Countries are brands too. Are you managing yours?

August 4, 2011

The recent events in Greece, Portugal, Spain and the US (i.e., the debt circus) force all of us in the brand world to ponder if and how one can go about managing a country’s brand and brand reputation. Is it possible at all?

The velocity in which change occurs is astounding. We live in the era of Twitter, an instantaneous world. No business, country, regime or government is immune to the effects of instant citizenry understanding both locally and globally.

We are also in the world era of “brand.” The likes of Pepsi, McDonald's, Adidas, Hyundai and Toyota all represent global businesses with a tangible value understood wherever they choose to hang a shingle. These brands extract a premium and consumers are happy to pay for the promise of quality, consistency and stature.

In a context where communications is instant and brands are omnipresent are countries any different? Which country brands would you rate highest based on your gut? North Korea? South Korea? Greece? Germany? Italy? Turkey? Spain? Portugal? Iran? Iraq? Somalia? India? Brazil? Russia? United States? Uzbekistan? Canada? Mexico?

If your gut is like mine, you must concede that all these country brands have different rankings. Some good and some not so good.

So if you agree that they are just like a brand, how effective are they at marketing themselves?

Great brands differentiate themselves and have a vivid point-of-difference from the competition. Great brands invest in that difference. Which country has done an effective job of protecting and investing in their brand? As far as we can tell, few to none do a good job of managing their brand.

Mostly they deploy trite, predictable and boring approaches. Efforts like inserts in publications to tout their beaches, natural resources, friendly people and financial institutions reach a narrow audience who are mostly immune to a logical and canned effort.

It is time for countries to step up to the plate of brand and branding. It’s time to recognize that brand management, even for a country, is critical and similar to a consumer brand. It is time to invest in developing communications strategies that burnish the brand and promote what makes it different and valuable.

Country marketing must start with a strategic examination of the core essence of the brand and how it can be expressed in a consistent way across all stakeholders inside and outside the entity — just like a corporate brand.

Done properly it can actually have a tangible impact on the bottom line of investment and tourism. As an example, think about how Mexico did (or did not) manage its brand during its wave of violence and the impact that had on visitors and investment. Conversely, despite a difficult set of local crime and violence issues, one man’s song helped the Jamaican Tourist Board create a brand idea that overcame all negative perceptions and resulted in the greatest country brand campaign of all time: “One Love.”

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