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Sri Lanka’s Brand Value to outdo GDP in 2015?

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By Rohantha Athukorala Last week when Brand Finance announced that Sri Lanka’s nation brand value had reached $ 61 billion in 2014, given my responsibilities at a national level on category marketing I was absolutely thrilled as it was not long ago when Sri Lanka was trailing at just $ 30 billion while most of our neighboring countries were getting very strong ratings.     GDP vs. Brand Value From a very practical point of view while we can be proud of the GDP growth numbers during the last five to six years, namely the last two quarters of 2014 which recorded a growth in GDP touching an eight percent, as marketers whenever someone talks about brand value our adrenaline flow picks up.                   The interesting point is that from 2011 onwards the nation brand value of Sri Lanka has picked up from $ 23 b (2011) to $ 31 b (2012), $ 45 b (2013) and this year to $ 61 b. On average growth is around 35% year on year which means that we should end 2015 at around the $79 b mark. On the other hand the GDP value which was $ 59 b (2011), $ 67 b (2013) and this year is set to be $ 73 b, dollars can be at around $ 78 b by 2015, meaning that Sri Lanka’s nation brand value will beat GDP value somewhere in 2015-2016, which is an interesting development.Strong Brand Value? Once again from a practical point of view it’s not the debate between these numbers that is important but the implication of this insight for us in business. Research by brand finance reveals that countries with strong brand values differentiate one country from the other given that the features that cut through the world come out stronger, meaning such countries are perceived stronger for business and investment and they tend to attract better quality tourism. What it also means is that the message that such countries communicate to the world is a sharper and single-minded one. Global pick-up The performance of Sri Lanka within these two dimensions as explained above is very close to the global trend too. GDP growth tends to be outstripped by the nation’s Brand Value which is very interesting. The challenge is to balance these numbers. One will measure the overall outside world’s perception while the other talks about the ground development situation. Sri Lanka - implication For a country like Sri Lanka, given global challenges like alleged war crimes, lobbying by the Diaspora and issues like the hate speech of the BBS, the overall Nation Brand Value score might be a more important than the GDP value as we speak today from a macro perspective. This does not mean that the GDP indicator is less important as at the end of the day the quality of life of a Sri Lankan will be ultimately decided on the overall economic growth of a country and not on perception indicators like Nation Brand Value.   Sri Lanka - next steps Let me share a few thoughts on the implications of the Nation Brand to us in Sri Lanka.   1) Investment: From an investment point of view brands with stronger nation brand value scores tend to attract the best projects globally. For instance in 2013 the best strides were made by the Philippines and the UAE. But the top country in this indicator remained Singapore which explains the dominance of this country economically in our part of the world. It will be interesting to see the impact that the UAE will make in 2020 after hosting the World Expo. 2)Tourism: For tourism, Sri Lanka was ranked highly for making strides after procuring a peace dividend, which is very interesting from an independent organisation like brand finance. I yet remember the presentation I made on the cost of the war which amounted to a $ 6 billion dollar loss for Sri Lanka. Today we are touching almost $ 2 billion in tourist income and are targeted to reach 1.5 million tourists. However, the top ranked destination, as per brand finance score, is Thailand. We need to take a cue from the $ 25 billion advertising budget of Thailand. 3) Goods and services: In the goods and services area Germany had made the best strides in 2013 in brand finance but the top rank country was the US, which explains the dominance of the country in the avenue of trade. the Sri Lankan apparel industry dominance to USA justifies this position. Furthermore, brands like Apple contribute to the overall country brand. I cannot forget the overall marketing and advertising strategy that was unleashed by the USA after the World Trade Center debacle. It’s a lesson for Sri Lanka. 4) People and skill: Finally on the area of people and skill Switzerland was the best in class in 2013 but the recent surge by the UAE was interesting given that the country attracts the talent of the world with a controlled economy. Second place going to Singapore is interesting. Conclusion   Global perception score picking up in the last four years and surging past the GDP value, as per my estimate, is good for band Sri Lanka from a global business perspective. Now the challenge is for the private sector to exploit this opportunity by not just trading but moving to branding and country origin marketing with Sri Lankan merchandise. The author is an award-winning marketer in the private and public sector and is involved in many global category marketing initiatives in Sri Lanka. He is a respected business personality and sought-after international speaker and thought leader in Sri Lanka. He is an alumni of Harvard University. (The author is an award-winning marketer in brands and category marketing at national level. The thoughts are strictly his personal views and not the views of the organisation he serves.)

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