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Country Branding

Country Branding

The power of the global economy has created an environment where countries have to begin to see themselves as a branding and marketing problem. In other words, what do they have to sell and how do they best position themselves to sell it. Since marketing is all about generating customers and prospects, countries must determine what problems need fixing to improve their brand image and their finances.

Since I’ve been travelling extensively around the world over the past decades, I have a pretty good sense of what many countries should do to maximize their position in the global economy. In fact, in some situations, I’ve been asked to give countries some specific recommendations. Here’s a sampling of my observations. Let’s start with the U.S. or the biggest player in global trade.

United States
The U.S. image problem is that of being perceived as the world’s last superpower which often turns us into being perceived as a bully. My counseling to the State Department was to replace that concept with a program that better defined our role in the world in a more positive way. My advice was to position the country as “helping the world be a safer, freer and more prosperous place.” Many of our activities can be framed in that way. But, we invaded Iraq which undermined that concept at the time it was presented. What you do has to line up with what you say.

Spend any time in India and you will see it is a country that needs a lot of work as well as peace and prosperity to pay for it. My advice to India was to settle the Pakistan problem and make them an important trading partner just as Canada is our No. 1 trading partner. This could only be done by India “Declaring Peace” and Kashmir being encouraged to become an independent state. Being the bigger player, India has to make the first move. This would free up a lot of resources in both India and Pakistan to build their economies.

Sri Lanka
This big island south of India has been through some difficult times via a tsunami and a civil war. My advice to them was to go back to their original name which would greatly enhance their tourism and tea business. That name was “Ceylon.” Make the change and use the surrounding publicity to tell their story as to why it is a great place to visit. Names have changed for the better. An example was Leningrad which returned to “St. Petersburg.” What to name a product or even a country is a very important marketing decision.

New Zealand
When you talk about islands, on the top of the list has to be New Zealand. Some years ago, I visited these two islands and advised them to position the country as having “The two most beautiful islands in the world.” The North Island has big green rolling hills that are perfectly manicured by millions of sheep. The South Island has what can be best described as the Alps. Sheep and tourism is what they have to sell.

This country has two important things to sell, olive oil and tourism. They are the world’s leading olive oil producers and it’s even where Italy gets a great deal of their oil going back to Roman times. The world should be aware that Spain is the global leader. On the tourism front, they should broaden their perceptions beyond the sun and beaches with their cathedrals and castles. There is a lot more to see and the world should be aware of these things to see.

It is an amazing place but it lacks what Peter Drucker pointed out as critical to generating new customers which is “Innovation.” Instead of copying others, China must begin to invent or improve things of their own that they can sell internally or for export. What they lack is a silicon valley of sorts that can begin to generate new ideas they need upon which to build brands to attract global attention.

One final observation about country branding. As with companies, management is an important element in setting the direction and implementing a marketing strategy. Show me a big problem in any country and I’ll show you bad management. Places like Venezuela and Russia are countries that fall into this category. Once, lecturing in Venezuela, I pointed out that in evaluating this country you had to clarify things as B.C or A.C. (Before Chavez. After Chavez.) Even though Chavez is gone, their oil and gas is still there. Unfortunately, they are still searching for good management. Russia’s problem is also about management as Mr. Putin is killing their business and image with his forays into Ukraine. Their problem is that Mr. Putin is hard to fire.

Jack Trout
President Trout & Partners
Global partners of Brand Lounge
Leading branding agency in Middle East

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