Since 8 January we have seen how Sri Lanka has unleashed a new attitude to the world. My mind went to the words of nation brand building expert Simon Anholt, who said: “If a country doesn’t like its image – and most countries don’t – then the only way to change that image is through the things the country does, not by the things it says.” Let me take a real-life example of a country which has earned a positive reputation.
The Baltic States lie in the north-eastern region of Europe containing the countries of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea. Estonia is a democratic parliamentary republic divided into 15 counties and has over 1,500 islands. The Estonian capital and largest city is Tallinn which has a population of 1.29 million.
Why Estonia in global push
Post-war Estonia knew that unless it latched onto the success of Europe it would once again go back to conflict. The senior advisors to the country’s leadership hierarchy advocated a global push on the following logic:
1) Differentiating and promoting one nation against other nations is the basic idea behind earning a strong nation brand.
2) A strong nation brand can create synergy between national assets and bolster a country’s global impact, helping to promote trade, investment
3) In today’s competitive global market, nations are realising that their reputations, the image of them that the rest of the world sees, are vital to their growth and development. The label, or ‘brand’ that the rest of the world attaches to them, can be either a valuable asset or a harmful liability to their economy, industry and relations with other countries.
4) Many nations lack success in these areas in part because of a longstanding undesirable stereotype that they have been under, deterring other nations from seeing their positive qualities and from interacting with them. A national stereotype can arise through the media, films, books, people, products, historical events or other well-known things typically associated with that country.
What Estonia did
In the period from 2001-2008 a campaign was launched by Estonia called ‘Positively Transforming’ to tell the world that Estonia was a country undergoing a transition in all spheres of its life and thus re-entering the world and European community, from which it was isolated for several years.
The key objectives of this campaign were to increase the number of tourists, foreign investment and create acceptance of Estonian export products in the world.
The first step was to gather opinions and ideas through interviews with residents and foreigners on what Estonia’s greatest strengths and best qualities were. From this information, it decided what perspective of itself it should try to communicate to the rest of the world. The core qualities it came up with were Estonia’s rapid change and growth, rich history, vast, pristine natural landscapeand the hopeful, positive attitude of its residents.
In order to manage the branding project in a more holistic and strategic manner, Estonian authorities created a new organisation called Enterprise Estonia. The creation of Enterprise Estonia helped to coordinate and oversee all nation branding-related activities by a single point. Estonia utilised art and aesthetics in the crafting of a visual symbol of their new brand.
‘Welcome to Estonia’ was the phrase chosen for Estonia’s campaign logo. With a strategic design and typeface, this logo has become widespread throughout the country, accepted by Estonia’s national airline, businesses, tourism industry and shipping docks. The branding imagery and
narratives were transmitted through an array of media, photographic style, colour palette and graphics and promoted through various communication channels including short video documentaries, outdoor display campaigns and press events.
But a key point to remember was that every behaviour communicated to the world through these political activities was on the theme ‘Positively Transforming’. Estonia lived up to the point emphasised by nation brand building experts like Simon Alholt about changing a country’s image through the things it does and not by the things it says.
Estonia: Positively surprising
In 2008 Enterprise Estonia redeveloped its Estonian marketing campaign by breathing new life into the seven-year-old ‘Positively Transforming’ concept. The main objective of the new marketing concept, ‘Positively Surprising’ was to position Estonia as an excellent place to visit (tourism), an excellent place for business (investment, export) and an excellent place for studying, working and living.
The primary target audience of the campaign consisted of four main categories:
- Tourism - People who come to Estonia to experience something new and, if positively surprised or delighted, will spread the news to many others.
- Business - These are the people, mainly mediators, entrepreneurs, investors or importers who directly and indirectly help create jobs thereby increasing the country’s wealth.
- Living environment – This consists of people who may come to Estonia for an extended period of time. They are also like tourists but stay longer, learn and partake in the life, culture and environment of the country more than a tourist. These people are the best option to promote Estonia when they return home.
- Internal citizens - They are part of the heritage, history, culture, progress and achievement of the country. They are the best people to communicate the values, heritage and history of the country to other nations.
To reach the above four categories, the Brand Estonia campaign used two main approaches: External communication and internal communication.
External communication strategy
Brand Mark: Welcome to Estonia. The external communication strategy is divided into three sub-strategies based on the main interest for coming to Estonia:
Tourism: ‘An old country in a shiny package’, under this Estonia promotes four types of holiday packages such as City Holiday, Cultural Holiday, Wellness Holiday or Nature Holiday.
Business: “It is easy to do complex business transactions.”
Living Environment: ‘An Exciting Outlook on Ordinary Life’ under that the different options available are for living, learning and working.
Internal communication strategy
I Love Estonia is the other side of the ‘Welcome to Estonia’ medal. While Welcome to Estonia is an invitation directed to foreign countries, I Love Estonia encourages its own citizens in creating this new brand.
The rationale behind the campaign is to reinforce Estonians’ pride in their country, foster domestic tourism and strengthen the link between the people as well as between the people and the country. The manifestations and demonstrations of Estonia’s nation branding are very diverse and numerous. They include dozens of brochures, presentations and videos, several websites with immense amounts of information and more.
Brand Estonia increased in value by 24.6% in the corresponding year, outperforming every other nation brand in the European Union. Estonia was the third-fastest growing nation brand of the 100 surveyed.
Implications to Sri Lanka:
1) We need to clearly chalk out how we want the world to perceive us.
2) Identify the key target markets globally and internally just like Estonia did.
3) Let us find out what the world currently think of us as a brand. Estonia conducted wide stakeholder consultations.
4) Based on Sri Lanka’s desired image, a clear policy statement must be developed with all missions overseas understanding the logic.
5) We need to engage all stakeholders with this policy – General public, Government and Opposition.
6) We need to walk the talk in making the desired image come to life. Especially in a political economy this requires rigour.
7) Monitor global perceptions scientifically and not just by the statements of the diaspora, which can be coloured sometimes.
8) Track the global media especially the viral and below-the-line media.
A point to note is that at the end of the day the brand custodians when it comes to a nation brand are the people. It is only the people of the country that can take it forward and for this the current modality of working by the Government is commendable though it is a tough journey due to the social fabric which has been damaged by the reports being unearthed.
(The author is a multiple award-winning marketer and business leader. The thoughts expressed are his own personal observations and not the views of any organisation which he serves in Sri Lanka or internationally. He is a recipient of the global business leadership award 2013 in Singapore and an alumni of the Harvard Kennedy School.)