WEEKEND READ: D-day for Brand Australia

Dragging the chain on climate change could do more than damage the environment – it may also alter our marketing image in the eyes of the rest of the world.

To the casual observer global warming means hurricanes, floods, the homeless and the helpless, the 'inconvenient' Garnaut report and the looming cost to business and the economy.

I’m not arguing for or against the Garnaut report and its findings at all, but I am stunned that no one seems to be looking at how our response to climate change might impact on Brand Australia.

The arguments surrounding Garnaut are based on two main points. The first concerns climate change itself: the physical impact of it, the rate of climate change and what this may mean to the earth. The second point is based around the cost to business and how (un)competitive important industries will be if we introduce an emissions trading scheme in the absence of a broad global agreement. The argument goes that if India and China don’t implement an equivalent ETS we won't be able to compete.

Unless I am missing something this argument is pretty much all about 'cost'. But beware the person who knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing – I can’t help but think that this is merely a lazy un-imaginative way to view something that is extremely significant to all of us.

When I talk about Brand Australia I'm not talking just about tourism – I'm talking about the masterbrand that sits above tourism, technology, industry, manufacturing, and the service industry. This is a universal truth that people inherently understand and is part of the DNA that influences everything we do.

At first I thought that there must be something out there that relates to the brand impact of the ETS but I couldn’t find anything, so I decided to interview 20 industry leaders at CEO or marketing director level and above. The results of the survey showed pretty much no one had read anything about the brand impact on Australia.

All respondents thought there were positive implications for the Australian brand when asked about the impact of leading the globe on an ETS. Most importantly, all thought the brand impact should be considered when evaluating the cost or gain to business.

What does Australia currently stand for on the world stage? Crocodile Dundee? Bikinis? Beaches? Didgeridoos? Barbeques? Many of these perceptions aren’t too far off the mark according to our limited survey. The real question is: what could we stand for? Most of our business leaders argued we should be taking the high ground and leading. Empathetic, innovative, healthy and wealthy were some of the more common adjectives that emerged.

"Reputation, reputation, reputation, oh I have lost my reputation and what remains is bestial”, William Shakespeare famously opined. Yes, Australia has a great reputation for fun, sports, barbeques and beer, but we're missing an opportunity to build a reputation based on leadership, innovation and courage that could give Australia a huge competitive advantage in a global market. The "price struggle” could be left to that mass of undifferentiated countries with thin meaningless brands and useless marketers only capable of competing on cost.

Would Brand Australia greatly benefit from pursuing an aggressive ETS ahead of other countries in our region? Probably, but I don’t know, because this hasn’t even been part of the debate. What I do know is this – strong brands greatly effect the prosperity of companies and certainly countries. Germany stands for efficiency and precision engineering, Japan for technology, NZ for clean and green, sheep and lately the mighty All-Blacks. It's our actions that ultimately determine what we stand for and people pay a premium for brands that fulfil emotional and rational needs and wants.

Why isn’t the Australian brand being considered in the Garnaut report?

To truly address the issue of global warming, do we just use the one dimensional viewpoint of an accountant’s calculator, or should we also use a multi-disciplinary telescope and radar, giving the decision makers a 3D picture from which to make an informed decision that includes the brand impact on Australia?

Kelly Addis is the Australasian CEO of BoilerRoom Group.