geographically challenged. And doing business in Europe’s largest and wealthiest market on your doorstep sounds like a reasonably good idea. All sectors have something to offer: from food and drink to financial services to digital start-ups. If Scottish football is no longer able to represent Scotland in Europe then Scottish business has to take on the challenge.