Building ‘Brand Sri Lanka’ over and over again

Tuesday, 2 September 2014 03:03 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Last week we saw some key events unfolding in Sri Lanka, the first being the announcement officially that Sri Lanka is engaging a global PR agency to give a balanced picture of Sri Lanka in the US market and the other being the staging of Miss China for Miss Universe 2014 in Sri Lanka. A thought that crossed my mind from the many interactions that I have had with the global expert in Nation Branding Simon Anholt was him mentioning that nation branding is a process where respect is earned with a series of actions over a long period of time rather than just orchestrated activity. In this ethos if we evaluate Sri Lanka we a mixed bag if one Googles Sri Lanka.                               Sri Lanka: $ 35 billion+ As per its last brand value survey, Brand Finance has valued Sri Lanka’s worth at 23 billion dollars and it is ranked fourth in South Asia whilst the latest data reveals that the brand has pegged up to 35 billion post the positive information that has been emanating. On the economic front with the World Bank and ADB stating that the economy is projected to grow at 7% 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 1st Ozone Friendly certification from the Kyoto protocol whilst the apparel industry is positioning itself as the ‘Preferred Destination for Ethical Sourcing,’ this drives credibility stronger for a higher raking in the Nation Branding Index. However, the recent development between the United Nations and Sri Lanka on the alleged human rights issues that even got the Secretary General to mention the name Sri Lanka in the initial opening remarks of the UN General assembly has taken away the shine off the brand which has in fact been stated as a drag in the overall Nation Branding Index. This to be honest should have been avoided at any cost. This has dented the vision of Sri Lanka becoming a $ 50 billion brand.     "One of the key contributors to a strong nation brand is on the attribute ‘Governance policy’. Sri Lanka has been in the global spotlight in this area with the appointment of the UN panel on Sri Lanka. We in the private sector must also practice good governance so that as a nation we can become stronger and demonstrate to the word that we are above board" Nation Branding Index? Very simply, the Nation Brand Index measures the power and the appeal of a country globally. Conducted annually, it uses the work of a top policy advisor and consultant to many governments, Simon Anholt. The Nation Branding Index examines the image of 50 nations each year, with approximately 20,000 adults aged 18 and up interviewed in 20 core panel countries. The Anholt-Roper Nation Brands Index looks at a country’s image by examining six dimensions of national competence, all of which are treated equally with no weighting. This gives an overall sense of a country’s reputation as a whole. The six dimensions are:   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 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. This leads to a reputation of a country which can be unique. Earning a reputation Research reveals that if one is to develop a strong nation brand globally, like for instance Sri Lanka, 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 for a country like Sri Lanka, where 75% of the economy is accounted for by the private sector, if the private sector keeps generating messages to the world in its formal and informal communication questioning the governance factor in the country, this naturally hurts the brand. Another key principle in a strong nation brand is that people in the home country must be satisfied and talk positive before a country beyond its shores to build a brand. What it in essence this means is that Sri Lankans must appreciate what the Government is trying to do so that credibility is earned inside the country before any brand building happens outside the country. The recent visit of the TNA to meet one of the most powerful personalities in the world – the Indian Premier – and the media reports that it generated on the people of the Northern and Eastern Province did not augur well for the country from a nation brand perspective sadly. 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. Past experience: Singapore, Spain and New Zealand 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 than just a communication campaign. I guess Sri Lanka needs to do the same before deciding on tag lines such as ‘Wonder of Asia’ or ‘Discover Sri Lanka’ or ‘Island of Thousand Treasures’ or the discarded tag line ‘The Small Miracle’ and 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!’ Way forward 1) A national marketing committee must be set up to understand how a strong nation brand comes to play may be 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 guide the policy makers that this is not a strategy but it has to be earned with a conscious decision making based on the current perceptions the world has on Sri Lanka. 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 as the ‘kidnapping capital of the world’ and India fast earning the image as the ‘rape capital of the world,’ then it had to ensure that such occurrences will not happen again. 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 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. (The author is a multiple award winning marketer and business personality who sits on many private and public sector organisations as an Independent Director. He twice won the ‘Marketing Achiever Award’ by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (UK) and has been instrumental in many of the country’s  ‘Category’ branding strategies. The thoughts expressed are his personal observations and not the views of any organisation he serves. He is a recipient of the Global Business Leadership Award recently in Singapore.)