Country Branding Gains Importance

With markets in Asia competing for tourists, talent and investment, having a clear and differentiated country positioning is more important than ever.

It was the morning after the Olympics 2012 in London. I got up early, dressed in a suit and tie (for once) and drove to the office, then walked over to the BBC Singapore studios in Shaw Tower. They had asked me to do a live interview with London on how the Olympics had helped Brand GB. I talked about tourism, about attracting talent and investment. A good country brand, a market that stands for something, can also really help exports – think fashion from France, food from Italy or cars from Germany.

And international events can help since they generate a lot of free global media coverage that the host nation can leverage; Singapore did that with the first Youth Olympics, and every country brand is looking to use the world’s attention for the World Cup or Olympic Games to portray itself in the best possible light.

But they also need to resist the temptation to overpromise: Beijing did a great show in 2008, but when it came out that the little girl we saw wasn’t the one that was really singing, viewers started wondering what else had been faked. In London’s case, it helped to have an open, even controversial debate beforehand, and an opening ceremony that had a sense of humour. (And even a very funny TV series, “2012”, that fictionalises the preparations for the event and what could go wrong.)

And events shouldn’t be a stand-alone; it makes sense to integrate them into a campaign (the UK’s “Great”, Singapore’s “Uniquely Singapore”/”Your Singapore” and even the Philippines’ “It’s more fun in the Philippines” which does a great job capturing the Filipino spirit of seeing a silver lining even in the most dire circumstances).

But beyond the pretty pictures and smiling faces, infrastructure, security and local development need to catch up – to make sure that the tourists that have visited the country due to convincing and inviting branding, will return.