Professional profile of David Haigh, CEO of Brand Finance PLC

Who is Who

David Haigh

David is the CEO and founder of Brand Finance Plc. He has worked in the area of branded business, brand, and intangible asset valuation since 1991. He specialised entirely in the field after becoming the Director of Brand Valuation for Interbrand in 1995. He subsequently left Interbrand in 1996 to launch Brand Finance.

David is a passionate writer and has authored many articles for the marketing and financial press on nation branding and brand valuation, published in numerous newspapers and magazines, such as: Financial Times, Accountancy Age, and Marketing Week. He has also lectured on the topic of brand valuation for Harvard, Chicago, and London Business Schools.

David graduated from Bristol University with an English degree, qualified as a Chartered Accountant with Price Waterhouse in London, and obtained a postgraduate diploma in Marketing from the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

Q&A with David Haigh - Meaning and Valuation of Nation Brands and Soft Power

What does it take to effectively value and understand the brand of a nation? Is it as straightforward as branding a product, or are there unique challenges and methodologies involved?

In this interview, David explores the complexities of nation branding and the importance of soft power. He also discusses the methodologies his firm uses to measure nation brand value and soft power. He highlights the evolution of nation branding, noting its growing importance for governments and businesses. David also explains the dual strategies governments use to enhance economic performance through nation and corporate branding.

[This interview was first published in 2020 and is available here]

David, do you remember the first time you heard about the idea of nations as “brands”? Who or what got you interested?

The first time I heard about nations as brands was when I spoke to a man called Simon Anholt. As far as I’m concerned, he singlehandedly put nation branding on the map about 20 years ago.

How did Brand Finance first get involved in the world of nation branding?

We got involved because Simon Anholt produced a report every year which was a market research study of perceptions of nation brands. He was very keen to see whether or not he could apply it to economic values and to demonstrate the value of having a nation brand. So, he asked Brand Finance to produce the first league table of nation brand values, which we did about 15 years ago.

As CEO of Brand Finance you have been advising numerous places on their branding strategy and are helping to determine the value of nation brands. How has the field changed over the years?

Well, 20 years ago, when Simon Anholt started talking about nation brands, I think very few governments or businesses took it seriously. However, over the last 20 years, the C-Suite has increasingly begun to realise that brands are proper assets that do add value and that they need to be properly managed and invested in. Within the corporate world, branding is now far more important than it ever was before and even finance directors now take it seriously.

On the governmental side, looking at nations and nation brands, they’re now looking seriously in two directions.

  • Firstly, the way they are looking at the branding of their nation as a whole – many have departments that promote their nation brand because of the benefit that it brings to tourism, the sale of products and services, geographic indications, and other endeavours where nation branding helps the output of that particular country. Many countries – particularly developing countries – are using nation branding as a means of strengthening their economic performance.
  • Secondly, a lot of governments are creating policies to stimulate the development of individual corporate brands in their economies because they perceive it to be something that will generate higher overall economic GDP.
So, national governments are engaged in two policies – nation branding at the macro level and individual product branding at the micro-level.

"Many countries – particularly developing countries – are using nation branding as a means of strengthening their economic performance."

How does Brand Finance approach nation brand valuation?

Well, where it comes to nation brand valuation, I think it’s fair to say that Brand Finance is the only firm that is doing it and has been doing it consistently for the last 15 years. Within our long track record, we have adopted the approaches that have been pioneered by Simon, where we look at the 4 key areas: Tourism, Products & Services, Foreign Direct Investment, and Individual Perceptions of nation brands.

For example, Singapore has invested heavily in the reputation of its citizens – they are very well educated, speak excellent English, and have high ethical standards. Worldwide, there is a very strong preference for Singaporeans, who are known as being excellent employees and model citizens. Furthermore, Singapore is an excellent place for foreign direct investment, tourism, and people buy products and services from Singapore because they believe they can trust them.

We have always looked at those 4 dimensions when measuring the performance of economies, and we then segment the brand value according to primary, secondary, and tertiary elements.

  • Primary is things like agricultural products, where both product and nation branding on those products tends to be quite low.
  • Secondary economic activity refers to a specific industry, like car manufacturing.
  • Tertiary is service-based, such as education services and so on.
The truth is, I think this is the one that adds the most value – if your economy relies on services such as accountancy, law, or strategy consulting, a very high added value arises, and the further up that chain you go, the more important branding becomes.

For individual companies, branding is the company’s branding and also the country’s branding.

This is one of the challenges that China has had – they have been the workshop of the world for 20 years, with most things being made there, but they’ve always been very reluctant to put “Made in China” on products. And yet, many of the world’s best technological products, such as Apple devices, are made in China.

What is the link between nation branding and soft power?

According to our definition, soft power is a perceptual and attitudinal measurement of a country. We ask questions such as: how well do people know a country? Do they think it’s influential? Does it have a good reputation?

Those are the 3 key measures, and under that, we ask around 30 questions across 7 pillars to gauge whether people think the country is strong in each pillar, which are:

  1. Business & Trade
  2. Governance
  3. International Relations
  4. Culture & Heritage
  5. Media & Communication
  6. Education & Science
  7. People & Values
The stronger you are on individual pillars, the more your overall reputation will rise, but you also might be very strong on certain pillars, meaning that your economy will be better off in that particular area. If you’re known as a cultural icon, people will be coming to your museums and galleries, but may not be necessarily buying your cars.

Therefore, the research that we do in soft power is diagnostic for how the world thinks about this particular country, and we then connect it through depending on how healthy the GDP of that country is. We would expect the GDP to grow in those areas that the country is seen to be outperforming everyone else.

Soft power being a key area of interest for Brand Finance – why does it matter so much to nations around the world?

When we are looking at individual countries, we look at 3 dimensions of their power – economic power, hard (or military) power, and thirdly, soft power. The definition of soft power is a country’s ability to persuade others to do things in their favour rather than using hard force.

If you take a country like the US, which is extremely strong in both economic and hard power, this does not translate into soft power. While it used to be extremely strong in this area, it has gradually declined as a result of policy errors, and in the current election, we see some of the Democrats, such as Barack Obama, suggesting that its soft power has declined under President Donald Trump because it has not been a good global citizen.

In China, which has been rapidly developing its economic and hard power as part of its foreign policy, soft power has historically lagged, but the country is now becoming very conscious that it needs to catch up in that area.

Having strong soft power can be very helpful for a nation, as small countries like New Zealand and Ireland have demonstrated.

How can soft power be measured?

While our measures of soft power are pretty comprehensive, we would like all countries in the world to buy into our research so that we are able to increase our sample size – last year our study spanned 55,000 people, which will increase to 75,000 this year, but we are researching in over 100 countries.

If we want a wholly comprehensive view into what people think about countries – which can then be fed back to them to help with their policy-making – the bigger and more robust the study is, the better.

Which nations do you find especially remarkable in how they have improved (or damaged) their soft power?

New Zealand definitely stands out as the star of improving its soft power. The international viewpoint on their Prime Minister is extremely positive, and this will undoubtedly increase further with the manner in which the country has dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ireland has also done extremely well and punches way above its weight. Now that the UK has left the EU, Ireland is the only English-speaking country in Europe, it is not militaristic, it’s very well represented in all international bodies, and there is a huge diaspora.

I think it’s also fair to say that soft power in China is much stronger than it used to be and that some in the developed world would think. There may still be some suspicion about China in the West, but in a lot of other countries, people are just grateful for the good things China does for them.

I would also say that in the Middle East, the UAE is strong and is consistently getting stronger with things like the mission to Mars and its engagement with many other institutions such as the World Government Conference.

While I don’t particularly want to talk about the ones that are doing quite badly, I think it’s quite widely trailed that, due to Donald Trump’s extremely isolationist view of the US, their soft power is declining.

In our interview with Kevin Bowler of Tourism New Zealand he mentions that maintaining authenticity of a destination brand over time is a key challenge. From your experience, which issues do destination marketers and branders struggle most with?

I think the biggest issue for destination marketers and branders continues to be figuring out a way to justify the return on investment to politicians and policy makers.

The equation used to be relatively simple: x media spend = y visitors or investment. It’s no longer that simple.

However, there has been some excellent work done by our friends at Tourism Economics to demonstrate that destination marketing is not only linked to but actually helps stimulate economic growth. It’s work like this that will help educate policymakers as to the value and importance of destination marketing initiatives.

About Brand Finance

Brand Finance Plc is the world’s leading independent brand valuation consultancy. We advise strongly branded organisations on how to maximise their value through the effective management of brands and intangible assets.

Founded in 1996, Brand Finance has performed thousands of branded business, brand and intangible asset valuations worth trillions of dollars.

Brand Finance's services support a variety of business needs:

  • Technical valuations for accounting, tax and legal purposes
  • Valuations in support of commercial transactions (acquisitions, divestments, licensing and joint ventures) involving different forms of intellectual property
  • Valuations as part of a wider mandate to deliver value-based marketing strategy and tracking, thereby bridging the gap between marketing and finance

Our clients include international brand owners, tax authorities, Intellectual Property (IP) lawyers, marketers, and investment banks. Our work is frequently peer-reviewed by the big four audit practices and our reports have also been accepted by various regulatory bodies, including the UK Takeover Panel.

Brand Finance is headquartered in London and has a network of international offices in over 20 countries worldwide.

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