Nation Branding and Diplomacy: A New Era of Image Management


1. Intro

– It’s nothing new for nations to care about the image, but the past ten years represent a turning point in the methods states use to manage their reputations. In many cases, governments hire PR firms to domain of corporate communications departments and business-school seminars.

– New metrics attempt to quantify the strength of national brands, and the field has seen a veritable explosion of literature on which branding techniques work and which don’t.

Meanwhile, branding efforts have branched out well beyond simple efforts at attracting tourism.

– Countries now hire firms to help launch sophisticated branding campaigns aimed at luring foreign investment, facilitating trade, improving private sector competitiveness or even securing geopolitical influence.

– Amid the rush, however, questions are beginning to emerge about the ramifications of nation branding, not least the potential harm it could render if countries assume they can whitewash bad policy with good public relations.

2. What does “nation branding mean”?

It means applying corporate branding techniques to countries. Similarly, experts in the industry refer to “place branding” and “city branding”.

Simon Anhalt advises countries on how to strengthen their national brand, says in this interview that two main concepts separate new forms of nation branding from more traditional forms of public diplomacy:

– First: Anhalt said, nations have become more than value of their brand as an asset. Understanding valuation helps countries better understand the investments they make in their image. For example, to what extent does a catchy slogan help attract foreign investment? As researchers work to better quantify the answers to questions like these, countries see the possibility of more efficiently investing in their futures.

– The second major change, Anholt notes, is a focus on the behavioral aspects of managing a nation´s image. He suggests officials from government, non-profits and the business world can better collaborate to make sure the messages a country is putting out represent what they view as “the fundamental common purpose” of their country.

3. How big of a field is nation branding?

Still, he hesitates to estimate the overall extent of nation branding globally, noting that in each country, expenses are spread among many different ministries.

4. How do you measure the strength of a nation´s brand?

The Nation Brands Index, a project run by Anhalt and GMI is the only major source for numerical data on the relative strength of national brands. Every 3 months they recorded the opinions of consumers in 35 countries tracking their perceptions in several aspects of a country’s image.

– They divided the area into the next topics: tourism, exports, governance, people, culture and heritage, and investment and immigration.

– The goal of the index is to give an overall sense of the strength of international opinion on a given country, + or -.

– Cromwell considered foreign direct investment, tourism arrivals, and trade levels as potentially useful metrics.

5. What are the countries doing to improve their brand image?

Work with communications consultants or PR firms, though the specific kinds of guidance they seek depend greatly on the circumstances faced by the country. Some branding campaigns seek to improve the competitiveness of a nation’s exports by linking them to positive preconceptions of the country.

6. How successful are these brand efforts?

The success of nation-branding projects depends on a number of factors but mostly on the quality of the product that you´re trying to sell.

7. Branding campaigns fail for other reasons as well

Cromwell says branding a country successfully requires collaboration of many of the senior-most figures in the country—both in government and the private sector.

“It really requires a partnership on a very, very high level,” he says. “You need someone who can get the ministries to work together.” Without this kind of communication, Anholt says a nation’s many brands can work at cross-purposes: “You have the tourism board saying how wonderful the country looks and how welcoming the people are. You have the investment-promotion agency saying almost the opposite, that it’s super modern and full of cars and roads and railways. And you have the cultural institute telling everybody how wonderful the film industry is. And you have the government occasionally doing public diplomacy, and perhaps occasionally attacking its neighbors.