Country Brands can be a useful socio-economic resource. They are hard to ‘control’, but certain aspects of them can be understood and used to support markets and innovation.
Country Brands (or Nation Brands)
If I said “Germany”, what would you think about? What about “Switzerland”? “Japan”?
Some countries have specific things associated with them. These can be products* (physical, creative, or cultural), stories, or experiences. Additionally, they can be associated with certain values or cultural traditions.
Countries (and cities, and places) have reputations too.
The totality of these associations and ideas for different people (an audience of sorts) is the Country Brand.
Well-known Country Brands
There are some famous country brands. It is interesting to see that some of these country brands emerge on their own as a by-product of other activities (Economic or Social – Political activities). On the other hand, they are sometimes actively managed and built over time. As with brands in general, consistency is the keyword.
Some examples of country-associations include (see attached report):
Switzerland : Nature , Chocolate , Mountains , Watches , Neutral , Expensive , Alps ..
Japan : Technology , Culture , Anime , Modern , Food , Traditions ..
Notice how some are physical products, some are cultural products, some are social and political and cultural directions.
These associations (among others) can have weight and valence: they can be positive/negative, and intense/weak.
The question to ask is : What will (a big and diverse group of relevant) people think about when they think about your country / country X?
Country Brands: stories, symbols, and perceptions
So the simple way to think about a country brand is to think about Top-of-Mind associations of a certain country.
This might include the heritage, culture, and resources. Similarly, it might include what this country makes. Think about “Made In …”. Products are ambassadors of a country, and help build its reputation.
Other research (see the Resources section below) consider a set of factors to assess a Country Brand. This can include: Environmental Friendliness (perceived or actual) of a country, Quality of Life / Standard of Living, Political Freedoms & Tolerance, Education, among others.
Some research links the value of the country brand to the GDP of a specific country (Example). This is somehow reasonable, because a bigger GDP implies (usually) more products and/or more people. However, It is not – by any means – a perfect rule. There are many countries with big economies and not enough character.
Country Brands as a Cultural Resource : Fields of Economic Contribution
Tourism, Industry, and Innovation
Country Brands can have significant economic and cultural effects. They can contribute to economic performance and to different social and political processes.
Tourism, for instance, is one (very) obvious field. I won’t elaborate on tourism. A country’s reputation drives tourism. Why is Paris romantic? What do people go to see? Experience?
But tourism is the tip of the iceberg.
What about products made in a certain country? If you perceive a certain country as having a skilled labor force, good engineering traditions, and high quality standards, what might you think about its products?
This becomes more interesting when we think about cultural products and their families. Books written invoking certain locations. Films in certain areas and settings. Music. Crafts…
This leads to a positive feedback loop… The distinguished products improve the country brand, which itself supports further popularity and success of new products.
Overall country brands can support the development of strong and diverse markets. They can support innovation on many levels.
I’ve written before on the difficulty (and importance) of trying to understand National Innovation Capabilities and discussed the National Innovation Index (here). I think that National Innovation Efforts / National Innovation Systems should accommodate the power of nation branding.
Beyond the Economy
Additionally, country brands have effects on social and political dynamics within the country, and with other nations. The Country Brand developed can encapsulate and promote specific cultural values and behavioral patterns. This relates to the problem of approximation and our need to simplify things and replace difficult and lengthy descriptions with a specific symbols. Symbols, stories, and heroes are great components of the cultural resource set here, and have been found (Research) to constitute impactful resources.
Many countries link the development of their country brands to the development of their “soft power”. This basically means their influence abroad, and an improved ability to pursue national interests.
The Difficulty of Management, The Necessity of Monitoring
Like many things in marketing, sustaining and managing a country brand is not just a communication effort. The country brand is the result of different macro processes that might be too complex to micro-manage.
The first step is always to understand. I think that the crucial point here is measurement and evaluation. Reputation and Image are too general. This means that specific brand-measurement variables need to be developed for the unique situations.
- What do we care about?
- Where are we now?
- Where were we in the past?
- What do we have?
- Where do we want to go?
The problem of representing these questions in measurable ways is a very interesting challenge!! It is a unique problem that is always evolving.
Some Reports on Country Brands: