Both Japan and South Korea saw their products rise in esteem over a relatively short period of time. Now Japanese products score higher than U.S. or German products in some countries, including China and Saudi Arabia. In recent years, a number of countries, including Portugal, Estonia, and Poland, have employed branding experts to help them project a better image. Finland even undertook a campaign to enhance its image as a center of high-tech innovation, hoping that a better national image would help its high-tech companies in the U.S. market. But countries must realize branding is more than hype, it must be backed by reality. Consequently, major changes in country brand image can take 20 years to achieve.
Firms that suffer from a negative country of origin commonly settle for lower prices to offset perceptions of lower quality. However, there are a number of strategies that can improve buyer perception of the quality of products that suffer from a negative country-of-origin effect:
- Production may be moved to a country with a positive country-of-origin effect. If this is too difficult, key parts can be sourced from such countries. Kia’s Sor-ento is assembled in Korea but relies on high-profile brand-name components from European and U.S. suppliers to boost its image overseas.
- A negative country-of-origin bias may be offset by using a channel that distributes already accepted complimentary products. A study determined that consumers dining in a Mexican-themed restaurant were significantly more likely to buy Mexican wine than were consumers in other restaurants.
Communication and persistence can eventually pay off. When Arçelik attempted to introduce its Beko brand washing machines to the French furniture chain Conforama, the French sales staff objected to displaying the Turkish product. Then Valerie Lubineau, Beko’s head of marketing in France, revealed that the firm had been manufacturing Conforama’s respected in-house brand for years. Eight months later, the new Beko machines were outselling their European rivals. Firms that consistently provide good products and service can even change buyers’ attitudes toward their country of origin. A study showed industrial buyers who were experienced with suppliers from Latin America rated these countries higher than buyers who had had no such business dealings.
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