A pocket dictionary of Nation Branding

Even if its roots are as old as the existence of nations, Nation Branding as a discipline on its own is young and is only now being shaped into a mature and solid body. Considering its youthfulness, it’s only normal that everyone has their own perspective and have their own definitions, but this is is what I think these fundamental nation-branding concepts mean:

– Brand: A sum of the ideas and feelings associated with a name, a symbol, a trademark, a logo. Whatever that comes to your mind when you see the Nike logo. Not the logo itself nor the company’s visual style, but the feelings in your gut and the ideas in your mind about that company are the brand – or at least your share on Nike’s brand.

– Nation brand: the same as a commercial brand, when applied to countries. Whatever that comes to your mind when you see a country’s flag. Images, faces, ideas, first person experiences, traditions, historic events, landscapes, politicians, movies, cities, products, people from there you know… The knowledge, the sympathies and the experiences with that country – that’s the nation brand.

– Strong nation brand: We have previously tackled this concept in more depth, but the summarized definition of a strong nation brand is that ideas and feelings associated with a nation are widely shared by a large proportion of people. Most people think the same things when they hear “North Korea” or when they hear “Sweden”, so consequently these two countries have strong nation brands, no matter if they are positive or negative.

– Good nation brand: Ideas and feelings associated with a country, while they don’t have to be very much shared and could be very different things, are mostly positive. For instance, people think very different things when they hear about the Netherlands (from bycicles to canals, from tulips to football players, from the Dutch commercial prowess to the country’s important maritime transport hub, from lovely windmills to liberal laws in sex and drugs, from van Gogh to clogs), but most of them are regarded as good things. Hence the country has a good nation brand.

– Branding: Not the ‘branding’ graphic designers refer to, but the real ‘branding’ entrepeneurs, CEO’s and branding experts adopt in the corporate world. The strategies taken to gain a desired ‘brand’, that is the desired reputation among consumers. That includes thinking what a business is about, sketching how we want its character to be, defining how it looks and how it acts, describing how the persona of the organization is, writing down its personality traits, stating a product/category to be at and a pricing policy. All in all, defining what we want the business to be beyond being a business, and adopting the necessary steps to deserve that ‘brand’ among the consumers.

– Nation branding: the adoption of real-life policies and tactics following a strategic plan to gain relevance and perceived value in one or several aspects of a country’s reputation. Or, simply put, defining what reputation a country wants to have, and taking the necessary measures to become by fact what a country intends to be known for. Another one: deserving that reputation by implementing those strategies, policies, activities, investments and media-friendly symbolic movements. In other words, doing the right things to prove the country deserves the desired brand among citizens, both inside and outside the country.

– National brand: a commercial brand coming from a specific country. Sometimes the ‘national brand’ concept gets mixed-up with ‘nation brand’ (most comonly among outsiders and newbies), but they are very different things. If you live in Germany, an example of a national brand is Siemens; if you live in France, an example of a national brand is Renault. National brands can be used (and are actually used, as we explained on ‘Nation brands and national brands: Making the most of them’) in nation branding to build a nation brand. For instance, Finland uses its national brand Nokia to build Finland’s nation brand.

Andreas Markessinis