Swiss secrets – how Switzerland builds brands

Those pesky Swiss are at it again. In a tongue-in cheek June post, stuff I ranted a bit about how I was mad at Switzerland for being so much better than my country Canada at building global brands. Well now my favourite brand strategy blog in the world has taken up the cause with this piece. So here are 5 Swiss secrets that I’ll distill for you.
The Swiss success at branding isn't an accident. It's a culture that they cusltivate.
The Swiss success at branding isn't an accident. It seems to be a culture they cultivate. And you?

1. Sweat the small stuff. Think precision.

Tag heuer

A country can be a great brand. But it isn’t an accident. It takes careful work, pill discipline, and an attention to detail – think of a fine Rolex or Tag Heuer watch. Switzerland is tiny, but by carefully tuning and refining the little gears that run their brand image, they’re ensuring they’ll be winners for generations to come.

2. Refine the recipe. Make it intentional.

The Swiss have thought through all the ingredients of their brand, and the results are published in a fantastic brand manual that speaks for itself. And it’s right there online for the world to see. It is that sense of refinement and building on tradition with consistency that has bred great chocolate and food brands as Nestlé, Toblerone, and LindtToblerone

3. Trust: the logo is just the tip of the Matterhorn

Trust is not spoken. It must be earned through consistent behaviour over time. You can’t just stick a Swiss flag on your product – even if you’re a Swiss company. The Swiss have very stringent rules and a continuing debate around what high level of quality constitutes “Swissness”. Which leads to better products and more trust, and more value for the Swiss trademark. It’s all tied together.

Swiss banks like UBS and Credit Suisse and indeed the whole Swiss financial industry have built their reputations around the brand promises of “stability, privacy and protection of clients’ assets and information“. This has led to recent wrestling matches over the personal information of US tax dodgers. But even if their hands are forced, the Swiss banks do fight tooth and nail for client privacy.

4. The three key tools of the Swiss brand

A great country brand is adaptable, sturdy, and practical. In the case of brand Switzerland, they are building their brand built around three key tools (“pillars” of their brand platform):knife

  • 1) Reality – the country’s real strengths and limitations, both in the sense of real business assets and liabilities, but also in terms of physical location, historical facts, shifting allegiances, and other tangible influences. 
  • 2) Existing perceptions – how the country is perceived abroad – for better and worse. The smart brander draws on positive themes that already exist in the minds of outsiders that only have to be tweaked, not created from scratch.
  • 3) Intangibles – positive, but subjective, forces driving the country’s brand like a track record of innovation; internal attitudes to themselves (and to change); and all the other internal brands that are already successfully trumpeting the idea of the country in the marketplace.

5. Apply the same logic to your brand.

Read those 3 pillars again, and insert “company” or “charity” or “government service” where it says “country”.  Then check out the brand manual linked above.

So ask yourself:How are you doing?

Is your brand running like a Swiss watch, as trusted as a Swiss Bank, as mouth-watering as fine chocolate, or are you just yodelling your customers’ time away on a mountaintop?

5 thoughts on “Swiss secrets – how Switzerland builds brands”

  1. Great piece. I guess when you are not fighting in wars you can focus on kicking ass with your country’s collection of brands. Good strategy…

  2. I didn’t quite know what to do about the other swiss traditions of agressively enforced neutrality (who knew they shot down planes from both sides in WW2?) or the other side of that coin, insularity.

  3. I think the other element that the Swiss have pioneered (especially through their luxury brands) is the addition of a product story. The story behind the making of different product lines for the likes of Tag Heuer etc. has been key. These stories further differentiate and enhance the overall brand at a time when a lot of me-too competition (and in some cases counterfeit) is attempting to steal share and profit.

    1. Oh not just their luxury brands – all these products are underlined with the story, the credibility, and the energy of “Swissness”.
      Love your point about product narrative / story. It’s one of the most important ways of making a brand come alive. It’s like the “George Washington slept here” phenomenon among small hotels / B&Bs in the Eastern US – add a story and you instantly add value (although I always tell my clients to make sure it’s TRUE first!).
      Cheers to Oz from the Great White North – been there twice, but never enough.

  4. I’m pleased that I am not a News Corp, shareholder! With all the on going troubles it is facing in the UK with the now shut down, News of the World. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp based in Delaware; is also facing a legal challenge by its shareholders. Shareholders, as well as investment funds, labor and municipal pension funds are accusing Murdoch of misusing News Corp. assets, by handling the company like a family candy jar, which he raids whenever his appetite strikes. It looks like the trouble are just starting!

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