Spain, a Country in Search of an Image

At the global level, Spain could define itself as the country that has Zara style. “We are not the best when it comes to any one attribute but, collectively and altogether, we offer excellent value added,” says Julio Cerviño, professor of the Carlos III University in Madrid.

 

A clear and complete image of what it means to be “Spanish” has yet to be created or reaffirmed. Such an image would facilitate the global presence of Spanish products, companies and institutions. The current image is distorted, and a new image has been slow to take its place after the country underwent rapid change in the second half of the twentieth century.

 

Although it is clear that an image of Spain exists, in many countries that image is a distorted one. “I believe that the image is very much below the economic and socio-cultural reality of Spain today,” notes Cerviño. For Gildo Seisdedos, an expert in urban marketing at the Instituto de Empresa, Spain’s brand image is still emerging. It is associated with “classical conservative values along with traditional themes that have a very direct relationship with Andalusia – sunlight, beaches, flamenco dancing, and bullfighting.”

 

Negative Stereotypes

 

In Europe, Spain is identified with sunlight, beaches, and fun. In the U.S. market, the word “Spanish” is synonymous with “Hispanic.” “Because we share the same language, they confuse ‘Spanish’ with ‘Hispanic,’” says Seisdedos. Latin Americans have a much clearer idea, in part because of their cultural ties from the past.

 

In Latin America, the image of Spain is a product of history. The key facts are the Conquest of Latin America by Spain and its colonization by Spain; local populations that are, to one degree or another, a mixture of Spanish and indigenous peoples; an insufficient desire by Spaniards to plant deep roots in new territories of Latin America; the Spanish Civil War; and the dictatorship of Franco. Most Latinos have a hard time vaulting themselves into the so-called “first world” because of their historical heritage, which was largely derived from their Spanish colonial legacy.

 

Experts say that any improvement in the image of Spain could make it possible to remake the country’s image elsewhere in the world. If Spain can break down ignorance about what it generally means to be ‘Hispanic,’ it can export its image as a democratic society, a country in which the rules of the game have been strengthened and a modern social structure has taken root. Doing so would spread a new concept of Spain in the Latin American market. As it is, the image that Latinos have of Spain is full of dramatic contrasts. On the one hand, Spain has been considered a modern country ever since its transition to post-Franco democracy. On the other hand, Spain has a reputation for being unreliable.

 

Outside these three markets, the image of the Spanish brand is not a realistic one. “These other markets have a more distant awareness of Spain that begins with stereotypes created over the course of time, and at a distance. As a result, it is critical to develop Spain’s global image,” says Cerviño. This contrast between the reality of today’s Spain and its widespread image has negative repercussions abroad. Who has the most distorted image? “Americans and people in many Southeast Asian countries,” responds Cerviño. “Less so in Japan, because Japanese tourists travel more frequently to Spain, and there is clearly a tendency toward learning about Spain. Developing an accurate view of Spain in the United States should be a key for Spain’s competitiveness and its image,” notes Cerviño. In order to tackle that goal, he suggests using “policies coordinated by all public agencies, both state-run and autonomous, along with plans sustained by realistic budgets. “Spain is a country that needs to spend a lot of money on promoting itself, but it will be worth the effort.”

 

Seisdedos believes that there are two ways to transport the Spanish brand into foreign countries — “through advertising and through other activities that deploy the Spanish brand.” The problem is that Spain is a very sophisticated brand, he continues.

 

According to Cerviño, Spain has used a sophisticated branding strategy in foreign markets only when it comes to tourism.  “This is a key question that must be on the agenda of senior government bureaucrats and even at the top levels of the Royal Household,” the body that administers affairs of state for the king of Spain.

 

Experts warn that these efforts must be addressed one step at a time. Spain needs to begin by dealing with pre-existing perceptions and, little by little, building on them to strengthen the image of Spain and make it more realistic. “In this globalized world, we need to be in the major leagues when it comes to business, corporate activity, and branding. To be viewed as [a country that is] entertaining and generally happy is something positive but it is not enough. The ideal thing would be if we managed to be viewed as a country that is entertaining and happy, but also one that is managing large enterprises and leading global brands.”

 

Cerviño is confident that today’s Spain can project such an image. This “image is connected with its reality, and it would be surprising for the entire world. And it would set a fresh and new example of how the country is moving forward.”

 

At the moment, Spanish companies are leveraging their desire for growth and globalization as their letters of introduction.

 

What value added can the Spanish brand offer? “It is a business style that is modern, efficient and serious, but also relaxed and flexible,” notes Cerviño. “Think of it as sort of a ‘sunny business.’ Nowadays, there are many market sectors where we can offer a good trade-off between quality and price. These include textile manufacturing, banking, telecommunications, machine tools, home furnishings, construction, soft drinks…” Seisdedos calls this the New Spain. “Our economic potential is full of creativity, thanks to advertising campaigns that launch a new [corporate] image and to progress in a broad spectrum of economic activities.” For Seisdedos, Spain is a “young country where innovation and creativity are indispensable variables for a dynamic and happy country where you work to live, rather than live to work. At the same time, this is a Western country where there are not a great number of inequalities.” Seisdedos says that the image of Spain should be a balance of the spontaneous and new, on the one hand and Spain’s membership in the ‘old Europe,’ on the other hand.

 

Experts point out that a brand is not everything for everyone, but that it offers something for everyone. A brand is more than just a logo. It can communicate the wealth of a country. Consistently paying attention to all points of contact between the brand and the public in critical for transmitting a strong and complete image of the country. Experts agree that there are many versions of brand known as ‘Spain,’ not one unique brand that applies throughout the world. The components of that image include its cultural riches, the personality of its people, the innovation of its companies, and its natural resources.

 

Several corporate brands can act as ambassadors for the overall Spanish brand: Telefónica in telecommunications, Freixenet in sparkling wines, Santander in banking and Real Madrid in sports. These brands set standards and, as leaders, they provide incentives for the development of their sector.

 

Defining the Spanish Brand

 

To create and solidify a consistent image of Spain, experts suggest that it is vital to have synergy between the political contributions of institutions and the people who run the famous Spanish brands that set standards throughout the world. Nowadays, Spanish companies are characterized by a desire for growth and globalization. First of all, Cerviño notes, “you need to have motivation and excitement in your management teams. This is a reality that exists today, but it did not exist during the 1970s and the 1980s.” Seisdedos goes further, noting that the first step is to clearly define the meaning of “Spanish.” “Finding this definition is a very old problem, and it continues to be so today. It is also a very delicate political subject” (because of territorial problems in Spain).” Arriving at this definition can provide Spain with an advantage or it can represent a threat because “although some people feel that this goal is appealing because it would foster more diversity, others feel that it could disorient and weaken the country’s overall brand, especially those people who operate under the protective umbrella of the country’s more representative brands.”

 

For Spanish companies that are thinking about globalizing their brand, experts suggest these keys to survival: “You have to leverage public recognition and figure out how to make your brand highly consistent. You also need to create an exclusive positioning for your brand managers, while also giving them enough flexibility to adapt themselves to the new market.” The positive characteristics of Spanish companies are “their flexibility, adaptability to their environment and a willingness to try to adapt themselves to different cultures. And, to an increasing degree, they have a higher level of professionalism and organizational skills required for creating management teams that handle such problems as technology and languages,” notes Cerviño.

 

How can Spain neutralize the negative stereotypes? “The bull (which is a Spanish stereotype) has several positive characteristics such as nobility, energy, strength and bravery. The logo of Merrill Lynch is a bull. When the New York stock exchange is moving higher, they call it a “bull market.” In other words, we have to turn negatives into positives. The windmills of La Mancha in [Cervantes’] ‘Don Quixote’ are a sign of both self-sufficiency and underdevelopment. Such stereotypes are undeniable. However, we have to turn them around — for example, by using windmills as a symbol of Spain’s current leadership in [the development of] wind power,” says Cerviño.

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