Most country have an image. If someone says “Jamaica”, you think of beaches, reggae music and people with a relaxed approach to life. If they say “Brazil”, you might think of carnival or football, and people who love to have fun. Other images probably come to mind when you think of Italy, Germany, or New Zealand. Ask different people what their image of these places is and you’ll probably find they have a similar picture. Italian are seen as stylish and fashion-conscious, German as practicle and rational, and New Zealanders as adventurous and loving the outdoor life.
These images are often the result of stereotyles, but they are also used in a positive way as a “national brand”, just like company brands such as Coca Cola, Swatch, or Gucci. Several countries have realized that emphasizing this image or brands can be used to promote trade, tourism, and investment.
A national brand is generally a positive thing, but sometimes a country becomes trapped by its image – technology brands from Japan, heritage brands from Britain, engineering brands from germany, efficiency and precision from Switzerland, and so on. This can make it difficult for people to accept “non-typical” brands. For example, Italy’s brand image as a fashion and style producer made it difficult for Olivetti, a computer manufacturer, to create a successful export business.
As with companies and products, there is also the problem of competition. How do you choose between “Malaysia, truly Asia” and “amazing Thailand”? In Singapore, for example, you can see TV adverts for the high-tech hub of Asia, trying to attract foreigners professionals who usually make their home in Hongkong, Japan, or South Korea.
But there have been many successes in national branding, countries such as New Zealand, Ireland, and Spain have all developed successful brands, not just for tourism but for other products and exports as well. In every major city in the world there is sure to be a Lord of the Rings fan who is drinking Guinness in an Irish pub, watching Real Madrid on TV!
Scotland is another country which has actively and successfully launched its brand. In 1994 the economic development agency created a special project called “Scotland the brand”. They defined the positive image of Scotland as one of quality, tradition and authenticity. They held marketing events and promotion, and recruited companies who were able to promote this brand. The result was an immediate 200% rise in food, drink, and cultural exports. The success is continuing today.
The Scottish success show that even small countries – perhaps especially small countries – can benefit from selling themselves with their national brand.