What is nation branding, Brand Ghana CEO writes

Some days ago we published a blog post at which we listed 10 things nation branding isn’t. Now we have the opportunity to define nation branding by the what it is and not by what it isn’t. That’s because Mathias Akotia, the newly-appointed Chief Executive Officer at the newly-founded Brand Ghana Office, has written an ambitious paper aiming to define it. I don’t agree with some of the points Mr. Akotia argues in his article, but it’s an interesting read nonetheless.

Mathias AkotiaThe images we have about a country impact a lot on how we view it as a tourism destination, a place to invest in, and a place from which to buy the brands we so love. In today’s globalised marketplace the battle for tourism, exports, and inward investment is intensifying as brands have become more and more the vehicles for communicating national identities.

Countries all over the world are shaping and re-shaping their national identities as they compete with neighbors, regional blocks for power, influence and prestige. Clarifying what a country brand is, this paper argues that for developing countries that want rapid and sustainable development, there is a compelling rationale for the adoption of country branding strategy to direct the full range of political, economic, cultural and social development.

Country branding is not new

Country branding is not new. Many countries have promoted their identities for different reasons over the years. Branding expert, Wally Olins illustrated this with France’s five republics, two empires and four kingdoms, stressing that every country which has gone through some difficulties, such as a revolution, attempts to create new traditions from the old along with new ideals. France’s revolutionary nationalists doctrine of 1789 that had its values as Liberty, Fraternity and Equality, was both absolute and abstract, demanding a far higher commitment to the state than was the case of a traditional monarchy. This French republican state was much more self consciously a nation, much more self aware, more aggressive and more determined to create homogeneity. Olins states that this French republic was more determined to create consistency and coherence than any nation before, emphasizing that consistency and coherence in identity and the projection and communication of the identity are what branding is all about.

Many nations attempt to break away from the colonial past at independence. In 1957, Gold Coast became Ghana, named after that prosperous ancient state. Southern Rhodesia became Zimbabwe and its capital Salisbury became Harare. In their attempts to break free from their colonial past many of these countries uncovered, discovered or invented a pre-colonial heritage. As nations emerge, they create self-sustaining myths to build coherent identities. Therefore, new country names, symbols, slogans, anthems, and rites are created to inspire nationhood and reinforce their new identities and values. Some countries that have not gone through turmoil also attempts to make virtue out of this experience. For example Sweden prides itself as a peaceful country, having been free from war since the 19th century and this fact is regarded as the most important condition for the building of modern Swedish welfare state and identity.

Many countries have made efforts to manage their reputations and occasionally country reputations have been invented by their leaders who have borrowed from poets, orators, and philosophers to augment their political skills. The notion that a country can be actively marketed to the rest of the world, for growth, for tourism, for trade and for positive image is not new. What is new is the word “brand”. As noted by the father of country brand management, Anholt, marketing profession has been judged only quite recently to have something useful to contribute to the business of improving places. As countries have become organized more and more on commercial lines it has become clear that marketing which is about creating, delivering and communicating value and sustaining favorable perceptions and relationships has interesting applications.

What is a country brand?

A nation brand is also said to be a country’s identity that has been proactively distilled, interpreted, internalized and projected internationally in order to gain international recognition and to construct a favorable national image. A country brand strategy therefore is a plan for defining the most realistic, most competitive and most compelling strategic vision for the country.

Country branding harmonizes national policies as varied as acts and policies of government, the values and behaviors of the citizenry, education, culture, sports, health, taxation, public diplomacy, look and feel of settlements, export and investment promotion, and infrastructure development.

Country Branding Challenges

Branding a place in principle is apparently simple. Creating a brand involves developing the brand’s program, which underlies the brand identity and positioning. Thus the brand’s reason for being, its vision, core values, and know-how must be clearly defined, internalized and communicated. Country branding plans exhibit the clear, simple, differentiating propositions often built around emotional qualities expressing some kind of superiority, which can be readily symbolized both verbally and visually. Therefore, in principle the product, service, corporate or country branding are the same. However, the methods differ.

The most important challenges facing place branding are the lack of unity of purpose, difficulty in establishing actionable and measurable objectives and relative lack of marketing know-how. According to Anholt, the most critical challenge facing place branding is finding a strategy which is believable, relevant to the consumer audience, true to reality, and the aspirations of the place, yet capable of encompassing this variety without becoming a boring compromise that may alienate the population. Summing up on the complexities posed by country branding, Frost explains the need for extended time frame in country branding, saying that products can be de-listed or modified, re-launched and re-positioned, or replaced by improved products. Countries, however, do not have many of these choices and their image problems may be founded in structural handicaps that take years to fix.

Some countries with active branding programs

A powerful country brand translates into a better perception of that country. South Africa, in realizing a gap between the international perception and the reality of the country, launched the Brand South Africa project in August 2000. Its mandate is to establish a compelling image for South Africa, which correctly positions the country. In New Delhi, over 100 people work full time on Brand India as India Brand Equity Foundation, with the goal of modifying critical stake-holder attitudes towards this diverse country. Malaysia, Egypt, Costa Rica, New Zealand and many more countries have active nation branding programs in spite of the existence of state institutions, such as investment, tourism, exports and public diplomacy dedicated to country product, services and reputation management.

Examples of Active Country Branding Programs

  • South Africa – Alive with possibility
  • Spain – San Siro
  • India – Incredible India
  • Thailand – Amazing Thailand
  • Malaysia – Truly Asia
  • Costa Rica – Peaceful Destination
  • Iceland – Iceland naturally
  • Egypt – Destination Egypt
  • Bolivia – The authentic still exists
  • Estonia – Positively Transforming

The Global marketplace opportunities and challenges

The world today is becoming one market. The rapid advancement of globalization means that every country, every city and every region, must compete with others for its share of the world’s consumers, tourists, investors and so on. Even governments, as powerful as the US government with all its international relations influence, and the sway of its businesses and commercial brands worldwide, still competes for attention and respect of the international media, governments and people of other countries.

Charlotte Beers, a former head of leading advertising agency, Ogilvy and Mather, was appointed by Collin Powell as “Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy”, to improve America’s image abroad. Beers explained her role as having “…to communicate the intangible assets of the United States – things like our belief system and our values…” Ms. Beers was simply echoing the need for America to communicate its identity- a clear believable and positive idea of what it really is, what it stands for, and where it is going to- with more clarity and consistency.

Branding is no longer a choice but a necessity, and that country branding is too big for the government, businesses and civil societies acting alone, to manage. Country branding takes an integrative and concerted effort by all concerned stakeholders. Marketing and branding are no longer merely associated with businesses. Political parties, governments, charities, educational institutions, places and even some personalities are turning to branding to gain more resilient competitive edge. A key advantage of brands is that they are sustainable resources

Brands are intangible assets that produce added value because of what branding brings to social and economic processes: the unique marriage of empirical observation with visionary strategy which offers direction, coordination and inspiration to creative and productive pursuits. Anholt, the famous nation branding expert, observes that branding combines scientific clarity and rigorous observation of human psychology, culture and society with the more elusive factor of creativity, forming a clear set of universally-applicable rules for building successful social and economic endeavors Anholt observes that branding can harness the power of language and images to bring about widespread social change through behavioral modification campaigns around the world.

Who wins in the global marketplace?

Only the actors, whether they are countries, cities, regions, corporation, organizations, religions, charities, political parties or individuals, with ability to approach a wide and diverse marketplace with clear, credible, appealing, distinctive and thoroughly planned identity strategy can compete and win, notes Anholt. Competing to win is about powerful and imaginative strategy, more a product of intellectual than financial capital. Culturally purposeful public diplomacy, for example, has been found to be more rewarding than commercial advertising.

What are the roles and tasks involved in nation branding? Country brand organizations perform the following tasks:?

  1. Crafting nation’s Identity and Competitive Strategy and Vision.
  2. Supporting the creation of the reality that leverages the Strategy.
  3. Identifying and leveraging Symbolic Events, People and Places to communicate country identity and national orientation.
  4. Stimulating national self-consciousness.
  5. Providing clear, believable and positive communication of what the country really is, what it stands for and where it is going to.
  6. Stimulating relevant and critical innovations among stakeholders around the strategy.
  7. Creating more harmony and coordination among stakeholders to tell the same powerful, believable and interesting story about their country.
  8. Integrating and harmonizing national communication, to get better at telling the world their story.
  9. Nourishing confidence, pride, harmony, ambition and national resolve to enhance national mobilization.

You will agree with me these are critical roles that have to be performed in a country seeking rapid and sustainable development.

Citizen value has become the basis of good governance today. We can build citizen value through applying techniques that the commercial world has used to create shareholder value. It makes sense therefore to say that ANYTHING which does not fall under the domain of the brand is a weak link in the strategic chain and can undermine the efforts and investments made in other sectors.

Article by Mathias Akoitia. Original text can be found here: http://www.ghanamma.com/featured/14822-what-is-nation-branding.html