Friday, April 24, 2015

Country branding: The new global marketing strategy

By: Nathalia Rios Ballesteros
Universidad EAFIT, Colombia

“The public impression of a country is important as a source of national pride. Invariably, people source part of their own identity from the image of their country.” –Roberto Cevero, 2012.
Globalization, regional interdependence and global economic integration have traced the path towards a new global paradigm in which not only companies but also countries are engaged in competing at every level. Empirical and historical evidence have shown that countries compete to stimulate exports, attract tourism, appeal foreign direct investments and enhance immigration within its borders. In that respect, governments are turning to branding techniques to differentiate their country on the global stage in order to establish a competitive advantage over rivals “in the belief that a strong country brand can contribute to the country’s sustainable development” (Fetscherin 2010, pg. 1). However, even though this branding technique has become a trending topic nowadays, there is a disappointingly lack of progress in its conceptual development limiting and challenging nation branding’s ability to overcome cynical scepticism among the public (Fan 2010, pg. 2).

Regarding the notion of brand understood as a “multidimensional assortment of functional, emotional, relational and strategic elements that collectively generate a unique set of associations in the public mind” (Aaker 2012, pg. 68), one can say that every country has a unique set of elements ―such as people, places, culture, language, history, food, fashion, etc― and a current image to its international audience through which it can be recognize or associated with, nationally and internationally, thus reassuring the existence of what can be considered as “country brand”.

Thus, nation or country branding can be considered as “a process by which a nation’s images can be created, monitored, evaluated and proactively managed in order to improve or enhance the country’s reputation among a target international audience” (Fan 2012, pg. 6). This term emerged from the marketing literature related to four main marketing fields; country of origin[1], destination branding[2], country image or country-product image[3] and country identity[4] However, over the years, country branding became an interdisciplinary topic, encompassing multiple disciplines apart from marketing and branding topics, such as international relations and public diplomacy (Dinnie 2010, pg. 13)

Its main objectives are generally associated with: promoting a clear, defined and unified identity of a country in the international arena that integrates all productive activities in each country and creating a culture of national identity among its citizens around highly recognized ideologies and customs. At the same time, nation brand aims to: improve a country’s image; align the perception of citizens toward greater patriotism and national pride; provides a competitive advantage as countries compete in the economic and political scenario; reinforce the concept "made in" labels on products sold in international markets; among others (Dinnie 2010, pgs. 17-20).

In regard to its measurement, two main high profile indexes, annually published, has been created with a transparent approach, based on objective secondary data. These are; the Country Brand Index from FutureBrand consultancy and the Anholt GFK Roper Nation Brand Index (NBI) respectively. It is important to recall that these indexes do not account for all dimensions of country branding. However, they represent a starting point as an analytic tool when assessing current status of nation branding among countries.

As to the Country Brand Index regards, apart from being one of the most reliable indexes worldwide, it has expanded the knowledge and research field for nation brand and thus country branding. According to its latest ranking (2014), the five leading countries in this topic were Japan, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, and Canada. By this, it means that people have stronger than average perceptions of these countries and perceive them equally strong in aspects relating to quality life, values and customs and business potential, as they do for their culture, history, tourism and ‘Made In’ expertise.

Even though any Latin American country appears to be leading the ranking, regional data shows that despite its weaknesses -such as the lacking political freedom, health and education infrastructure’s lag, low standards of living, etc. - the region has effectively offset them seizing its advantages and opportunities in; natural beauty, wide range of attractions, tourist destination and its historical points of interest.

Specifically, Colombia is ranked 63 in the overall list. At a regional level, it belongs to the top 10 Latin American countries included, and it also appears to be the 12 country with the most promising country brand along with 14 other countries including; UAE, Chile, Mexico, India, China, Qatar, South Korea, Brazil, Estonia, among others.

In this context, at a regional level in the last two decades, Colombia has become a key player among Latin American countries. It’s recent accomplishments in terms of; security, socioeconomic development, foreign investment, trade agreements and great tourism opportunities, have not only laid the foundations of national sustained growth but have repositioned the country as an attractive destination and a symbol of talent, hard work and passion. In achieving this, public and private alliances have played a fundamental role; transforming the paradigms and stereotypes surrounding the country for the international audience. This is why, since 2004, various entities ―former Proexport, Inexmoda and the Presidency― gathered around the need of sponsoring a positive country image, which in turn, gave birth to the initial phase strategy to promote Colombia internationally in 2005. The campaign was named “Colombia es pasión” and was enforced until 2011, when Colombia Country Brand was officially created.

Unlike "Colombia es pasión", the new campaign, “La respuesta es Colombia” (Colombia is the answer), is not focused on a specific socioeconomic or political aspect, it instead shows the country as a whole, highlighting all its strengths in terms of culture, biodiversity, tourism, foreign investment, among others.

Regarding the above, it is important to recall that nation branding still stands as an extremely wide and difficult subject to research define and proactively apply from country to country. It is thus a complicated, multifaceted and interdisciplinary construction that varies due to the national context and current framework each country faces. Moreover, its defiant task is how to communicate, in a coordinated and consistent way, a single image or message to different audiences in different countries at the same time. This means, “having one slogan, one campaign, no matter how clever or creative, can’t sell everything to everyone” (Fan 2010, pg. 7). In this sense, nation branding could be more meaningful and relevant if it was conceptualized, measured and executed separately at each one of sublevels (as a place brand, event brand or export brand) because in reality, “it is impossible to develop such a simple core message about a country that can be used by different industry sectors in different countries” (Fan 2010, pg. 7). 

In despite of the challenges and limitations nation branding might have, its impact should not be exaggerated or dismissed, it should, instead, be updated and widely shared with the rest of the world in order to seize its opportunities and extend its effects. As to the Colombian case regards, one can say that although Colombia still faces several challenges on the issue; recent public-private partnerships, government efforts and national commitment have helped improve national image internationally, allowing better and more opportunities to enhance sustained development for the country as a whole.



[1] Country of Origin or the meaning of ‘Made In’ “may associate a product with status, authenticity, and exoticness” (Verlegh & Steenkamp 1999, pg. 523)
[2] Destination branding is about how consumers perceive the destination in their minds.
[3] Refers to the “overall perception consumers form of products from a particular country, based on their prior perceptions of the country’s production and marketing strength and weaknesses” (Roth & Romeo 1992, pg. 480).
[4] National identity refers to a personal sense of belonging to one state or nation, oftenly shared with a group of people, regardless of one's citizenship status. Many professors see national identity in psychological terms as "an awareness of difference" - "a feeling and recognition of 'we' and 'they' (Lee Yonmi 2000).

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