Unfortunately, the phrase “nation brand” soon became distorted, mainly by naive governments in willing illusion with ambitious consulting firms, into “nation branding,” a dangerously misleading phrase which seems to contain a promise that the images of countries can be directly manipulated using the techniques of commercial marketing communications. Yet despite repeatedly calling for it over the last fifteen years, I have never seen a shred of evidence to suggest that this is possible: no case studies, no research, and not even any very persuasive arguments. Include that countries are judged by what they do, not by what they say, as they have always been; yet the notion that a country an simply advertise its way into a better reputation has proved to be a pernicious and surprisingly resilient one. Also have to admit that despite studying the topic for many years, I’m not at all sure I even know what “branding’ is. Brand” can mean at least three different things in the world Of commerce: first, it can refer to the designed identity of a product (the look of the product itself, its packaging, its logo, its livery, its communications, and so forth); second, it is sometimes used more ambitiously to refer to the culture of the organization behind the product; and third, it can refer to the product’s r corporation’s reputation in the minds of its target audience (this is the sense in which I used the word in my first ! Published by SURFACE, 2013 Exchange: The Journal of Public Diplomacy, Volvo. 2 , Sis. 1, Art. Essay on the subject in 1 998, Nation Brands of the Twenty-First Century , although the term “brand image” is a more precise one in this context). Hence, one might suppose, “branding’ must be related to one or another of these meanings: it is either the business of designing the livery of products (which is indeed what branding agencies do); or else it has something to do tit building or creating an enhanced sense of corporate culture or mission within the organization (in fact the word is not often used in this context); or it is the means by which the product acquires its reputation, and this is where the trouble starts.
Used in its first sense, branding actually does have some relevance to countries and the ways they present themselves to the rest of the world, but it is a humdrum business, which doesn’t begin to justify the excitement about “nation branding. ” Countries, through their many state agencies, have numerous dealings with various professional audiences round the world, and one can certainly argue that It gives a better impression of the country if all those agencies use consistent, well-designed materials when they carry out their transactions.
A single logo, a professional “look and feel” on their stationery, business cards, corporate videos, information leaflets, communiques, press releases, websites, and so forth, undoubtedly reinforces the impression of a well-organized, modern, self- respecting state with effective and efficient structures, processes, and mechanisms.
If this is nation branding then withdraw all my objections: it’s an eminently insensible, perfectly achievable standard to which to aspire; all countries should try to do it well; and it’s certainly as important as, for example, making sure that diplomats offer the right kinds of canapés when entertaining foreign heads of state; but it’s hard to understand why anybody in their right mind would want to spend time theorizing about it, still less write books about it. The point is that branding in this sense of the term is essentially a passive operation.
It can’t win any new customers, change anybody mind, increase market share, or affect the country prospects in any significant way. It is simply good practice, a useful exercise of reassurance, a piece of housekeeping. Certainly, for low-cost, fast-moving consumer products in a busy retail environment, the branding (in this sense of graphic design or corporate identity) can be almost as important as the product itself, because design is one of the few things that distinguishes a product from its competitors; the attractiveness of the product and its wrapper may even be a more significant driver of consumer choice than advertising.
This is why branding agencies, accustomed to the emphasis placed on brand identity in heir native field of commerce, talk so impressively about such matters, and public officials are often swayed by their talk. But countries aren’t for sale, aren’t easily mistaken one for another, aren’t fast-moving consumer goods, and certainly don’t come in wrappers, so the principles simply don’t transfer. The real confusion starts when people want branding to mean a technique, or set of techniques, by means of which brand image is directly built or enhanced: “Nine’s fantastic brand image is the result of fantastic branding. It is not. Nine’s fantastic brand image is the result of fantastic products sold in intestinally large numbers. Brand building is primarily achieved through product development and marketing and has relatively little to do with branding (except, as I mentioned before, if branding means logo and packaging design; in which case, it certainly helps the marketing process along). If people buy a product and find it good, this will begin to create a powerful brand image for the product; the product will earn a good reputation.
This reputation gradually spreads to non-users; even people who haven’t bought the product will know that it’s a good product. The reputation parade, drives up sales, and increases the value of the corporation. It’s one of the most significant factors of business success. But the use of the term branding to imply a method for building brand equity is both incorrect and unjustifiable-? there is simply no such method. Good products and services produced by a good corporation acquire a positive brand image, which eventually reflects on the corporation and becomes its principal asset.
Similarly, good products, services, culture, tourism, investments, technology, education, businesses, people, policies, initiatives, ND events produced by a good country also acquire a positive brand image, which eventually reflects on the country, and perhaps also becomes its principal asset. The message is clear: if a country is serious about enhancing its international image, it should concentrate on product development and marketing rather than chase after the chimera of branding. There are no short cuts.
Only a consistent, coordinated, and unbroken stream of useful, noticeable, world-class, and above all relevant ideas, products, and policies can, gradually, enhance the reputation of the country that produces them. I have often summarized this process as consisting of three main components: strategy, substance, and symbolic actions-2 Strategy, in its simplest terms, is knowing who a nation is and where it stands today (both in reality and according to internal and external perceptions); knowing where it wants to get to; and knowing how it is going to get there.
The two main difficulties associated with strategy development are 1) reconciling the needs and desires of a wide range of different national actors into a more or less single direction and 2) finding a strategic goal that is both inspiring and feasible, since these two requirements are frequently contradictory. Simon Unholy, “Nation-Brands of the Twenty-First Century,” Journal of Brand Management 5, no. 6 (London: Henry Stewart Publications, 1998): 395-406. Simon Unholy, Places: Identity, Image and Reputation (London: Palaver Macmillan, 2010). Http://surface. Sorry. Deed/exchange/viva/Isis/1 Substance is the effective execution of that strategy in the form of new economic, legal, political, social, cultural, and educational activity: the real innovations, businesses, legislation, reforms, investments, institutions, and elicits which will bring about the desired progress.
Symbolic actions are a particular species of substance that happen to have an intrinsic communicative power: they might be innovations, structures, legislation, reforms, investments, institutions, or policies that are especially suggestive, remarkable, memorable, picturesque, newsworthy, topical, poetic, touching, surprising, or dramatic. Most importantly, they are emblematic of the strategy: they are at the same time a component of the national story and the means of telling it. Some good examples of symbolic actions are the
Slovenian government donating financial aid to their Balkan neighbors in order to prove that Slovenia wasn’t part of the Balkans; Spain legalizing single-sex marriages in order to demonstrate that its values had modernized to a point diametrically opposed to the Franco period; the decision of the Irish government to exempt artists, writers, and poets from income tax in order to prove the state’s respect for creative talent; Estonia declaring internet access to be a human right; or Bhutan charging a hefty fine to visitors in order to demonstrate its great respect for its own cultural identity and for the fragility f its environment.
A single symbolic action will seldom achieve any lasting effect. Multiple actions should emanate from as many different sectors as possible in order to build a rounded and believable image for the place; they must also continue in unbroken succession for many years. Symbolic actions should never be empty-?they must be communicative substance rather than just communication. I argue that governments should never do things purely for brand-related reasons; no action should ever be conceived of or dedicated to image management or image change alone.
Every initiative and action should iris and foremost be done for a real purpose in the real world, or else it runs the risk of being insincere, ineffective, and perceived as propaganda (not to mention a use of taxpayers’ money that is often extremely hard to justify). It is clear that places require new and dedicated structures to coordinate, conceive, develop, maintain, and promote such an unbroken chain of proof. None of the traditional apparatus of trade or government is fit for such a purpose.
In order to sidestep the terminal confusion surrounding the notion of brands, coined the deliberately unsexes term “competitive identity,” as the title of a kook on this subject in 20073 It probably compromised sales of the book, but it made the point that national image has more to do with national identity and the politics and economics of competitiveness than with branding as it is usually understood in the commercial sector (or as is usually meant by people who know nothing about it). Today, every place on earth appears to want to enhance, reverse, adapt, or otherwise manage its international reputation.
Yet We are still far from a widespread understanding Of what this means in practice and just how far commercial approaches can be effectively and spoonbill applied to government, society, and economic development. Many governments, most consultants, and even some scholars persist in a tiresome and superficial interpretation of “place branding’ that is nothing more than standard product promotion, public relations, and corporate identity, where the product just happens to be a country, a city, or a region rather than a tin of beans or a box of soap powder.
The need for proper understanding in this area is crucial. Today, the world is one market. The rapid advance of globalization means that whatever countries try to pull in investors, aid, tourists, business visitors, students, major events, researchers, travel writers, and talented entrepreneurs) and whatever countries try to push out (products, services, policies, culture, and ideas) is done so with a discount if the country image is weak or negative and at a premium if it’s strong and positive.
In this crowded global marketplace, most people and organizations don’t have time to learn much about other places. We all navigate through the complexity of the modern world armed with a few simple clicks, and they form the background of our opinions, even if we aren’t fully aware of this and onto always admit it to ourselves: Paris is about style; Japan about technology; Switzerland about wealth and precision; ROI De Jeanine about carnival and football; Tuscany about the good life; and most African nations about poverty, corruption, war, famine, and disease.
Most of us are much too busy worrying about ourselves and our own countries to spend too long trying to form complete, balanced, and informed views about six billion other people and nearly two hundred other countries. We make do with summaries for the vast majority of people and places – the ones we will probably never now or visit – and only start to expand and refine these impressions when for some reason we acquire a particular interest in them.
When you haven’t got time to read a book, you judge it by its cover. These clicks and stereotypes-?positive or negative, true or untrue-?fundamentally affect our behavior towards other places and their people and products. It may seem unfair, but there’s nothing anybody can do to change this. It’s very hard for a country to persuade people in other parts of the world to go beyond these simple images and start to understand the rich complexity that lies behind hem.
Some quite progressive places don’t get nearly as much attention, visitors, business, or 3 Simon Unholy, Competitive Identity: The New Brand Management for Nations, Cities and Regions (London: Palaver Macmillan, 2007). 3 Exchange: The Journal of Public Diplomacy, Volvo. 2 , Sis. 1 , Art. 1 investment as they need because their reputation is weak or negative, while others are still trading on a good image that they acquired decades or even centuries ago and today do relatively little to deserve.
So all responsible governments, on behalf of their people, their institutions, and their impasses, need to measure and monitor the world’s perception of their nation and to develop a strategy for managing it It is a key part of their job to try to earn a reputation that is fair; true; powerful; attractive; genuinely UsefUl to their economic, political, and social aims; and honestly reflective of the spirit, the genius, and the will of the people. This huge task has become one of the primary skills of administrations in the twenty-first century.
When it comes into office, a government inherits a sacred responsibility for its electorate?s most valuable asset: the good name of its country. Its task is to hand that good name down to its successors in at least as good condition as it received it. President Lee Among-Back of the Republic of Korea is one leader who appears to have taken this responsibility seriously and has identified the task of improving South Koreans rather weak performance in the Anoint-SGF Roper Nation Brands Index”‘ (NIB) as a particularly important challenge for the country future success and prosperity.
South Korea is an interesting case. This is a country which, by any account, has made remarkable progress during the last three decades, achieving great advances in prosperity, debility, transparency, productivity, education, and in many other important areas. The ‘Korean Wave’ of high-quality film, music and television has made Korea into something of a media star in East and South-East Asia, yet its image remains decidedly weak, if not actually negative, outside the region.
Research suggests that people in many countries aren’t even quite sure which of the two Koreans is the good one and which the bad one-? or whether perhaps they are both bad. The reason why Korea has a weak international image is not, of course, because it has spent too little money on promoting itself. It’s because most people in most other countries simply arena interested in Korea, any more than they are interested in Peru, Jordan, Estonia, or Iambi. And there is, currently, no compelling reason why they should be.