by Barry Silverstein
August 24, 2009 issue
In a February 2009 ranking of Swiss brands by Interbrand, the top five brands were, in order of brand value, Nescafé, UBS, Nestlé, Credit Suisse and Zurich. Other globally recognized brands in the top 20 included Rolex, Omega, Lindt, Swatch and Longines.
How did a tiny country largely known for keeping to itself become such a branding powerhouse? It starts with Switzerland’s view of its own brand.
The inherent value of “Swiss made” brands is so high that the country’s government is currently considering new laws to protect it: “The government wants to replace vague laws with concrete rules to crack down on abuses of ‘made in Switzerland’ and Swiss cross labels” (“Protecting ‘Swiss made’ brand divides opinion,” swissinfo.ch, April 6, 2008). The movement is known in Switzerland as “the legislation project Swissness.”
Interestingly, the notion of “Swissness” is a cause for concern among some Swiss brands. New laws being considered would potentially make it legal to use the well-known Swiss cross (white on a red field) as a marketing tool but restrict the Swiss coat of arms to government use only. Victorinox, maker of the Swiss Army Knife, has used both the Swiss cross and the coat of arms for 100 years. Touring Club Switzerland has used the coat of arms since 1896. Their brands would be directly affected if this new rule were to be implemented.
The fact that the Swiss government is wrestling with revising its intellectual property laws says something: This is a country that clearly understands the value of branding. In fact, Switzerland’s Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) publishes a comprehensive corporate identity manual for Brand Switzerland because “a focused and strong brand definition is necessary for successful positioning in the international market.” The FDFA sees Switzerland’s values and character as moving from the present characteristics, “reliable, precise, exclusive, rich, beautiful, and neutral,” to the future characteristics, “trustworthy, premium quality, and authentic.”