Nation Branding in the 21st Century

Column: amthai economics

Recently, I spoke at the Institute of Business Administration?s International Conference on Marketing, or IBA-ICM2012, in Karachi, Pakistan. Academicians from all over the world, including England, Germany, Bangladesh, Nepal and Lebanon, were in attendance. The topic of the conference was ?Contemporary Trends in Marketing”, and I was invited to give a plenary speech on the first day on the topic of “Branding a Nation in the 21st Century”.

I had written a few articles about ?nation branding? in the past, published on the Daily News website. In this article, I want to cover some of the issues I spoke about in the seminar, which I hope will be beneficial for every reader. It?s nation branding in the 21st century. Several changes in the 21st century have affected both branding in general and nation branding in particular.


1. More objectives: Nation branding will become a strategic tool with many objectives

In the early stages of the concept of nation branding, it aimed to increase the country?s capacity to attract investors, tourists and skilled labour, and to increase its soft power and negotiating power on the international stage. In the 21st century, nation branding is no longer a choice, but a necessity? (De Vicente, 2004). It has become a strategic tool with a greater range of objectives.

(i) A nation will be branded in order to protect the country?s identity

In the 21st century there will be a cultural invasion from dominant cultures: Americanization, such as the spread of Hollywood movies and McDonald?s; Koreanization, such as the Korean TV series?, music ?and tourism; and even Cyberculture, such as attitudes, values and languages that only a member of the group can understand, and so on. Furthermore, globalization increases the number of international workers in a country, transnational weddings, and the popularity of studying at an international school, perhaps leading to the cultural hybridization of the country. Nation branding can help resist such influences, assisting the creation of its own, clearer identity.

(ii) A nation will be branded in order to protect the country?s image

In the 21st century the world?s society will be ambiguous between the real truth and the pseudo truth. The media has developed greatly and people receive more information and news than in the past, from a greater variety of sources, including free TV, satellite TV, newspapers, the internet and social networks. However, the information from those sources is not guaranteed to be accurate. The media might be used as a tool to promote propaganda; for example, news from some countries often reports that their opponents are villains and a threat to the world. So, we cannot always know the truth. Many countries will aggressively brand their nation in order to avoid being branded wrongly due to too much information and the media.

2. More scope: A country will have to participate in region branding as well

In the future, a country will not only be responsible for branding itself, but must be partly responsible for branding a region also. In the 21st century, most countries will depend more on regional economies because of the recent multilateral negotiations in the framework of the WTO, where bilateral and regional negotiations are faster and more easily coordinated. There will be more regional cooperation in order to attract investments from other countries and regions and to make the regional economy more stable. Due to the increased connectedness in the region, many factors that affect the country may have an effect on the regional image as well. For example, the brand of the European Union (EU) has recently been perceived negatively in the eyes of foreign investors due to its high public debt problem caused by some of its members, such as Greece etc. From this case, we can see that the nation brand (Greece) also affects the EU?s brand.

Another example is the BRICS, a rising economic bloc consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, which has demanded more power at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for emerging economies as a condition for lending it extra cash to bail out Greece (Reuters, 2012, April 19). Seemingly, the IMF has to agree because each country in the BRICS has a strong brand and are even stronger when they operate as a bloc. The BRICS has the brand identity of an emerging market with high economic growth and they have become the leaders of the world?s economy at the time of American and European decline. This is the reason why the BRIC?S could create the soft power necessary to successfully negotiate with the IMF.

3. More tools: Nation branding will be achieved by cross-platform branding

In the past, nation branding mostly relied on advertisements and other public relations through the mainstream media, such as TV, magazines, and newspapers. In the 21st century, however, technologies will be improved significantly, especially information technology, mobile devices, the internet and social media, which are easy to use and far cheaper than previous methods. These technologies will be increasingly used as tools to brand nations in the future.

For example, Sweden has started branding itself via Twitter. The Swedish government has initiated a project called ?Curators of Sweden? to allow ordinary people to participate in nation branding using social media. The government has given Swedish citizens official Swedish Twitter accounts for a week, during which time they can express their opinions in order to promote the country. This enables people in Sweden and around the world to get to know the country in ways other than those afforded by the mainstream media (Shayon, 2011).

Apart from social media, nation branding can be achieved by using an application on an iPhone or iPad as well as on Android mobile phones. For instance, South Korea and France have applications that collect many important facts and statistics about their countries, namely places to go sightseeing, restaurants and recommendations about investing in the country for anyone who is interested (Kakaiya, 2011).

There are a number of issues related to nation branding. I will analyze it in greater detail and share my thoughts with you on the next occasion.?

Kriengsak Chareonwongsak.
Senior Fellow at Harvard University?s Center of Business and Government.,?