The concept of ‘country branding’ is viewed differently in different countries, and is mostly influenced by the national character of the nation. There are many countries such as Germany where ‘country branding’ is often associated with‘new nationalism,’ especially in the academic context. However, most countries associate ‘country branding’ with high-profile public relations that propagate the country variously - as the dream travel destination, an ideal place for business investment, or the perfect employment destination. Various examples and discussions on the definitions of ‘country branding’ in the Southeast Asian context suggest that country branding is much more than a well-planned and executed advertising campaign. That is to say, a country brand is the essence of a country, relative to the personal experiences of the individual.
For positive country branding, all aspects of the country, such as culture, economy, tourism-related development/facilities, etc., are considered to play a critical role. The interaction of each of these aspects with individuals or communities of a particular country are known to influence the overall ‘feel-good’ factor and optimize exchange of diaspora, investments, business, exports, imports and cultural elements as well. A prime example was the close relations that existed between erstwhile Russia, especially when President Gorbachev was at the helm of affairs, and the Indian government during the early 1990s.
How does one measure the national brand value of a country?
As with all socio-economic and cultural indicators, the branding industry too has evolved with sufficient sophistication to measure the brand of a country. One such tool is the Anholt-Gfk Roper Nation Brands Index.The branding industry has, since 2006, adopted the City Brands Index and the Nation Brands Index. These were developed by Simon Anholt, who as a government advisor first coined the term ‘nation branding’ in 2006. Associating with Gfk Roper, a leading research group, to rank countries on metrics that helped to calculate the brand-value of a country, Simon Anholt, continues to provide valuable services to various governments on their brand-building strategies.
The Anholt-Gfk Roper Nation Brands Index now measures over 50 countries on 6 aspects: Culture and Heritage, Exports, Governance, Investment and Immigration, and People and Tourism. The index is used by many national governments to evaluate their strategies and innovations to build reputations and manage the ‘country branding’ processes. Country brand building essentially involves several processes. Most countries begin with defining a vision for their country. This is followed by proposing a structured approach to execute the vision. The approach is supported by extensive research by professional organizations to gauge the international perception of the country.
Next comes an intensive strategy planning stage. The idea is to communicate the essence of the nation as a brand. The main vision is translated by developing each as an individual brand: export, tourism, diplomacy and other sub-brands.In building the brand of a country, strategies are drawn up to cover a long term and require continuous implementation and re-strategizing. Most analysts have identified that a single effort at building a country brand requires anywhere from fifteen to twenty years. During the extended life cycle of nation-brand building the changes in administrative and political powers need to be absorbed. Therefore, the consistency with which a country is able to remain within the context of the strategy and vision will determine the success or failure of any ‘country brand’ building exercise. Specifically in the South Asian context, nearly every country has been successful in building unique and clear nation brands. Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand have the highest ‘country branding’ value and attract high tourist traffic.
Country branding sees APAC countries succeed in non-tourist domains as well
While tourism remains a constant attraction, some countries have been successful in leveraging their brand index to achieve high–trade value as well. Singapore continues to be a technology hub and is currently one of the first countries to adopt advanced cloud computing and server technologies and is quickly gaining currency as the global leader in many related technology verticals as well. Malaysia has been successful as a global manufacturing hub, oil and gas centre; the Philippines has achieved great success on key industrial and business processing aspects for a global environment.
The individual success of these countries has been driven by the high-quality of ‘branding’ opportunities they continue to explore, through sponsorship of events, conferences, industry events and media platforms, over and above the standard advertising practices.
Brand Australia: aspirational status
Australia continues to be one of the leading destinations for the Asian diaspora, as it offers lifestyle goals that most aspire to achieve. Australia’s ‘country branding’ persists with being the ultimate country to begin life anew, start a business or adopt agriculture-based businesses . all in a nation that thrives on ethnicity.
The Philippines: A successful country branding story
Most brand management experts cite the Philippines as a great example of country branding in the Southeast Asian region. Many speak of the strategic use of the slogan, “It’s more fun in the Philippines,” with a digital touch as the use of a ‘meme.’New Zealand has built a successful country brand with the popular ‘Forever Young,’ slogan. It has achieved high success as it has been built around the strengths and weaknesses of the brand. Again, the country’s policy to remain consistent with the brand image has helped in building the brand of a very young country.Branding building experts suggest that a country can remain successful only if it conforms to the strategies and the vision it desires for itself.
Jacqueline Thng, CEO of Singapore’s Lexis Branding, offers great insight on ‘Branding Strategies’ in the context of Southeast Asian experiences and the cultural milieu there. In her experience the concept of country branding goes beyond tourism. “Branding is also about a nation’s politics, economy, security, and others,” she declares emphatically.Experts recommend that the master plan for a successful country brand building strategy is to adopt and project the total view of the country. To achieve comprehensive focus, the strategies adopted for building a brand need to revolve around the positioning of the brand/country. The ideal strategy is to minimize the spectrum of target audience, especially in the context of tourism.One fallacy that most budding country branding strategies are built around is that of being a brand for everybody. Once a country narrows down the scope of the people it envisions to attract, then the brand building becomes focused. This can be achieved due to the higher levels of engagement of the target audience, especially travelers.
A major concern among South Asian countries engaged in the activity of branding building for their country abroad is on the issue of safety and security for overseas travelers. Branding experts recommend the adoption of a high-profile public relations campaign engaging multiple media platforms to establish adopted safety measures. This allows local governments to showcase the high-value security strengthening measures and proactive activities they engage in to ensure safety of citizens from abroad. It also helps to establish that regional violence and security threats persist in all geographies and are not confined only to the South Asian region.
Another brand strategy that has seen high success is the cultural aspect. Brand experts consider ‘culture’ as the ‘essence’ or the core around which the country’s image is required to be weaved. It is found that there is a higher emotional quotient associated with cultural brands of a country as against commercial brands of the same country. Additionally, the brand created around the cultural aspect is tough to be recreated or duplicated by another country. Culture-based branding can therefore grow to become a unique and unalterable brand of the country, ensuring high-value recall.
Self-image mirrors Nation Brand Index
Every nation needs to adopt multi-pronged brand-building strategies to align with their overall image and vision. The fundamental step, however, in country branding is the image that the people of the country have of themselves. When the morale and the self-image of a country are high from within, the Nation Brand Index too reflects the buoyant nature
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