It’s a common scenario for companies to think that a brand is perceived in a certain way, only to learn that consumers think of it quite differently, for reasons that hadn’t hitherto made themselves known. These revelations can these days be made with lightning speed over social media, but of course they have always been very common in market research – whether through conducting a brand party or brand corridor exercise, or any number of other projective techniques that get below the surface of a brand’s image.
It’s also very typical for people and individuals – to think of themselves in one way, only to be thought of by others quite differently. But, what about a whole nation?
In previous posts we looked at some expectations vs. realities of a few different countries, but recently we came across this interesting article in the Financial Times about the ever-expanding gulf between how Russians perceive themselves versus how they are perceived from elsewhere (notably The West). The article covered a range of people, touching on various self-perceived life and career issues. However, given the timing of the piece, with Russia imminently celebrating Germany’s surrender to the Soviet Union in WW2 on 9th May, whilst most European countries were celebrating 70 years of peace on 8th May, there were also undertones of Russia’s military intentions, focusing on its might and glory, whilst being apparently at war with Ukraine.
From outside of Russia, the article claims, it can seem that everyone inside the country is brainwashed (by Putin) and even aggressive, whilst from inside Russia, this is not considered to be the case at all and such accusations only serve to dampen relationships and friendships with the West – or at the very least to make them strained.
This prompted us to speak to some of our own contacts inside Russia to see what they thought.
The biggest point raised was a classic researcher comment about samples, and how it seems ludicrous for an article in a Western newspaper to try to speak for the whole of Russia – “to make any claims about the opinion of ‘Russians’ is to make sweeping generalisations about some 160 million people, with potentially 160 million different thoughts and feelings!”
And to the military aspect? Yes the civil war with Ukraine is a very big deal, and is very upsetting and indeed personal for many Russians. “WW2 was really like Russia’s Great Civil War in which 20 million Russians died, and every family suffered losses”, but, Russians do feel that the victory was theirs, and not the West’s, no matter how hard they would expect the West to take that. “Last September when I was In Normandy (France), I couldn’t find any Russian signs or symbols at the scene of the Normandy Landings, and I couldn’t stop crying” lamented one of our research colleagues.
Despite the war, life goes on as normal for Russians – not even the EU/USA sanctions are having any noticeable effect. “The war should stop though, as should the aggressive propaganda – from both sides, Russian and Western. Russians don’t like the power they have, but nor do they like it when others don’t like it.”
Overall, our contacts’ view was that from the outside, we need to stay open-minded, and not just get sucked in or swept along by waves of media, traditional online or otherwise, and we must continue to listen to all sides before we cast any judgments, no matter who is potentially guilty or innocent.
As for the wider question about how Russians see themselves, it’s funny how much the section in the article about ‘freedom of speech’ reminded us of recent conversations with Russian moderators, in which they have laughed kindly about how of course they say what they think about politics, civil rights issues, anti-gay laws and more, and how no they aren’t frightened to do that. And anyway, from inside and outside of Russia, there is definitely agreement about how Russians love to discourse!
Let’s see if we can uncover other examples of nations who feel misunderstood from the outside. Feel free to send any examples you have to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!