I have spent the past few days reading about nation branding, place branding, state branding and geo-branding, about countries with good and bad nation brands and national brands, about labels and images, PR, management, about what all these things are and what they are not, how I should be thinking about them and how not, and that in the end “nation branding” was a bad idea to come up with anyway.
The result of my reading is confusion.
This might be, because many others use these terms interchangeably, while others emphasise the importance of distinctions. It might also be, because the ‘father ‘ of “nation branding”, Simon Anholt himself, whom governments line up to see in the hope of improving their national image, changes the content from time to time (Szondi, 2010, 334). Now he says that he regrets the whole thing because everybody misunderstands what it actually means (Bussey, 2010). He also says that actually, you cannot change your image anyway unless you change yourself– and that goes for countries as well (BBC Thinking Allowed, 2011). Fair enough, there is probably a lot of truth in this statement: If you want others to think better of you, improve your behaviour instead of glossing it over.
But then, why should we even care about nation branding?
It seems to me that however vague the concept may be (which is why no definition is given here), there is a reason for taking it seriously. We live in a world where image matters more than ever, where globalisation has changed the way we live, where technological advances have increased the amount of information to the unknowable, and where all countries have the need to compete with one-another for foreign investment, markets for products, tourists, and a voice in the global political arena (Change Agent, 2006). At the same time, and because it would be impossible not to, we are all highly influenced by the stereotypes that we have of places. If we think a country is extremely violent and anybody who sets foot in it must fear for his/her life, we will not travel there. If we perceive a country to produce very high-quality products, we will prefer products from that country to others from countries that we see as making low-quality copies of the originals, for example “Swiss” products against the Chinese copies (Thomasson, 2009).
Perceptions matter in today’s world and because there is an overload of information about virtually everything, it is very important for countries to make sure that the sources of information about the country say the same thing and demonstrate why this is the place to go to on holidays, invest in, and listen to. The alternative is being overlooked in the busy globalised world and left behind – and who would want that?
- BBC Thinking Allowed (2011) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00qcjwn, 3rd February, accessed: 6.3.2011, 22:30
- Bussey, Jane (2010) “Re-branding Latin America and the Caribbean”, Nation-Branding.Info, http://nation-branding.info/2010/01/27/re-branding-latin-america-and-the-caribbean/, accessed: 10.2.2010, 23:38
- Change Agent (2006) “Branding a Country”, Synovate.com, March, http://www.synovate.com/changeagent/index.php/site/full_story/branding_a_country/, accessed: 3.3.2011, 10:28
- Szondi, Gyorgy (2010) “From Image Management to Relationship Building: A Public Relations Approach to Nation Branding”, Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, Vol.6, No.4, pp.333-343
- Thomasson, Emma (2009) “Switzerland defends “Swiss Made” Label”, Nation-Branding.Info, http://nation-branding.info/2009/08/12/switzerland-swiss-made-label/, accessed: 2.3.2011, 10:39