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How does the performance of a national football team impact the external perception of a nation brand? – Part 2

This post is part of a series about “How does the performance of a national football team impact on the external perception of a nation brand?” It’s based on the dissertation I wrote for my MSc. You can download it here. M.Sc in Marketing – Dissertation

The first post, published on Monday 7th June, explained why the World Cup is the most important stage for changing the perception of a nation brand and how I came to the results. This post is focussing on how the actual performance of a national football team – winning or losing – impacts on how people perceive the nation brand.

Let’s kick off…

Team performance has greater impact on lesser known nations

The performance of a national football team has a higher impact on the external perception of less well known nations, nations with a lower status on the world stage. This is mainly due to the fact that the audience has had little, if any, previous interaction with such a nation and has not accumulated sufficient awareness, perception and knowledge about the nation to create a stereotype.

The element of surprise is seen as the biggest impact factor, albeit a diminishing one as the world gets smaller with the growth in social and globalised media: individuals know more and more about countries and nations and also about most of the outstanding players in the world. This is mainly due to the extensive coverage club football receives via the various media channels. And as the star players are playing with the best known clubs they are seen and experienced outside their national football team. And so the building of stereotypes begins.

Lasting change through successful participation

Taking part in the World Cup leads to lasting change in the external perception even if it is not followed up by further nation branding activity. Repeated successful participation will result in a stable reputation. The host nation of the tournament will develop the strongest perceptions of the participating nations as the citizens of both countries experience much closer interaction. The local media of the host country will also focus on the behaviour of different supporter groups. Subsequent nation branding activities by the less well known nations will yield highest return when targeted at the host nation. If a nation wishes to really take advantage of this effect integration into other nation branding activities is crucial.

Team performance has a lower impact on well known nations

The impact of the performance of a national football team on the external perception of a nation brand is low for already well known nations. If Germany or Brazil should lose in the first round of this World Cup it wouldn’t alter their external perception – they’d still be seen as football superpowers and the prescribed characteristics and attributes wouldn’t change. Internally it’d obviously be a huge disappointment.

If Germany or Brazil should be victorious in the tournament the external perception also wouldn’t change, but it would reinforce and increase the recall and interest in the country.

If the USA wins the World Cup in Germany, it wouldn’t alter the perception either, as the USA is already very well known by most of the world’s populace.

In all the examples above the reputation – the brand – already exists in the mind of the spectators and will be reinforced or influenced on a permanent basis by the well known players and football clubs of these nations. The influence on their brand is consequently far more consistent as they’ll play more games and receive more frequent media coverage.

However, change can still happen, even to the perception of a well known nation brand: a brand has to permanently provide positive reinforcement and prove its brand values again and again. When a crisis occurs, the response needs to be in line with the brand on all dimensions to limit the damage and reinforce the brand.

Gradual change can be achieved, but careful what you wish for

For well known nations the performance of the national football team has only a minimal impact on the external perception, as perceptions and stereotypes are already in existence. However, gradual change can be achieved as these nations can be well known through other nation brand activities besides football.

There’s a clear link between external perception and internal behaviour and perception, which supports the fact that perception of an established nation can change. For example, if a national football team of a formerly successful nation suddenly does not perform as successfully anymore, it will impact on the self-image and confidence of a nation. This, in turn, will be felt in the interaction with other nations and will therefore alter the external perception. Obviously, this change will only happen very gradually and the effect would need to overwrite any other positive, perception reaffirming events.

Generally, it can be said, that principles discovered for the change in external perception also apply for the internal perception – the more well known a nation, the slower the change in perceptions.

Nation brands need to consider carefully how they want to change their perception and what the consequences will be. For example, a couple of years ago the German government thought to change the image of Germans as being boring and without sense of humour. That can backfire: Using an advertising campaign and repeatedly stating that Germans are not boring can highlight the very perception it wants to change. At the same time, the boring image also reinforces the reliable and trustworthy image that is the essence of the German brand positioning of quality engineering. Changing this external perception might erode these core brand values.

The next and 3rd post will be published on Friday, the first day of the World Cup 2010. It’ll focus on victory versus style and will revisit the performance of the magical team that was Brazil in 1982 which such artists such as Zico, Eder and Socrates.

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