Nation Branding and City Branding veteran, Jose Filipe Torres of Bloom Consulting shares his views and predictions on how the industry has changed over the past two years and where it’s heading next. 

It has been a tumultuous two years with the Covid-19 pandemic hitting Nation and Place Brands. How would you summarise the impact?

Countries and cities have responded to the pandemic with policies, behaviours and messages that will have a lasting impact on their Nation or Place Brand . In 2020, Bloom Consulting initiated a study on the impact of the pandemic on Nation Brands. It was a really fascinating analysis because, for the first time, all countries and cities were equally analysed going through what was a truly global event. From this study, we saw that the way they managed the crisis was really important for their reputation, and that first impression last. Nations will be feeling the consequences of the pandemic for years to come.

What themes are becoming less important and what trends are accelerating?

This is not an exhaustive list but the big themes are healthcare – mental and physical. This has become more important, more valued. In addition, the economy, the future of work/remote working, climate change, sustainability, and conflict, specifically the growing differences of opinions in societies. Countries and Cities need to ask themselves – what are the things that were partly caused or amplified because of the pandemic? These answers are going to shape the future of countries, regions and cities.

For instance, the Finnish Prime Minister’s office has a team called the Government Foresight Group that works to anticipate big trends and create relevant policies for the future. In other words, designing policies for matters that do not yet exist, that’s future thinking!

There are positives to take from this period – can you discuss these?

Before the pandemic, there was a big problem with over-tourism around the world and the impact it had on the environment as well as local residents. The pandemic gave an opportunity to artificially stop tourism – to reset tourism. This is a really tangible outcome of the pandemic. Now there is a stronger, positive conversation about how sustainable tourism can be achieved. 

“A Nation and City Brand reflects the actions, activities and policies taken by that country or city. it’s really important, therefore, to imagine what the future could be like and what role your Place Brand could play in that future”

Can you talk about a recent example of an initiative or strategy taken by a Country Brand or City Brand which is really paying off for them?

As I said before, it’s important to first start by saying the job of Nation Brand and City Brand teams is to anticipate the future and make sure that whenever the future comes, your strategy is going to fit that future. You have to be working on strategies in advance, so these examples have been initiated a long time ago. 

The first example is about a US city called Tulsa in Oklahoma. Tulsa created a strategy known as ‘Tulsa Remote’, which encourages remote workers to work from Tulsa and they focused on the lifestyle, the healthcare, the happiness, and the general quality of life. They did it really well because they started this strategy in 2018 – so now it’s very relevant. 

The key is that they gained this positioning first by predicting what might happen. The pandemic obviously accelerated some of these trends but the main point here is that places need to be ahead of the curve – just like Costa Rica was with sustainability and Estonia with digitisation.

Bloom Consulting is working on a new measurement study – what is this about?

We initiated a new, groundbreaking study because we want to know the impact that perceptions have on countries regions and cities, not only from an economical perspective but from a social perspective. Once published, the study will be available for free for anyone to see. It’s an open-source study led by Bloom Consulting and developed together with City Nation Place and researchers from Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona.

We want to know if perceptions are as important to a country or a city as the level of education. Perhaps yes because if you have a positive perception, you’re able to attract better teachers, for instance, to live in that country or city and those teachers can improve educational and employment levels. Does perception have a knock-on effect? We will see.

What is the one critical thing all Nation and Place Brand Managers need to think about this year?

I never think in one-year periods. I always think in 3-5 year periods or more when working on the Nation and Place Branding strategies. However, in the short term, we need to be prepared for uncertainty and ready for different types of scenarios because the pandemic is probably not going to be a one-off scenario. Country Brands and City Brands need to be prepared for this everlasting change in circumstances and have contingency plans.

What are the key industry events and publications to watch out for this year?

There is a lot of important material published each year. Impact on Nation and Place Brands which will be launched later in the year, I think this is the most important event of the industry. Two other important industry publications include the Bloom Consulting Country Brand Ranking and the Tourism and Travel Competitiveness Report from the World Economic Forum.