A few weeks ago I blogged about whether the Winter Olympics in Sochi would be a bust for Russia. Since then we have witnessed the downward spiral of Russia’s international image and reputation – not from terrorism, corruption or incompetency, but from the actions of its leader and his nationalistic supporters.
With the decline of the Cold War, some of the terms that have been in common use in international circles have been soft power, public diplomacy, and nation branding. But, so far Russia has fumbled its attempts at nation branding and soft diplomacy while trying to reshape its identity to separate it from its Communist past – and build trust as a global player. The Sochi Olympics is an example of these attempts at soft power and brand-building before a global audience.
The most important foundation that any brand must have is trust. A brand is simply a promise of value that must be consistently delivered. For customers to believe the promise of a brand, whether it is a soft drink, sneaker or country, it must be founded on trust. While Russia may have presented a veneer of trust to the world over the past 23 years as an emerging nation brand, the actions by Mr. Putin in recent weeks have destroyed international trust in Brand Russian.
There is no doubt that Mr. Putin’s actions may have dealt a black-eye to Russia’s tourism prospects. But much deeper damage has been done to Russia’s brand in terms of it being a trusted destination for investors, banking, manufacturers, business location and talented people. All of these are vital if Russia is to develop as a technologically advanced, modern and appealing society.
Even if Putin takes no further action in either Crimea or Ukraine, he has already dealt critical wounds to Brand Russia that will last for generations, and cause prospective tourists, investors, corporations, talented workers, and governments to take a few steps back for quite some time. Afterall, there are better options they can rely on.
We can only wonder how FIFA and the 2018 corporate sponsors are feeling about the decision to host the 2018 Soccer World Cup in Russia and how their own highly respected (and trusted) brands may be tarnished by association with the event and Russia. Trust is a fragile thing, and many may wonder if they’ll be found guilty by association.