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State of the Nation: Can 'Brand Australia' embrace a "one and free" positioning?

By Katie Rigg-Smith | Chief Strategy Officer

January 17, 2023 | 7 min read

In the latest post for The State of the Nation series, Katie Rigg-Smith, chief strategy officer, WPP Australia & New Zealand share her thoughts on Brand Australia's unique opportunity to abandon its 'young and free' positioning and embrace the land's cultural heritage and indigenous population to be 'one and free'.

Uluru Australia

/ Image by Angelo Giordano from Pixabay

Katie Rigg-Smith WPP

The annual WPP BAV Best Countries study measures global perceptions of countries. Perceptions that drive GDP growth, trade, travel, and foreign investment. In short, it is a real opportunity to see how ‘brand’ Australia is perceived from an outside perspective.

The study is a ranking and analysis project by BAV® Group, a data-research unit of global marketing communications company WPP; U.S. News & World Report; and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

And this year didn’t disappoint. Australia fared well, ranking 7th out of 85 countries, though down from 5th place in 2021. There are a couple of new entrants to the top ten, which now includes France and Denmark. Switzerland sits at number one.

The positives continue to reinforce what we Aussies pride ourselves on; quality of life, family-friendly, happiness, scenic, a place for adventure, a place others would like to live.

The negatives also reinforce some of what we probably instinctively know; we aren’t seen as a leader, affordable, politically influential, agile, innovative, or sexy.

Clearly, there is work to be done. An opportunity to reframe how we are perceived, particularly when it comes to innovation. In truth, we are more inventive than the world believes us to be.

In and amongst the highs and lows are some interesting winds of change. We have seen significant shifts in key areas.

One of the areas is the increase in heritage up from 43.01 in 2021 to 52.03 in 2022, and an increase in ‘has a rich history’, which despite being a low figure, has increased from 2.55 at its lowest to 12.67 today. Again, it is a shift in perception we hope to see continue.

Australia is one of the youngest countries in the world. So, by very definition, the notion of ‘heritage’; traditions, languages and landmarks inherited from past generations has always eluded us until now.

Our acknowledgement of our indigenous heritage is gaining momentum. More and more Australians are beginning to respect the unique connection with the Country that has existed here in Australia for over 60,000 years.

The world is beginning to view Australia as a country with a history. We are no longer ‘young’ and free but ‘one’ and free.

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What is encouraging in the data is that traditional western notions of heritage, museums and built environments are beginning to erode, and we are seeing that heritage can mean something entirely different.

Another area of positive movement is around how others view Australian culture. Measures such as ‘cultural influence’ are up from 45 to 58.7. Having ‘culturally significant entertainment’ has increased from 23.7 to 51.34, and having many ‘cultural attractions’ is also up from 39.92 to 56.32.

Perhaps the past two years of being grounded have forced a positive reappraisal of our nation. People are hearing the stories we share about who we are, dating back 60,000 years, beyond the superficial and stereotypical images of Australia.

Credit to Tourism Australia and the individual States who have kept Australia top of mind during the pandemic.

If we take the Best Countries' data and we compare it to lead business indicators, we can see that ‘cultural influence’ is the number one driver, not only of tourism but also of business investment decisions for a country. It is hugely important that we see our cultural influence on the rise, which is the kind of momentum we don’t want to take for granted.

The world is looking at us with fresh eyes. As a county, we have a richer tapestry than we probably realise. It feels like a special moment in time for us now to use the power of the stories we tell about ourselves and grow beyond the cliches the world usually sees.

Rarely do countries get a second chance to make a first impression. For most countries, the concrete sets, and it is difficult to shift perceptions. Australia finds itself at a moment in time. The world has seen a newly exposed layer. One that has depth and soul. One that goes beyond a beautiful country with enviable weather.

One that acknowledges the oldest living culture in the world. Now that is worth flying twenty-two hours on a plane to come and see.

Katie Rigg-Smith is the chief strategy officer for WPP Australia & New Zealand

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