David Lightle: an unconventional nation branding expert

Nation branding is a newborn field in the crossroad of marketing, public diplomacy, international relations and political strategy, and most aspects of it remain to be invented. Within this context, one can find many different approaches to the science of nation branding, from the Simon Anholt’s policy-making approach to the corporate identity-inspired approach as proposed by Wally Olins.

And yet there are other, more distinctive approaches – such as that of David Lightle, who approaches nation branding projects with an inmersive method by which he lives in the client country for years, absorbing the essences and character of the guest country.

His office typically is a small cubicle inside the client office. His business card always reflects the current project, because Lightle does only one country at a time. In fact, he goes by the tagline, “Building a better world, one country at a time.” He also disemploys himself from every project, leaving the local staff well-trained to take over the project for the long haul. Another handy tagline comes into play: “Client for a year, friend for life.”

Besides this unconventional model of in-outsourcing, Lightle additionaly employs a proprietary method, the Drop Formula, to determine the unique, common essence of each country. The essence must also be highly marketable to the world. The Drop serves as the basis for the long-term branding of the country. It is an intuitive process that gets the brand positioning right the first time, for the long haul.

In addition to all of these, Lightle is even more peculiar because he has developed his entire career as a nation branding expert in complete loneliness. The fact that he is a reknown nation branding expert is a merit of his very own.

Life against the mainstream is also full of handicaps, though, and after years of solitude, this nation branding cowboy from Tippecanoe, Ohio, has weighted the pros and cons of professional independence in some occasions, as was reported in this article at Nation-Branding.info.

Married to a Taiwanese woman, David Lightle first came to prominence in the field of nation branding when he was chosen by Taiwan to overcome the low-cost, low-quality stereotypes about Taiwan and its products. On this project, Lightle was endorsed to make the world take notice that Taiwan had changed, that it no longer was a source of cheap labor and that it was “trying to establish itself as the high-tech business center of East Asia with the added value of culture and recreation,” as he himself once explained.

“Taiwanese companies made their fortune selling products with American-sounding brand names. Now, they’re trying to put to rest the ghost of the undeserved cheap low-quality Made in Taiwan image” said Lightle. Besides advising the Taiwanese government and its business community on brand promotion and image matters (including the Image Enhancement Plan for Taiwan) Lightle has also worked for Thailand. He currently is advising the Colombian government in a Colombia promotion campaign, “Colomba is passion”, which is intended to enable people to forget about the drugs-and-guerrilla image of Colombia.

Whatever project he may enroll with, David Lightle will surely work it his own, particular way.