Foreign sells: Why the country-of-origin effect is an important brand lever

Colorful advertisements, television ads and tourism: foreign influences in the major growth markets are getting ever stronger – and they are leaving a clear mark on the perception of local consumers. In addition, the economic opening up of these markets through their WTO entry and bilateral trade agreements are flushing more and more Western brands onto local shelves. The more respected the country of origin, the greater the propensity to buy. Sometimes the foreign brand origin proves to be an important factor in the international brand development. Niklas Schaffmeister (Managing Partner Globeone) and Florian Haller (CEO Serviceplan Group) explain why this is the case and they elaborate on additional advantages of this positioning concept. Read more about this in our new Springer publication “Successful brand development in the major emerging markets”.

Since the 1970s, research has consistently shown that consumers intuitively attribute positive or negative characteristics to a company or brand when they know the country of origin. This results in a so-called image transfer: associations with the country of origin are transferred to the company or the brand. This country of origin effect contributes significantly to a kind of “subconscious brand DNA” and therefore continues to play an important role in today’s marketing.

Two facets of the country of origin: production and design

For consumers, the non-domestic origin of trademarks is usually indicated by a reference to the country of origin. Sometimes the country of origin is further differentiated into the country of manufacture and the country in which the product was developed (country of design). In principle, the country of origin is the country in which the group headquarter that markets the product or brand is located. However, the product does not necessarily have to be manufactured there.

A country of origin perceived as positive has a positive effect on brands, for example by perceiving the quality of a brand as significantly higher. Much evidence suggests that certain countries of origin increase the prestige factor of brands. The following three factors show why the country of origin plays such an important role in international brand development – especially in the major growth markets.

#1 The country of origin as a distinctive feature of brands

As a rule, consumers associate specific ideas with different countries. For example, the USA is considered to be very innovative and technology-oriented. For brands, it can be much more effective to use this existing knowledge of the country of origin effect than to communicate the same qualities and characteristics individually and without reference to the country of origin – for example through expensive advertising.

#2 Growing claims are tied to foreign brands

In many growth markets, foreign brands are used to demonstrate social advancement: they are more expensive, not yet very widespread and are associated with high prestige. The preference for foreign brands is usually pronounced in product categories where the country of origin is supposed to have a higher level of competence. The preference for foreign brands is increasing in step with income. Against this background, the emphasis on brand origin offers a cost-saving and effective opportunity to attribute to a foreign brand such characteristics as quality, flawless functionality and excellent design.

#3 Limited availability increases demand

Many emerging markets are opening up slowly, which in turn means that foreign brands are only available to a limited extent. Brands from Western countries in particular therefore enjoy a high reputation in these growth markets due to their relative novelty and scarcity. In addition, many local products cannot yet keep up with the products developed in the West.

“Made in Germany”: Germany as a favorite

Among the countries currently benefiting most from a positive country of origin image are Germany, the USA, Japan and Switzerland, due to their tradition, excellent quality and state-of-the-art technology or engineering. “Made in Germany”, for example, has been regarded for decades as a quality feature that communicates prestige and reputation in a great measure. The advantage: the country of origin image cannot really be imitated by competitors and is therefore a sustainable differentiation factor. For global marketers, this clearly means that the better the COO image, the more clearly the origin should be communicated.

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