Sunday, 6 March 2011

Thoughts on Nation Branding

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[1]). 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[2]). 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[3]). 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[4]).

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), 3rd February, accessed: 6.3.2011, 22:30

- Bussey, Jane (2010) “Re-branding Latin America and the Caribbean”, Nation-Branding.Info,, accessed: 10.2.2010, 23:38

- Change Agent (2006) “Branding a Country”,, March,, 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,, accessed: 2.3.2011, 10:39


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  2. I share your confusion with the concept of nation branding, particularly as Simon Anholt has since stated that nation branding doesn't actually work, which would seem quite contradictory to all his deep analysis of the subject.
    Although I agree that we all hold preconcepted, stereotypical images of nations I think the notion of nation branding is naive in assuming that by using fabricated imagery abroad, that international public opinion can be changed.
    To me the notion of nation branding seems very short sighted, surely changing ones image is determined more by their long term foreign policy objectives and domestic policies rather than indexes that cover such vast realms from scenery to culture. The fact that America was able to improve its ranking in the nation brand ranking from number seven in 2008 to number one in 2009 only highlights to me that the change in President was what mattered, as culturally, economically and scenically nothing had changed.
    As important as advertising for tourism industries etc may be... Actions speak louder than words when it comes to influencing people and I don't think a country can rely on nation branding as a tool for diplomacy as evidently national opinion where diploamcy matters will be built on foreign and doemstic policies.

  3. Well, I think much of it goes back to how we actually define "nation branding" and whether we really view it as something that is equal to product branding or if it can be distinguished from it, which seems to be the case.
    I agree that actions speak louder than words, but to me the fundamental aim of "nation branding" or, managing a country's "competitive identity" is to differentiate it from others and to ensure coherence across the messages sent out by different channels of communication. And I do think that this can be a helpful tool for diplomacy. It will not replace diplomacy and it is not a panacea, and it is not as straightforward as just hiring Simon Anholt and getting a new look. But as a basis it can serve practitioners of diplomacy because it can give them fundamental messages to work with in the field.
    Nation Branding, as I understand it, does not mean not changing policies, but rather to search for positive aspects of a country and its policy (if there are any, if not, it cannot work) and ensure that these are stressed to a perception-led world.

  4. Very true what you say about the confusion when it comes to the concept of nation branding and what it really is. After also reading about it, I was still unsure as to what it really was and what it really meant. The confusion definitely for the most part comes from the fact that the terms are used interchangeably, and the fact that Simon Anholt keeps changing his mind.
    I also agree though, that image and perceptions of countries play a huge role in our decision-making, whether to buy a product from a certain country or where to go on holiday, and therefore this concept of 'nation-branding', countering stereotypes for a more favorable image to attract people and investment does not sound so bad after all.