May 3, 2006
What Is Nation Branding?
Today, we live in a world which globalisation has turned into a single marketplace, where every country (and every city and region too) must compete with every other place for its share of the world's consumers, tourists, investors, and for the attention and respect of the international media, of other governments, and the people of other countries. It is also a world in which international public opinion matters as never before.
Countries, cities and regions are brands because people perceive them as brands. Few of us have time to learn what most places are really like, so we navigate through the complexity of the modern world armed with a few simple clichés: Milan is about fashion, Switzerland is about precision and integrity, America about power and money, Japan about technology, Moscow about corruption.
We may not like this, but there's little we can do to change it. It's very hard for a country, even a famous and powerful country like America, let alone less well-known countries in the developing world with virtually no presence in the international media, to persuade people in other parts of the world to go beyond these simple brand images and start to understand the real complexities, the contradictions and the social and cultural riches which lie behind them.
So it becomes the primary responsibility of national leaders to find out what their country's brand image really is, and to develop a proper strategy for managing it; to build a nation brand that is fair, true, positive, attractive, memorable, genuinely useful to their economic, political and social aims, and which honestly reflects the spirit, the genius and the will of their people. Looking after national reputation and identity has indeed become one of the primary skills of governments in the twenty-first century.
Can the Nation Brand be Managed?
Any discussion about the brand values of nations raises the question of whether there is anything that can be done to change them, to reverse a negative image, or just to manage their brand as well as the better corporations sometimes succeed in doing.
Just as advertising can't sell a product that doesn't deliver on its promises or that people don't need, so a country can't build its reputation by singing its own praises or churning out endless information about its wonderful products, investment opportunities, people, places and achievements. In today's world, information is virtually valueless because there's so much of it.
In the end, if a nation wants to change its brand image, it must learn to behave differently not an easy or a quick task by any means. But only through constant innovation, in all sectors, which is aligned to a clear national strategy, can the new "story of the nation" be proved to be its true story to the rest of the world. Most places, at some level, get the reputation they deserve, so if they want a new reputation, they need to do new things.
Fortunately, there are examples to prove that a country's international reputation can be managed and changed to better represent the current reality and future aspirations of the place, as long as there is a clear strategy for doing so, good leadership, and proper coordination between government, the public and private sector, and the population in general. The natural channels of communication of all places what I call the "nation brand hexagon" of governance, culture, people, products, tourism, and trade and investment promotion need to be harmonised around a single, clear, visionary strategy for positioning the nation competitively in the global marketplace.
The message about nation branding is of critical importance to developing nations, which don't have the time to wait until their image catches up with the rapid pace of their development . In a deeper sense, nation branding also provides a way for newer, smaller and less well known countries to establish their true cultural, social and historical identity, and carve themselves a "perceptual niche" in the global community. As my quarterly survey, the Anholt Nation Brands Index clearly shows, no developing country has a global brand image which begins to compete with the wealthy Western democracies in power, reach and persuasiveness.
Nation branding is a new paradigm for statecraft in the modern age, and one of the most powerful tools for competitive advantage.