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Why hurt brand SL whilst inching to launch a nation brand building campaign?

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Tuesday, 5 January 2016 00:02


The Sri Lanka Economic Forum is a strong start

Going well for Sri Lanka

Whilst Sri Lanka is having challenges internally, given the coalition Government at play, and having to manage the shocks from the world economy, the fact of the matter is that Sri Lanka has become the darling of the world since 8 January, 2015. We now must use this to become a top 30 economy from the current 68th position as per the world competitive ranking.

Nation brand building is not a strategy that can be implemented but it is a credible statement that evolves from the people inside the country.

On the economic front, with the World Bank and ADB stating that the economy is projected to grow at 6% plus, setting up of key projects like Shangri La, ICT and Movenpick in the tourism sector, Sri Lanka being ranked a top three destination in the BPO industry, Ceylon Tea receiving the first Ozone Friendly certification from the Kyoto protocol whilst the apparel industry is positioning itself as the ‘Preferred Destination for Ethical Sourcing,’ credibility is stronger for a higher ranking in the Nation Branding Index.

Strong brands visiting Sri Lanka like US Secretary of State John Kerry at tomorrow’s Sri Lanka Economic Forum, personalities like George Soros, Joseph Stigiltz, and my favourite professor from Harvard Ricardo Hausmann, will sure add to making Sri Lanka a $ 100 billion brand in the near future.


Enrique fiasco

In this backdrop, the negative feedback on the Enrique fiasco especially on social media sure took away the shine off Sri Lanka, which was unfortunate. Let’s accept it, in today’s world a country is sure get shocks that need to be managed. To me, from a marketing point of view, the incident only revealed that we as a nation were not equipped to handle bad news, which ultimately resulted in global media picking up the pieces that sure hurt brand Sri Lanka.

The thought that crossed my mind was, why is it that we as a nation tends to mix culture, politics, catchy headlines without looking at managing the issue from a PR perspective. I am in no way advocating that the ground arrangements were in keeping to the standards expected. To be honest, it was appalling, given that many people sustained injuries that include ankle fractures and bruises to the fairer sex of the elite of Colombo, not mentioning the show got off ground hours late. But the nations that manage negative events will emerge strong, which I am sure my teacher from Harvard Ricardo Hausmann will share at tomorrow’s Sri Lanka Economic Forum.


Global pickup

Nation branding global expert Simon Anholt, whom I have had many interactions with in the last couple of years, always highlighted that nation brand building is not about launching sexy advertising or catchy taglines like ‘wonder of Asia’, ‘land like no other’ etc. He emphasises respect in the global stage is earned with a series of actions over a long period of time, rather than just orchestrated activity.

In this ethos, if we Google Sri Lanka today, we have a mixed bag. The reason for this situation is because Sri Lanka has not yet understood the science of nation brand building and PR management, which are the key pillars of strong economies.

Nation brand building?

Very simply, the Nation Brand Index measures the power and the appeal of a country globally. The Anholt-Roper Nation Brands Index BUP_DFT_DFT-14_03-NAlooks at a country’s image by examining six dimensions of national competence, all of which are treated equally with no weighting. This is essentially the pickup from tomorrow’s Sri Lanka Economic Forum that will be communicated to the world. The six dimensions are as follows:

1. Exports: Examines respondent’s image of products and services from each country and the extent to which consumers proactively seek or avoid products from each country-of-origin.

2. Governance: Considers public opinion regarding the level of national government competency and fairness and describes individuals’ beliefs about each country’s government, as well as its perceived commitment to global issues such as democracy, justice, poverty and the environment.

3. Culture: Reveals global perceptions of each nation’s heritage and appreciation for its contemporary culture, including film, music, art, sport and literature.

4. People: Explores the population’s reputation for competence, education, openness and friendliness and other qualities, as well as perceived levels of potential hostility and discrimination.

5. Tourism: Captures the level of interest in visiting a country and the draw of natural and man-made tourist attractions.

6. Immigration and Investment: Looks to attract people to live, work or study in each country and reveals how people perceive a country’s economic and social situation.

But, as cautioned by Simon Anholt, the expert of brand building, the key to a strong nation brand is that it is not a strategy that can be implemented but it is a credible statement that evolves from the people inside the country and it hinges on the above six areas. In this light, Sri Lanka’s reaction to the ‹Enrique fiasco› in fact worked against the very principle of nation brand building.


Country reputation building

Research reveals that if one is to develop a strong nation brand globally, the foundation is to have a strong partnership between the policymakers in the ministry and the private sector so that the private sector takes the message to the world on the positive aspects of working in Sri Lanka.

Especially in a country like Sri Lanka, where 75% of the economy is accounted for by the private sector, if the private sector keeps generating messages which are not in line with the overall DNA of the nation brand it only colours the identity of a brand. Which is exactly what happened post the Enrique performance in Sri Lanka. If we had a good PR company, some damage control could have been done, but the absence aggravated the issue at hand.

The above are only just a few discussion points in this area of building credibility for ‘Brand Sri Lanka’. But maybe a detailed analysis must be done so that it can be identified and corrected if we are serious about this ethos of Sri Lanka becoming the power brand of Asia.


Competitor best practices

When Singapore began its journey of building a strong nation brand, the first task was to identify what people currently thought of them as a nation. Thereafter, they evaluated it against competitors on what position was engaged by other countries. For instance, France was associated with romance, the United States with opportunity and liberty, Switzerland for precision and efficiency anchored by their watch business, Japan for convenience due to the use of the latest technology that stemmed from the automobile industry. But the key to remember is that the very heart of the country must bring out the value rather than just a communication campaign.

I guess Sri Lanka needs to do the same before deciding on taglines such as ‘Wonder of Asia’ or ‘Discover Sri Lanka’ or ‘Island of Thousand Treasures’ or the discarded tagline ‘The Small Miracle’ with the latest being ‘Way Forward Journey’. The point to note is that before arriving at a catchy tagline, a more strategic thought process has to be embarked on. This is the learning coming in from the nation branding campaigns of Singapore, Spain and New Zealand.

Another important point to consider is that once we know the competitor positioning, we must identify the key strengths of a typical country. For instance, in the case of Singapore, it was decided that the key strength was the efficiency and pragmatism of the people in the backdrop of political and economic stability, hence the proposition ‘Uniquely Singapore!’




A safer route

Nation branding guru Simon Anholt advocates that if a country wants to build a strong brand identity it’s best that one starts with a ‘global tourism-related proposition’ and then, once the political hierarchy understand the eight-pillar model of brand building, to extend to the more complicated and multi-communication platform.


Next steps

1) A national marketing committee must be set up to understand how a strong nation brand comes to play, maybe based on the works of Anholt-Roper.

2) Thereafter, one must bite the bullet and understand how the world perceives Sri Lanka on these six dimensions.

3) Sri Lanka must engage the expertise of a personality like Simon Anholt so that he can teach the policymakers that this is not a strategy but has to be earned with conscious decision making based on the current perceptions the world has.

4) All key stakeholders must understand the importance and take ownership to the importance of Sri Lanka becoming a strong brand globally with a reputation ‘earned’ and not financially procured.

5) There must be a quarterly monitoring system so that corrective action can happen.

6) We must identify the risks associated that can harm the brand. For instance, when Columbia wanted to change the perception people had of the country as the ‘kidnapping capital of the world’ and India fast earning the image as the ‘rape capital of the world,’ had to ensure that such occurrences will not happen again.

7) The tourism industry must arm itself with the services of a top advertising agency, PR agency and a digital partner.

Let me also highlight that there is no weightage that can be assigned one of the key contributors to a strong nation brand. The fact of the matter is that one cannot orchestrate a picture globally about a country and its image. It has to be earned over a period of time by the actions on ground. This is where Sri Lanka needs to focus and is the belief shared by many.



At the end of the day, the brand custodians are the people and it is only the people of the country who can take it forward. If not, our actions only keep hurting ‘Brand Sri Lanka,’ which is very sad when there is so much going good for Sri Lanka.

Pic by Sagara De Mel

(The thoughts are strictly the writer’s personal views and do not reflect the organisations he serves in the private, public sector or global entities.)

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