Branding on the global agenda?

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The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has a real PR disaster on its hands at the moment. The press is busy with the controversy over its Managing Director. This news led me to reflect on supranational institutions such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO). Given that these bodies have been created to play such a substantial role in our global society, I’m surprised that they haven’t focused on branding or more specifically, telling their story more effectively.

Political branding is not a new discipline. And if political parties like the UK Conservative Party and U.S. political candidates like President Obama are engaged in branding, why shouldn’t supranational institutions? The 2008 Obama for America campaign won the Integrated Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions Advertising Festival in 2009, while the Conservative Party in the UK successfully repositioned itself in 2006. The party moved away from the cold, navy blue and Thatcher-reminiscent torch, to a softer blue and contemporary oak tree, a symbol of stability and strength.

Millions are pumped into global institutions every year yet little effort is made to communicate how these organisations deliver on their brand promise. Let’s face it, who can honestly say what difference the WTO has made in the world? I certainly can’t without the help of my good friend Google.

These supranational institutions often give off a cold, distant, inhumane vibe that makes them seem miles away from the average person, and that starts with their logos and mission statements.

The IMF claims its mission is “to foster global growth and economic stability…provide policy advice and financing to members in economic difficulties and also work with developing nations to help them achieve macroeconomic stability and reduce poverty.”

The WTO claims it is “a forum for governments to negotiate trade agreements…a place for them to settle trade disputes.”

The WHO is the “directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system…responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends.”

These trans-national organisations would better serve their own interests by telling a story about the difference they are making in the world. The WHO would benefit from a simpler approach instead of endlessly describing the organisation’s machinery. It could simply explain that it’s committed to bettering global health. This is simple and clear—and the original reason for its founding!

The importance of telling a brand story

We take for granted that such government bodies will continue to exist, and an important issue is that these organisations must ensure long-term funding. However, if people begin to believe they are not using their funds properly then this could hurt their long-term stability and capabilities.

Supranational organisations must ensure human capital acquisition and retention as well. If such institutions want to secure the most high caliber employees, they must prove that they truly make a difference. This argument is particularly relevant in an era where the majority of the global workforce will be comprised of Generation Y—a generation known to be more motivated by an organisation’s purpose.

These global organisations must start to demonstrate how to deliver on their brand promises. In an increasingly transparent world, being publicly funded can no longer be an excuse for ineffective communication. The role of these organisations in our global society is too important to all of us.

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