The Concept and
Benefits of Nation Branding
By Thomas Cromwell & Savas Kyriacou
The concept of branding has been traditionally
associated with corporations and their products
and services, in either the consumer or the business-to-business
markets. But today the concept is also being used
for the shaping of a country's image. More often
than not, this has been accidental, perhaps occurring
as a bonus to a national tourism promotion campaign.
But the fact remains that today we have realized
the notion of a global village and competition
among nations has reached a new level of sophistication.
Governments are tasked with the economic and
political development of their countries. National
development cannot be achieved in isolation of
the international community, as markets and foreign
policies compete in the international arena. The
complex of these elements and a nation's political,
economic, legal and cultural environment all contribute
to a nation's identity and image.
In this sense, every nation is already a brand:
it already exists in the minds of others as an
entity with positive and negative attributes.
Based on these perceptions, other nations and
individuals will interact with it, either contributing
to its development or hindering it.
This raises a question for any nation wishing
to raise its profile in the world and increase
the key factors in development: trade, investment
and tourism. How do I manage my brand and compete
at all levels more effectively? For most nations
the issue is indeed brand management. For others,
such as countries which have undergone a major
political and economic transformation, the issue
DOES BRANDING MATTER?
Ivory Coast has some 40 percent of the world's
cocoa and coffee bean market. It is the number
one exporter of cocoa, and number three exporter
of coffee. Colombia has less of a market share,
but its coffee is traded at premium prices, while
Ivory Coast's is regarded as a poor quality variety.
It sells at low prices and is usually blended
with other beans before going to market. Without
a strong brand of its own Ivory Coast coffee is
subject to market pressures and ultimately brings
in less revenue and generates less investment
and employment for Ivory Coast. Colombian coffee,
on the other hand, has been sold under the now
famous image of Juan Valdez with his mule since
1981. A 1995 survey found that 83 percent of Americans
interviewed associated the logo with coffee, and
53 correctly identified it with Colombian coffee.
Café de Colombia has over 40 percent of
the American specialty coffee market.
In the aftermath of the Balkan conflicts of the
90s, war-torn Croatia was left with a very negative
international image. The government decided that
trying to rectify the situation head-on would
directly play into the hands of its critics by
making it an easy target to counter. The strategy
chosen, still in effect today, was to promote
the tourism sector aggressively. This paid off
in a number of ways. First Croatia came to be
seen as a country of lovely beaches and quaint
towns: an ideal vacation spot. Second, based on
this attractive image, investors and tourists
brought much-needed revenue to the economy. In
a short time, Croatia has managed to escape from
its negative image and brand itself as an attractive
place to visit and do business.
There are many other examples of both conscious
and accidental branding in recent years, including
Ireland's great success in developing as an IT
center from scratch; Egypt's projecting an image
as a moderate and democratic nation on the back
of massive advertising spends on tourism, etc.
The point of these examples is that unlike countries
such as the US, UK or France, which have developed
their image and brand value through decades of
political and economic development, against a
background of rich cultural and tourist offerings,
many countries now have to consider how to catch
up and compete with these well-established brands.
However, they also demonstrate that even without
decades of image-building, it is possible for
a country to shape its brand in a relatively short
time if it has a clear strategy to do so and devotes
the necessary resources to the task.
An excellent example of this is Spain, which
under the anachronistic fascist rule of Franco
was an impoverished European backwater. After
the death of Franco in 1975, Spain stirred. Armed
with an attractive, modernistic sun symbol designed
by Joan Miro, it mounted an aggressive marketing
campaign to reshape its image, offering 'Everything
Under the Sun' to visitors. The 1992 Barcelona
Olympics and Seville World's Fair helped propel
it into the international spotlight, and today
Spain is a major modern European player.
It would be hard to find someone who would argue
that Spain's branding efforts were not the key
to its modern transformation. Yes, it had a long
and rich history and fabulous tourist destinations,
but without 'collecting' them under a unifying
and heavily promoted brand, the development of
the tourism industry, and with it the nation as
a whole, could not have been achieved.
HOW CAN BRANDING HELP A COUNTRY?
For some years now, it has been almost universally
recognized that government promotion of tourism
is a good idea that brings excellent results for
the money invested. The tourism industry generates
jobs as no other, and its development typically
leads economy-wide advancement, in everything
from infrastructure to education and related construction
and service industries. To facilitate this development,
governments set up tourism ministries or agencies
and assign budgets for national tourism promotion.
However, tourism is only one of several areas
that every nation needs to develop and only one
of the sectors that can benefit from nation branding.
After all, a country with fine beaches might not
also be an easy or safe place to invest in if
relevant legislation is not in place and the rule
of law firmly established. And where does a nation
fit into the world community of nations? How does
it stack up in security, convenience of location
and infrastructure, for example? How reliable
a partner is it in international affairs?
How a country is perceived, both domestically
and from abroad, from the quality of its goods
and services, to the attractiveness of its culture
and its tourism and investment opportunities,
to its politics, economic policies and foreign
policy, can be shaped under a brand. The branding
process strengthens democracy and helps both internal
development and successful integration into the
world community, on all levels.
THE IMPORTANCE OF WASHINGTON
Corporations brand their products to reach targeted
markets. For countries, the most important market
to reach is Washington. In the current world order,
as capital of the only superpower, Washington
plays an outsize role in shaping international
policies. Whether you like it or not, what Washington
decides is very likely to affect every nation.
There can be positives for a country, such as
favored nation status and free trade agreements;
or there can be negatives, such as decisions that
damage a nation's political and economic well-being.
How can branding help a nation achieve its objectives
Traditionally, governments with the means have
resorted to lobbying and public relations firms
to represent their interests to the power elites
in Washington. However, these means, while often
effective, by their nature are limited. They can
be expected to have far better results if carried
out under a brand that positively differentiates
a nation in the minds of decision-makers in Washington.
This is where a branding effort, which uses mass
media and other tools to feed little-known information
and positive images to decision-makers, can be
very important. It is simply impossible to provide
this sort of input on a one-to-one basis, or to
small groups. Furthermore, with changes in administration
in Washington, policies towards a country can
change if they are based on individual relationships
and friendships rather than widely-held perceptions
across all levels of government.
Branding can greatly assist a nation achieve
its domestic and international objectives with
Washington, such as FTA agreements, in the following
Diplomatically - A positive and clear image of
a country in Washington can help generate FTA
interest by the administration. It can speed up
initial briefings and negotiations on how ready
and able a country is to negotiate an agreement.
Washington is a highly competitive city, and a
positive brand can help propel a country to be
considered earlier than others for preferential
Economically - A qualitative and quantitative
benchmark of your country's economic abilities
and competitiveness creates an image conducive
to close business ties. This can facilitate trading
concessions and incentives as well as greater
flows of investment. These in turn stimulate the
national economy, creating jobs and increasing
wealth, with consequent increases in taxes.
THE IMPORTANCE OF A TRUTHFUL BRAND
As the world demands greater accountability from
corporations, it also does so for governments.
Terms such as transparency, accountability and
good citizenship increasingly are applied to government
institutions as well as private corporations.
Many corporations have used sympathetic labels
to burnish their images, and governments will
have to do the same to protect and develop the
good will of others.
A government's image internationally will affect
its domestic economy and policies, and vice versa.
By the same token, nation branding should be developed
in the broadest possible context, helping shape
national identity at home and abroad.
However, a brand must be truthful. That is, it
must be based on reality. Any attempt to brand
a nation untruthfully will backfire, as people
and organizations discover the brand to be dishonest.
This is no different than for any product or service.
If customers find the claims of quality and reliability
to be false, the brand will be discredited. For
a nation, this can have far-reaching consequences.
WHO BEARS THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR NATION BRANDING?
By its very nature, country branding must be
initiated and developed by national governments.
The private sector can, of course, play a very
important role in the process, but governments
exist to serve the people of a nation as a whole,
and branding must therefore remain a function
of government. Failure to do so can mean significant
losses to the nation.
For example, in the years after Athens won its
bid to host the 2004 Olympic Games, the political,
economic and international standing of Greece
were at their highest levels in decades. As the
whole country prepared for the 2004 Olympics,
huge infrastructure projects were pushed ahead
and Greece was clearly moving aggressively to
close the economic gap with West European nations.
Greece was accepted in the euro zone with the
first group of EU members, and during its 2003
EU presidency 10 new members were formally accepted.
At the same time, Greek companies were leading
foreign investment in the Balkans and Greece managed
to achieve historically good relations with long-time
Most Greek government ministers and business
leaders agreed that the conditions provided a
rare opportunity for Greece to realize a new and
much-enhanced international profile, and that
Greece should capitalize on this by conducting
a major campaign to develop and promote its image
internationally. The result would be greater clout
in world affairs, increased tourist arrivals and
more trade and investment.
In short, it was a perfect opportunity to develop
its international brand. But who should lead the
effort? No person or government body was given
the task and none of the existing government departments
and ministries saw it as part of its mandate.
Did Greece lose out? Undoubtedly yes. It is always
hard to quantify the impact of a national brand,
but there is no evidence that Greece has benefited
for the long term from its good fortune. Its international
profile is no greater than previously, tourism
has not increased and neither has trade and investment.
So far there has been little recognition of the
need for country branding by governments, and
it is rare to find organizations with specific
budgets for this. For the moment, most countries
rely on tourism promotion to build a positive
image. Also many have set up organizations to
promote trade and inbound investment. However,
tourism, trade and foreign investment are only
some of the areas that can benefit directly from
a nation brand.
Sporadic efforts to develop a country's brand
do little to help in the long run. As with any
corporation, product or service, branding is a
process that takes time and consistent marketing.
For success, governments need to create and fund
organizations specifically tasked with nation
branding. Relevant activities need to be pursued
in key locations around the world, and most importantly
LONG-TERM BENEFITS OF SUCCESSFUL BRANDING
A successful branding effort delivers benefits
that transcend any government or administration.
In the same way that Coca Cola is sold through
a successful global branding and marketing campaign,
year after year, irrespective of who owns or runs
the company in Atlanta, so too a good branding
and marketing campaign for a country can reap
benefits for it, irrespective of who is at the
helm of its government. The long-term benefits
are evident in improved international standing
abroad and greater success and prosperity at home.
And while the costs of nation branding and related
promotion can be in the millions of dollars, the
economic rewards can be measured in billions of
Savas Kyriacou and Thomas Cromwell are the
principal partners of East West Communications.