As the Covid-19 pandemic has unravelled over the last few months, there has been a silver lining: the accelerated process of digitalization in Countries, Regions, and Cities. Governments, businesses, industries, and individuals from all over the world were forced to adapt faster than ever to a new reality and to operate differently. This next normal is preparing us all to a more digitally advanced future and renewed Nation and Place Brands.

The development of new trends and adjustments made by digital transformation has accelerated and cemented into businesses and places, even those that were initially hesitant to adopt these changes. Thus, the digitalization of public services by national and local governments and the implementation of remote work has been quick and dynamic. Economies are experiencing their survival online, through multiple digital services, from telecommunications platforms and apps to e-commerce and digital media, among others.

As we start easing into the so-called ‘next normal’ and continue preparing for future crisis events, one of the main lessons that we should learn moving forward is that developing digital services and systems will make Countries, Regions and Cities more resilient and able to function even with large-scale economic disruptions.

By promoting digital and alternative learning and remote work, we are shaping the future and encouraging citizens to rethink their way of life and where they want to live it. This may be far away from the big Countries and big Cities, as they have been the epicentre of the current outbreak. This means there’s an opportunity for smaller Nation and Place Brands to attract more talent to their territories by becoming Digital Countries and Digital Cities.

But let’s go back to see how we got here.

How it all began: From lockdowns to remote working

To tackle the new Coronavirus pandemic, Countries, Regions and Cities across the world have implemented several strict policies and measures to slow the spread of the virus. Lockdowns, school and workplace closures, cancellation of events and public gatherings and limitation on public transport enforced a physical distance between people, affecting their lives and especially their mobility.

According to a Bloom Consulting study, 46% of the respondents were working from home during lockdown. The health crisis has led many professionals to experience, for the first time, remote work and their positive experience of it makes them want to extend this possibility. They are open to combining it with the more traditional work model.

Employees and companies are rethinking their work methodologies given the advantages of remote working: increased productivity, avoidance of travel and achieving a better balance between work and personal life.

People will no longer need to work in defined places and commuting will become less frequent, which will also have a positive impact on the environment. The increase in distance working will bring a diversification of workplaces as people seek new spaces to work and live, especially in smaller, rural areas.

That means that people will be willing to travel longer distances occasionally, if that allows them to have larger and more accessible houses, away from the turmoil of urban areas and in a safer place that gives them more peace and quiet. Therefore, we may see a reduction in the concentration of workers in major Cities, as they are saturated in terms of real estate and have a higher living cost and the stigma of living outside the City may be eased.

Goodbye big Cities, hello countryside

A family that wasn’t a digital nomad can now go and live in the countryside, work remotely, have access to services that they didn’t have before, all thanks to the new paradigm that is rising and being accepted by societies worldwide. People may not want to live in very populated places and may choose to work in a smaller town with a more interesting nature-related environment that bigger Cities can’t quite offer.

Just imagine the scenario of a family facing quarantine whilst living in a big capital City, in comparison with their scenario if have faced quarantine living in a small town in order to understand how mentalities are changing.

Living in a big City, the family had to surgically manage their professional, school and family activities in a small apartment, located in a building in a densely populated area. Transport is saturated, shopping lines at the supermarket are huge, parks are full on the weekends and personal relationships are affected by a lack of well-being.

A smaller City or town can offer better conditions for a healthier habitability. The houses are larger, more accessible and more comfortable with a garden where you can work remotely and in the open air, while the children ride their bikes through the vast landscape. The home garden can create a new hobby and save time on shopping. The family can plan a picnic on the river beach nearby, with the company only of the surrounding nature.

Now that people are realising that is possible to live outside of Cities and jobs are becoming remote due to the pandemic, it is logistically possible to attract people to live wherever they want. This translates into a new opportunity for smaller Nation and Place Brands. It is time to Countries, Regions and Cities increase incentive programs to lure tech workers to work from home in a new location. We must embrace this paradigm shift we are currently experiencing to contribute to greater equity in territorial, social and economic terms.

Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA, for example, has been more of an off-the-radar City that has promoted its parks, breweries, and amenable climate to boost its appeal to workers looking to move away from the coasts. In order to attract a new generation of Tulsans, the City launched a program, ‘Tulsa Remote’, awarding a fund and providing amenities like co-working space to digital nomads who land there and stay for at least a year. It has received twice the applications since the pandemic started.

Employees are proving that remote working isn’t only possible, it’s preferable and the prospect of working from the other side of the world seems less hypothetical now. So instead of trying to attract whole companies with economic development incentives, Nation and Place Brands can begin to target individuals who pick a place on its merits, not its employers.

On one hand, this revelation can be a sign of relief for large, overpopulated Cities and, on the other hand, an opportunity for those who live in the deserted European countryside, or Latin American nations like Argentina or Brazil, whose abundant rural areas with its natural attractions can potentially benefit from this new digital paradigm.

From digitalization to Digital Identity

The so-called digital nomads may no longer be the exception as Countries, Regions and Cities prepare for digitalization to become the norm, including building broadband infrastructures to support connectivity, developing digital skills to improve as a digital society, encouraging citizens use of internet and instigating business technology integration.

Nowadays, there are new digital offers and services at almost every level: work, education, health, online shopping, online information and so on. Digitalization pushed everything to make it better, easier and accessible from everywhere. Which means that Covid-19 pandemic may be the unprecedented event that not only brought worldwide digitalisation to Countries, Regions and Cities but forced Nation and Place Brands to understand the importance of being a Digital Country or a Digital City in order to attract this new remote talent.

Digitalization can lead to a brand strategy as a Digital Country or Digital City, if that’s the intended positioning of the brand. Thus, the best way to get these smaller Digital Countries or Digital Cities to the target audiences is to improve their Digital Identity. Given the change in behaviour, people will search online about alternatives to their new lifestyle, it is extremely important that brands have a digital presence aligned with their Central Idea to communicate their offer and assets as a Digital Country or City – their Digital Identity.

The online searches and results impact the Nation and Place Brand reputation and will affect behaviours and decisions in real life. So, in a volatile world of digital reputation, a Nation or Place Brand must adapt its strategy to the new reality since they are increasingly influenced by their Digital Identity.

If smaller Nation and Place Brands want to position themselves as an existing opportunity that offers a new way of living they need to be strategically managed in terms of having a coherent Digital Identity to achieve great search results, based on a positive online reputation.