The origin, the projecting and the production of goods that are renown as Swiss give an added value in a world competition ranking. A Swiss made watch is more valuable than a watch made in Italy or in Germany. The brand Switzerland is therefore strong.
The value of a brand of a Country is the sum of the reputation of its products and the environment of development, so: “Excellence + Country System”.
We all know the products that have made Swiss industry great: pharmaceuticals, watches, knives, cheese and chocolate… Of course we are also renown for our banks and this nowadays is not exactly a positive element.
According to an image research on Switzerland in Italy led in 2011 by the Superior Institute of Studies in Lausanne, the general profile image of Switzerland is very homogeneous with peak positive aspects such as political stability, high life quality and deep environmental consciousness.
Good results were also obtained by the affirmations “the school, university and research system is excellent” and “it allows its citizenships to have a strong and effective influence on political decisions”. However, the interviewed are much more critical in regard to these statements: “it acts positively in a period of international instability”, “its inhabitants are friendly and welcoming” and “it participated actively in international activities”. In other words, we are perceived as people who tend to think about their own business!
Reputation is nothing else than what others think about us and our products. A good reputation is also formed through a good communication. In order to make a good communication it is necessary to be direct, clear and reasonable.
People’s opinions develop themselves being influenced also by information spread by media. Have you ever thought why we are all a bit obsessed about the issue of diseases that seem to involve the entire world? Andrea Kerbaker, in his book “Bufale apocalittiche” (Huge hoaxes, Ponte alle Grazie publisher), speaks about the similarities among bird flu, swine flu, anthrax, mad cow disease and Sars. Regarding bird flu, US Minister of Health Michael Leavitt declared, “no one in the world is ready to face such an epidemics”. In the end, swine flu provoked some deaths, birds first of all (which is even correct given the name of the disease), a (black) swan in London in March 2006, and a cat in Germany. In the meanwhile laRoche was asked to produce 360 millions doses of the now famous Tamiflu, the vaccine that should have fought the epidemics. The same result was for swine flu, anthrax, mad cow disease and Sars. The result: fear has grown a lot, the seriousness of the theme is in crisis, someone sold products and services for prevention.
Reputation grows in a coherent environment. “Everyone knows” that a new model of watch Patek Philippe will probably be an excellent watch as Patek Philippe has been coherent with its values and principles for centuries and produces wonderful items. Switzerland works more or less in the same way. Swiss industry has always been coherent with itself and produces excellent goods, hence it is a guarantee for consumers.
“Switzerland” is above all a concept, a way to do business, a Country System that reflects in its products and services. Then reality is cruel and very concrete, it requires condensing wide concepts in one symbol.
I see Nike swoosh and I perceive that behind it there are competitive clothes and shoes, I see the “M” of McDonald’s and I feel like having a burger, I see a bitten apple and I realize that we speak about Apple computers. I see a white cross on a red background and I assume that a certain product is made in Switzerland. Our flag, together with a few others (I think about Japan and US) is highly recognizable, you don’t need captions to understand. That white cross on a red background is enough to raise a series of positive emotions in the consumer’s mind.
The brand “Switzerland” allows Swiss companies to be advantaged on price compared to its competitors. According to a research led by the University of St. Gallen, Swiss products are so much appreciated that a consumer is inclined to pay them 20% more than the same products of competitor countries. This is an advantage not to be missed, especially nowadays when companies are always more struggling against fierce competitors and profit margins decrease, due also to the strength of Franc compared to Euro and Dollar.
International market is anything but fair. Competition is harsh from all sides. The competitive advantage acquired through “Swiss made” is renowned also by foreign competitors who with no concern exploit the white crossed flag putting it on products that have little or nothing to do with Switzerland, as doing so a higher retail price is possible. Politics has started promoting the project “Swissness” which means “doing something in order to protect Swiss products from unfair competition”.
The legislative project Swissness was started in 2006 by Parliament members Anita Fetz and Jasmin Hutter who assigned the Federal Council to examine and propose measures, even juridical ones, in order to better defence the definition “Switzerland” and the Swiss cross from abuses. The aim is to improve the defence of the reference of origin “Switzerland” and of the Swiss cross not only nationally but also across the boarders. The federal Chambers are debating it and the trend is to support the project, given that some “details” still need to be discussed, such as the amount of supplying of raw material and the production costs that are sustained in Switzerland, so that the product can be really named as Swiss. The choice is not a technicality for itself but it greatly effects the industry which asks “that the obligations are not too high, as part of the products and their manufacturing comes from or is made abroad”, as confirmed by Sandra Spieser of Economiesuisse.
These are the rules that allow exploiting the brand. Beyond this, an effective system that prevents inflations is necessary, and abroad this seems to be a difficult game. Guarantying the protection of origin indications seems to be particularly difficult abroad. The interpretation of international agreements and the specific laws are often vague, which complicates procedures. Today it is more common to renounce to juridical procedures and pretend that the right is applied abroad. This problem is faced in a draft law, but it won’t be easy to reach the success for protecting the brand in the main export countries for Swiss companies. The federal council will probably be engaged in defending the origin indications in the range of free trade agreements. Whether effectively protected abroad or not, Swissness remains an inspiring legislative exercise that has already reached the goal of defining in clear terms the market value of the brand Switzerland.

by Mirko Nesurini, CEO GWH Swiss SA

Read the published version in Italian here