When we talk about Nation Branding, we speak of a Country as the whole, treating the national identity representation as the means of building a favorable internal and external Country image. Just like any strategy or project, it only succeeds when it involves the various parts of the whole, from governments through stakeholders to its population.
However, in the process of creating this strategy, there are several challenges that arise in the various stages comprising Nation Branding. Below we list some of these challenges that, with the right vision and implementation, can be overcome.
The Impact of Government Leaders on Nation Branding
In many cases, the Country’s political leader is the first reference people have of a Country, due to his image spread by the world media. These personalities are public figures representing a particular value system, perspective and Country. Therefore, leader’s impact on a Country’s reputation is undeniable.
Governors can thus contribute to the image of their own Countries through their diplomatic and political decisions, internally and externally. However, in order to have a successful Country Brand, the same actions and measures must be a part of a Nation Branding strategy, based on a common vision and specific goals.
The biggest challenge is to achieve a positive perception of the Country Brand concurrently internally and abroad. When political leaders have a good reputation within their Nation, not necessarily they may reach the same level of reputation and support at an international level, and vice versa.
A great example of the former is the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel. Her position as Europe’s leader is inseparable from Germany and, despite being strongly contested by the European citizens because of the economic austerity she advocated, she has enjoyed a strong domestic support.
On the other hand, there is Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva, the former president of Brazil and simultaneously one of the most popular politicians in the Country’s history. He had a very positive international image, however, his national reputation was destroyed by the “Lava Jato” case, for which he got arrested. The Brazil’s Country Brand, which was at its highest, eventually deteriorated.
The Constructive (and destructive) Power of Media Coverage in Nation Branding
Whether it is television news, tabloids, newspapers or radio, all these forms of communication contribute greatly to the perception of a Country, raise public awareness and build (or destroy) a Nation Brand.
“Any press is a good press?” Not at all! Essentially, it’s media who controls the image of a Nation Brand, not the other way around. Most of the time the consequences of it are bad, as the media coverage focuses mainly on scandals and economic outcomes rather than on the positive aspects.
Furthermore, global media does not hold a positive discourse on a Country for a long time. They talk sporadically about examples of innovation and social progress, always returning to the discussion of negative aspects. In many cases, discussing social issues such as inequalities, corruption, politics and human rights, is useful and justifiable, however, at times it may blow the issue out of proportion.
The press can be extremely helpful in building a Nation Brand image if it has a good strategy to support. Even as an outside force, the media can have a powerful effect on the value of Nation Brand. When investors consider investing in a Country or when a tourist considers visiting a Country, everything that is conveyed by the world press influences perceptions.
Strong economic performance is easily associated with civilization and progress, money is apparently equivalent to order. Yet, it is not always enough, as economic power can quickly change from Region to Region.
However, instead of trying to control the media, the results of Nation Branding should be demonstrated to the media, allowing it to judge for itself.
Stakeholders’ Involvement in Nation Branding
Nation Branding acts as a strategic tool helping to promote to all types of audience, the competitive advantages of a Country, Region or City, from its historical and cultural heritage to the quality of life. It also serves the purpose of attracting capital and investment to support the sustainable socio-economic development of the place in question.
Thus, one of the challenges is to identify the distinctive features that enable the Country and stakeholders to achieve their strategic objectives. Creating an identity from the many values that are not always tangible and that can represent different interests of various social groups involved in the strategy is not an easy task.
Significant part of this challenge constitutes the inclusion of stakeholders in the Nation Branding process as it is far more complex for Countries than it is for products. As a matter of fact, the Country Brand conceptualization is a result of collaborative decisions-making processes between multiple players, involving usually some disputes over representations, responsiveness and Brand identification for different stakeholders.
The role of stakeholders and their involvement is crucial in building a Nation Brand, as not only do they make valuable knowledge contributions, they also have a position that facilitates local, regional or national development. Without including authorities and governments, investment and touristic agencies, private sector representatives, local businesses, opinion leaders or common citizens, a positive brand value cannot be achieved.
As a result, all of these entities play an active and dynamic role in the development of Nation Brand. Yet, from this multitude of stakeholders some conflicts of interest may arise. Therefore, identifying the key stakeholders and their objectives is crucial in the first phase. It should provide more opportunities to incorporate entities that demonstrate willingness to participate in the process.
Stakeholders should not be alienated since it may lead to the loss of parts of the identity heritage, extremely important to the brand. Instead, the link between all the parts must be explored in order to overcome the challenges and achieve the common goals. This requires a strategic alignment among all participants.
In order to avoid the risk of diverging from Nation Brand’s initial objectives, the brand´s management structure must rank priorities and ensure rationalization of all potential benefits, in accordance with the rule that a strong Country Brand is one that allows good communication between the various stakeholders.
Goodbye ‘Nation Branding 1.0’, Hello ‘Nation Branding 2.0’
Companies, investors, tourists, talents and the general public… In the past, if a representative of any of these stakeholders had been interested in a Country, Region or City as they had read or heard the news, they would have gone to an intermediary for further information. And so, in case of a company looking for a business partner, the Chamber of Commerce would have been asked for help; a tourist would have gone to a travel agency; or a person looking for a new place to live, would have visited the consulate of a Country under consideration.
These days, all above-mentioned stakeholders would satisfy their needs directly, that is, by doing an online search, no longer having to turn to the official trade services. For instance, modern tourists use search engines to seek information on the destinations they are planning to visit, which is confirmed by a study conducted by Google (2014). It reveals that the results of search engines, appeals to about 65% of tourists providing them with inspiration. The same is true for international investors: more than 86% admit to using search engines as their primary source to gather more information about potential countries to invest in (Bloom Consulting, 2015).
The intermediaries and guardians of the information were thus eliminated or replaced, given the trust placed by the various stakeholders in the new technologies. Indeed, according to data from the Edelman Trust Barometer 2019, search engines have already exceeded the credibility of traditional media. Nevertheless, all important information is always available in the digital world through search engines and other digital platforms.
Just as companies, services, tourists and people in general have adapted to the transposition of reality into the digital world, so Country Brands have done it, and will have to continue adjusting to the future of Nation Branding. In the transition from Nation Branding 1.0 to Nation Branding 2.0, the Digital Identity has become a determining factor for Country, Region or City Brands. As a consequence, any event that has occurred in real life, finds an equal occurrence in the digital world.
The notion of outdated news has ceased to exist, as what has happened today will be available and sharable online forever, thus, information about any Country, Region or City can reach very distant audiences. An example for this is doing a Google search of a specific destination: what appears on the first two pages of results will be the first impression people get of it, even if the information is not the most recent.
Keeping this fact in mind, a Country Brand must work on its Digital Identity so that people’s perceptions are truthful and suitable. In order to do that it has to align its presence in the online world with its Central Idea. Knowing which activities and topics are relevant to your audience and leveling them on digital platforms will generate more proactive interest online and, consequently, more visibility in the real world.
The role of climate change in Nation Branding strategies
One of the biggest challenges of Place Branding that is currently on the world’s agenda is the impact of the climate change on the Countries, Regions and Cities. This is a topic that must necessarily find its place on the agenda of Nation Branding strategies so that it can take this issue into account when developing brand offerings and experiences.
The youngest generations – Millenials and Generation Z – have been very concerned about the environment, and thus, are more and more frequently questioning local, national and world leaders about the measures they intend to take to grind to a halt the effects of climate change affecting the global population.
From violent hurricanes to wild fires, we can observe our planet crying loudly for help. In fact, the citizens are the ones who suffer most from these natural disasters, the scale of which is constantly being enhanced by environmental damage caused by human actions.
Fortunately, there are already some sustainable measures being implemented by Countries, Regions and Cities, although not yet in the necessary or desired dimensions. Brands Countries such as Costa Rica have rendered sustainability their business card, with preservation and green energy as the unavoidable leading policies of their governance.
If Countries, Regions or Cities are not concerned about acting on carbon emissions and poor air quality, there is no strategy to attract a worthwhile talent. Investment in development and improvement of the economy will not be sufficient for a Country, Region or City Brand which does not include serious measures to address the challenges of climate’s urgent issues.
Not only is this an urgency that affects the Country’s population and hence needs to be taken resolved, but also it will negatively impact the Brand, compared to other Countries, Regions and Cities that have acted in accordance with the gravity of the situation, in turn, becoming more appealing to investors, tourists and talent. From the point of view of the audience, a potential investor may inquire whether a particular Country, Region or City has made a sufficient commitment to address the climate issues (zero emissions and “green” buildings, for example). This factor may act in favor or against the Country, Region or City Brand and its reputation. Exactly like a tourist who should be assured that the place he has chosen to visit is being preserved through sustainable policies so that it can continue to be appreciated in the future.