Nature, education and innovation (Background)
Located in the heart of America, Costa Rica is an oasis that enchants for its beaches bathed by the Pacific and the Caribbean Sea, its volcanoes, mountain ranges, forests, nature reserves, and the immense diversity of fauna and flora. But is that all that is?
Independent since 1848, it is considered one of the most stable democracies in the American continent and was the first country in Latin America to invest in hydroelectricity. The official language is Spanish, and it abolished the army a century after its independence to invest more on its people education and health.
Its capital, San José, is the most populated province in the country and is located in the Central Valley, crossing the impressive mountains of the Cordillera Central, which host national parks, forest reserves, and fertile land where coffee plantations abound.
With a belief in the transforming power of culture, the government bets on young people’s artistic education, creating opportunities and accessibility in the world of arts, promoting entrepreneurship and the preservation of national cultural heritage.
In addition to enabling the inclusion of indigenous people, there are programmes whose aim is to encourage children from various communities to learn to play an instrument, to have contact with sculpture, craft products, and dance.
The strong investment in education translates into a high qualification of Costa Rican talent, whose ability to innovate, create new businesses and specialisations, and accept new challenges stands out in the region. In fact, around 81% of export companies are small- and medium-sized businesses.
Thus, this Central American country guarantees quality in production and diversity in exports. Costa Rica exports 4359 products to 157 countries, making it the largest exporter in Latin America for high technology, and the seventh in the world for industrial goods.
Video games, medical devices, products for the aeronautical industry, applications, software, pineapple, cantaloupe, tubers, chayote, rambutan, watermelon, plantains, and nutritional snacks are the most exported products.
All this is done with consideration to committing to the environment, given that 25.5% of the territory is protected areas, including volcanoes, islands, waterfalls, rivers, tropical forests, and canyons, among others. Since the country is geographically among the continental masses of North and South America, it hosts the most varied fauna and flora.
A Country Brand with a margin of progression (Challenge)
The Costa Rican Investment Promotion Agency (PROCOMER), the organization responsible for the Costa Rica Country Brand, contacted Bloom Consulting in 2016 to carry out a detailed analysis of the perceptions of this Country Brand, in order to assess its international attractiveness.
Besides, they also asked for an assessment of the performance of Costa Rica’s Country Brand in the international context, as well as a comparison of this same performance with its direct competitors.
Thus, in a first phase, we collected data through the Digital Demand – D2© tool, which provided us with essential information regarding online research on investment by potential investors. Because what is sought in digital platforms is a clear indicator of what is happening in a Country, Region or City.
Tourism supply, international reputation, security and stability, modernity, and socioeconomic factors were all elements that reflected the favourable impact of Costa Rica’s Country Brand.
Overall, the results revealed a good reputation for the Country Brand and a positive perception, whose trend was better than Mexico, Colombia, Panama, and the Dominican Republic, the direct competitor markets.
The study thus showed that, in addition to the high demand from the external audience in Costa Rica, this Country Brand has a high potential for growth regarding its main competitors, since an increase in online interest was detected.
The economic climate, the government’s focus on policies targeted at green energy – the essence of its strategic positioning – and on sustainable tourism had a positive impact on international perception and online demand for this Country Brand.
Nevertheless, throughout the editions of Bloom Consulting Country Brand Ranking© – another methodology used to measure the performance of this Country Brand -, the evolution has always been towards growth. Regarding Tourism, Costa Rica has made a significant leap since 2013, rising from 11th place to 5th place in the region, thus reaching the Top 10 thanks to an increase in tourism receipts, online performance, and effective communication strategy (Rating CBS: AA). Step by step, it is about to rise to the Top 30 worldwide.
With sustainability as the engine of the economy, the evolution in the Trade editions of the ranking has also been steady: it occupied the 12th place in 2013 and is currently in the 10th position in the continental table, also improving in the Digital Demand – D2© searches and in the CBS Rating (A).
Those who work in Place Branding such as Bloom Consulting knows that going onsite is fundamental to get to know the place and interview people. In addition to the hundreds of surveys that we managed in 35 countries, we conducted, together with the Costa Rican team, several interviews with different stakeholders to understand two cornerstones of this Country Brand: identify the existing perception and the intended perception and map the ongoing projects of previous governments and private initiatives.
From strategy to management model (Strategy)
“Before Bloom Consulting, there was already a Central Idea and a brand strategy: Esencial Costa Rica”, as José Filipe Torres, CEO of Bloom Consulting, recalls, “our job was to look at the existing strategy and not try to change it, but rather help the Costa Rican team to make it work even better”, he explains. “Maintaining an existing strategy is as important as developing a new Country Brand strategy. This is one of the responsibilities that consultants and governments have to know how to manage: if the strategy is good, it is to be maintained“, José continues.
We started with the Brand Book and the values of sustainability, social progress, excellence, and innovation, and we wanted to understand what they really mean. And what Costa Rica want is to be a role model to the world. As José Torres points, “Costa Rica is a kind of Scandinavia from Latin America”.
Thus, we provided tools for a new brand management model that involves stakeholders and we aligned everything the brand does with the Central Idea, through our ON/OFF filters. And since there are no universal metrics, we chose the most appropriate key indicators for measuring performance (KPI) and the most relevant ones for stakeholders and for the Country Brand.
This way, we were able to adequately monitor the progress of the government’s work and create a set of significant recommendations to improve Costa Rica’s attractiveness at the heart of the international investor community.
Aligning “green” policies with the Central Idea impacted the perception of the Country Brand, and without using any marketing techniques, the evolution of the renewable energy’s demand is clearly visible in the Digital Country Index 2017/2018. At each milestone reached – 75 days without using fossil energy, then 100 days, etc. – the searches skyrocketed, generating an extremely positive trend, as can be seen in the chart above. Costa Rica was the first country ever to reach the incredible feature of functioning 299 days with renewable energy only.
“It is important that people know where it is and how big Costa Rica is, because what this country is doing is gigantic, has a real impact, and is extremely innovative,” says Malcolm Allan, Bloom Consulting’s President. “Costa Rica covers only 0.03% of the global territory, but the way they faced this challenge holds exemplary lessons for the rest of the world,” he said.
José Torres enhances another aspect: “One of the most important things was the launch of the Country Brand by the public, without being associated with any specific government, because one of the key points of the strategy is precisely to invest in people”.
Bloom Consulting’ CEO highlighted the role of Daniel Valverde, director of Esencial COSTA RICA, “who met with the new government in 2018 and explained to them the importance of Country Branding and of continuing to bet on this strategy”. In other words, involving stakeholders from the beginning.
In fact, Esencial Costa Rica Country Brand, together with Bloom Consulting, developed a commitment programme with stakeholders, where hierarchies and responsibilities were defined. “Sharing commitment with public institutions is essential for the creation, development, and maintenance of the Country Brand”, underlines Daniel Valverde.
A protocol was also established with a private sector alliance, with more than 400 companies obtaining a license to represent the Country Brand. Citizens’ commitment has played a crucial role, as the director of Esencial Costa Rica states: “Costa Rica’s story is told by its five million people, it is a very important asset of our Brand”.
Measuring and reporting to institutions was the chosen way to maintain the interest of stakeholders and to make them feel part of the brand. However, a Country Brand should not be associated with political parties, which is why a support structure has been created for the management of the brand so that it can survive the changes in government. This way, communication with the press is also better.
Recognition and international awards (Results)
One of the key factors that the Esencial Costa Rica team has been working on is precisely its online footprint. As Daniel Valverde explains: “Digital Identity shortens the gap between what people know about Costa Rica and what Costa Rica really is”.
Nevertheless, this small Central American Country has been in the news for the most varied and positive reasons, with recognition of its strategic positioning being the main one.
More recently, in November 2019, at the City Nation Place Global event in London, the Esencial Costa Rica Country Brand received the impressive Place Brand of the Year award for their “commitment to a multi-faceted, sustainable strategy and a belief in the power of a Place Brand to bring a nation together,” as stated by the CNP organization.
This distinction was extremely important due to the international recognition of an independent jury. With values of preservation and sustainability, and the engagement of citizens and various organizations, Costa Rica´s strategy serves as an example for other brands. Bloom Consulting has already seen three of its clients nominated finalists for this City Nation Place award (Braga and Idanha-a-Nova), with Costa Rica being the first winner.
In August of the same year, the capital San José hosted the first City Nation Place – Latin America and the Caribbean event, bringing together international experts, governments, and stakeholders from the region, and sharing the most successful case studies.
At the 26th edition of the World Travel Awards – the Tourism Oscars – Costa Rica won 10 awards, including the “Best Destination in Central America and Mexico 2019”, elected by professionals and businessmen in the area. It was also considered the “Best Wildlife & Nature Destination 2019” by the readers of the UK’s independent travel publication Selling Travel.
According to Site Selection Magazine, Costa Rica is one of the 5 best countries to invest in worldwide. It is also one of the 5 countries that leads the global bet on renewable resources, setting the goal of becoming the first plastic and carbon-free nation by 2021.
Costa Rica has received a 2019 Champions of the Earth award, the UN’s highest environmental honour, for its role in the protection of nature and its commitment to ambitious policies to combat climate change. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) recognized Costa Rica in the policy leadership category and as a world leader in sustainability.
And these are just part of the list of achievements and the example that Costa Rica has accomplished and continues to fulfil every day.
With an average life expectancy higher than that of the United States of America, this small nation is considered one of the happiest in the world, thanks to its commitment to the well-being and quality of life of its population.
But this Country Brand of Costa Rica did not come out of nowhere. Its position in the world comes from its people, its history, its heritage, its identity, and the way it wants to develop.
Costa Rica knows where it comes from and where it goes. And it leads by example.
“Digital identity shortens the gap between what people know about Costa Rica and what Costa Rica really is. This is one of the keys of the strategy that Bloom Consulting developed with PROCOMER and Esencial Costa Rica”.
Daniel Valverde, director of Esencial Costa Rica Country Brand