America is to Apple as China is to…

These were some thoughts I shared on Quora recently on the topic of countries and brands, around the July 4th weekend. The question asked was around what it means for a country to have a brand and if so what brand was China’s? Inevitably my arguments revolved around (you guessed right): Apple.

To me, much like everyday brands associated with products, a country too has a brand value commensurate to the set of values associated to its core identity.

To me:

America is Apple. The monarchy can be represented by IBM, Microsoft and Google over the years.

China is Walmart.

For a brand to stand the test of time (in a world with choices), the brand proposition should be based on core values that are ideals people aspire towards, and are not necessarily product related nor can they be commoditized (think Xerox).

With regards to America and China: America’s brand value will always remain – freedom. Apple (under the guidance of Steve Jobs) ably portrayed themselves as the brand that stood for freedom against the tyranny of IBM.

Check out the quintessential 1984 Apple Ad (embedded above).

Apple had a shot at becoming the super-power only to see them relegated once again as a rebel force with Microsoft taking the crown. Even now (despite their leadership) they can still be portrayed as battling the institution called Google.

Apple’s brand values will always remain freedom, innovation, and design. And, if they steer clear of it, they’re bound to fail (as they did under a non-Jobs leadership).

On the other hand, as Ashton Lee explains in his answer to this question, China’s brand proposition today is of low cost, cheap goods, much like Walmart is today. These are not values that are necessary aspirational. That said, post-Olympics, the world has started perceiving China differently, and time will tell what direction their brand will evolve towards over time.

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  1. Hugh Isaacs II

    Also what can you say you’ve been freed from with Apple?

    I won’t say that Microsoft is freedom, but it must be noted that with Microsoft software you’ve an option of different types of hardware with their OS (even Apple hardware) and with Apple software you’ve only one hardware manufacturer choice.

  2. Hugh Isaacs II

    You really just called Apple “freedom” in 2011?
    I find that alarming.

    I won’t say Apple is a bad company, but I don’t see freedom as a company that does something like this:
    or this

    And if you’re talking of the Apple of yesteryear, their products contained IBM processors for a while after that, I don’t get it.

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