for a Nation's Success
By Savas Kyriacou and Thomas Cromwell
Studies indicate that about one third of the
world's wealth lies in corporate brands. Thus,
although brands are considered intangible assets,
the owner of a successful brand possesses wealth.
This simple truth is of enormous importance to
nations today. Think of a nation as a highly diversified
international conglomerate, which trades internationally,
seeks international partners to grow its businesses
and depends on its reputation for business development.
The conglomerate knows that to develop it has
to attract the players necessary for success,
including the most talented employees and the
best representatives. It strives to secure excellent
financial ratings, industry recognition and respect
in the marketplace. Similarly, a nation typically
has a very diverse range of products and services
and offers a unique set of opportunities for business.
Its core international agenda is to establish
a good reputation in the world, to export its
products and services and to attract inbound investment
to develop its economy.
What, then, can a nation learn from an international
conglomerate? Since there are many significant
parallels between the two, the lessons of corporate
success are widely applicable to nations. How
do international conglomerates build good reputations?
How do they go about developing markets around
the world? How do they attract investments in
their industries? How do they create the conditions
that will attract the best talent? And how do
they secure effective representatives? For a nation,
the questions become: How does the nation build
a good international reputation? How does it expand
the export of its goods and services? How does
it attract investment in its industries? How does
it create a well-educated, competent and contented
work force? And how does it secure an effective
international network of representatives?
For both the conglomerate and the nation, a key
to achieving these shared objectives is the creation,
development and management of a successful brand.
Although few governments or peoples think of
their nation as a brand, every nation does have
an image in the eyes of the world, good, bad or
mixed. However, this brand image was most likely
created haphazardly, by good fortune or bad. A
country with beautiful nature, great tourist destinations
and wonderful exports is likely to enjoy a positive
image in the world, an identity that will serve
to multiply its exports, investment and tourism.
On the other hand, a nation with heavy pollution
of nature, torn by civil war, wracked by poverty
and disease or lacking the rule of law and basic
infrastructure is likely to be judged an unattractive
member of the community of nations, a place not
likely to produce anything of value and a high
risk for investment. Unfortunately, there are
still many countries in the world today that have
all of these negative elements, and many countries
which have at least some of them.
And yet the economies of even the smallest states
are worth hundreds of millions of dollars, while
most economies are worth tens of billions of dollars,
and the larger economies are valued at trillions
of dollars. The leaders of companies worth much
less than the smallest national economy treat
their brands with great care and invest significant
resources in brand development. Surely for every
country, then, developing and managing its brand
should be of uppermost concern for its government
and other stakeholders, such as the business community
and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). After
all, whether your global image is good, bad or
mixed, there is room for improvement of your brand.
And, unlike conglomerates, which can collapse
and vanish when poor leadership or internal weaknesses
bring them down, nations continue because their
people must continue to live.
There is no doubt that for all nations, regardless
of their situation, there is a very significant
return on investment from branding. The costs
of nation branding are tiny compared with the
benefits the results will produce.
Furthermore, the effective promotion of the brand
in target markets will only increase this return.
Can you imagine, for example, Mercedes depending
on its world-famous brand to sell cars all by
itself? Mercedes uses its stellar brand to advertise
its products. Without advertising, its sales would
slump, even though it is such a well-known and
highly respected brand. Countries need to do the
same. They need to establish a good brand, and
then promote that brand and the products and services
it represents through appropriate media.
In practice, though, very few nations use the
marketing and advertising tools of modern corporations
to achieve their core international economic and
political agendas. Rarely do countries recognize
that they are a brand, rarely do they use a brand
to unify their marketing resources, and rarely
do they effectively advertise their products and
services under a common brand. Most nations don't
even have a budget for marketing and advertising
themselves, even though millions or billions of
dollars in potential business are at stake. This
needs to change.
Today's global economy is a sophisticated matrix
of business and government relationships that
can be influenced positively only with a good
brand and effective messages delivered with suitable
communications tools. For any nation, the more
focused and targeted its brand and messaging,
the more likely is it to succeed in reaching and
influencing its prime audiences. This is particularly
true now that we live in a shrinking world, with
trade and labor relations often a function of
international agreements and information swirling
around the world and around the clock through
a plethora of media. To succeed in this age of
globalization, every state has to devise its own
strategy for success, identifying niche markets
for its particular set of products and services.
A good strategy for corporations and nations
alike is to get the maximum benefit for each of
its constituents by adopting unifying images and
themes. Thus General Electric, rated the fourth
best-known brand in the world by Interbrands,
sells everything from aircraft engines and refrigerators
to CT scanners, financial services and media under
a single corporate brand and unifying slogan:
"Imagination at Work". With this approach,
GE refrigerators benefit from the positive image
of planes in flight or people receiving treatment
from state-of-the-art technology. Philips takes
a similar approach with a similarly diverse range
of products and services, using the common tag
line: "Sense and Simplicity".
These and similar conglomerates use unifying
brands and themes to create associations in the
minds of their audiences that contribute to their
overall corporate success. Thus GE wants consumers
to see its products as the fruit of imagination
at work, while Philips wants consumers to see
its products as offering sense and simplicity
in a complex world. They are offering a single
solution for a multiplicity of problems, one place
to satisfy a host of needs or desires.
Nations are wise to do the same. For example,
by combining the enjoyment of natural beauty or
the wonders of period architecture with doing
business in a modern, technologically advanced
environment, countries are appealing to several
core needs at once: the desire for pleasure and
relaxation with the need to make money in a modern
business setting. Ideally, then, a nation's brand
and messaging would combine what otherwise would
be separated into tourism promotion and promotion
of investment or trade. And by highlighting the
achievements of its people, a country implies
that its products embody such achievements.
Strong international corporate brands can indirectly
build a nation's brand. Thus the United States
has been branded as a successful nation by the
successful products associated with it, from Microsoft
software and Boeing airplanes to MacDonald's hamburgers
and Coca Cola drinks. Japan Inc. is associated
with the quality products produced by conglomerates
such as Sony, Toyota and Nikon. The strength of
these brands and the economic power they have
delivered to their owners have propelled these
nations to leadership of the global economy and
global affairs in general. Nevertheless, even
these hugely successful nations face challenges
abroad and need to invest in managing their brands.
As we have shown, there are strong parallels
between a country and a multinational corporation.
However, there are also important differences
which must be kept in mind if a nation branding
exercise is to succeed. A key difference is the
nature of their leadership, which necessarily
impacts branding. Corporations generally have
clearly-defined goals, including marketing considerations,
strategies and campaigns. Corporate leaders secure
their positions in the corporation to the extent
that they are able to implement company objectives.
They are likely to be changed if they fail to
do so. With governments, however, leaders may
or may not agree on common national objectives
and, with changes in administration, priorities
may shift to satisfy constituencies which are
disinterested or unrelated to national welfare
and economic development. So far, developing a
successful brand for your nation has not been
considered a strong selling point for politicians.
This should change. A nation's brand is its single
Thus nations need to devise branding and marketing
strategies that can survive leadership changes.
To do this, they need to get the 'buy in' of as
many stake-holders as possible, from government
ministries and agencies, to business associations,
NGOs, labor unions and other groups. In this way,
nation branding actually helps a country look
at itself in a fresh light, analyzing what its
real strengths and weaknesses are, and what it
offers by way of competitive advantage over other
A good nation brand must have longevity. It must
transcend election cycles and special interests
by capturing the core of a country and its people
and what they offer the world. It must engage
citizens and national organizations at home while
winning recognition and respect abroad. And, as
with corporations, developing and managing a nation's
brand requires professional input, from research
to design. But, as with corporations, the tools
and methods needed are already available and can
be used for the benefit of any nation.
There are many corporate branding and marketing
skills that countries can use at little cost.
For one, a nation's brand image should be used
across all communications platforms, from the
design of letterheads and web sites used by the
government and private sector to embassy informational
material and international marketing and advertising
events and campaigns.
Many national economies rely heavily on just
a few industrial sectors, such as petroleum or
mining products. Promoting these sectors is good
for the economy, but what about the people not
benefited by those industries? A wise national
strategy would use success in particular sectors
to broaden opportunities for all the nation's
stakeholders. This can be done effectively through
a broad brand that reflects the big picture of
the nation, its people and potential.
Branding, for corporations or countries, only
works if truthful. Thus a branding exercise might
reveal internal weaknesses that have been glossed
over in the past. For example, to attract investment,
in general a country must be governed by the rule
of law, must protect private property, must have
modern infrastructure, etc. If it lacks these
ingredients, it cannot expect a branding campaign
aimed at enticing investors to be successful.
The result of this recognition should spur the
creation of conditions conducive to investment.
At the same time, analysis of a nation might
reveal strengths and potentials which if further
exploited will yield rich rewards. Human skills,
natural resources, climate, science, technology
and location are among a mix of assets that can
translate into a competitive edge in the world's
Savas Kyriacou and Thomas Cromwell are the
principal partners of East West Communications.