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Nation Branding and Place Marketing – Promotion, Sales, and Advertising

By Sam Vaknin

IV. Promotion, Sales, Public Relations, Marketing, and Advertising

Advantages have to be communicated to potential customers if they are not to remain unrealized potentials. Moreover, communication alone – the exchange of information – is not enough. Clients have to be influenced and motivated to visit a country, invest in it, or trade with it.

This is where promotion comes in. Not to be confused with marketing, it is concerned with setting up a trained sales force, and with advertising, sales, and public relations.
We deal with sales forces at length in our next installment. Suffice to say, at this stage, that poor countries will be hard pressed to cater to the pecuniary needs of high-level and, therefore, expensive, salespersons. Setting up a body of volunteers under the supervision, guidance, and training of seasoned sales personnel maybe a more suitable solution.

Advertising is a different ballgame. There is no substitute for a continued presence in the media. The right mix of paid ads and sponsored promotions of products, services, and ideas can work miracles for a country’s image as a preferred destination.

Clever, targeted, advertising also ties in with sales promotion. Together they provide the customer with both motivation and incentive to “buy” what the country has on offer. Brand switching is common in the global arena. Investors and tourists, let alone exporters and importers, are fickle and highly mobile. This inherent disloyalty is a boon to new and emerging markets.

An interesting and related question is whether countries constitute similar or dissimilar brands. In other words, are countries interchangeable (fungible) as investment, tourism, and trade destinations? Is cost the only determining factor? If countries are, indeed, mere variants on given themes, acquiring and sustaining permanent market shares (inducing a market shift) may prove to be a problem.

The answer is that the issue is largely irrelevant. Specialization and brand differentiation may be crucial inside countries – in domestic markets – but, they are not very important in the global arena.

Why is that?

Because the global marketplace is far less fractionated than national markets. Niche investors, off-the-beaten-track tourists, and boutique traders are rarities. Multinationals, organized package tours, and commodity traders rule the Earth and they have pretty similar tastes and uniform demands. Catering to these tastes and demands makes or breaks the external sector of a country’s economy.

Enter public relations.

While advertising and sales promotion try to access and influence the masses – public relations focuses on opinion-leaders, decision-makers, first-movers, and tipping points. Public relations is also concerned with the country’s partners, suppliers, and investors. It directly appeals to major tour operators, foreign legislators, multinationals, and important non-government organizations (NGOs), as well as regional and international forums.

As the name implies, public relations is about follow-up (monitoring) and relationships. This is especially true in the country’s dealings with the news media and with specialized publications. Press conferences, presentations, contests, road shows, one-on-one meetings or briefings, seminars, lobbying, and community events – are all tools of the twin trades of marketing public relations and image management.

A recent offshoot of the discipline of public relations – which may be of particular relevance and importance where countries are concerned – is crisis management. Public awareness of crises – from civil wars to environmental disasters – can be manipulated within limits of propriety and veracity. Governments would do well to appoint “public policy and image advisors” to tackle the periodic flare-ups that are an inevitable part of the political and the economic dimensions of an increasingly complex world.

Yet, even governments are bottom-line orientated nowadays. How should a country translate its intangible assets into dollars and cents (or euros)?

Sales force and marketing intermediaries are the topics of our next article.

Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East. He served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, Bellaonline, and eBookWeb, a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent, and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101. Until recently, he served as the Economic Advisor to the Government of Macedonia. Visit Sam’s Web site at