The triumph of the Sri Lankan brand

Wednesday, 28 September 2011 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

In my view, Sri Lanka today, although a nation looking towards the future, is one that is facing a considerable set back by being constantly dragged into its past. What’s going on in the United Nations these days is nothing but a stumbling block to our progress.

I am speaking obviously from a southerner’s point of view. I know that there are issues, still unresolved with the Sri Lankan people of the north and that is the legacy of the war we fought for 30 years. As (reported in the newspapers), President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself said that he was deeply mindful that the battle for peace was every bit as important and difficult as the struggle against terror.

And since there are always losers in a war, those will be the ones who will not want to go forward but remain bitterly in the past.

As much as many in the rest of the world want to join them in dragging us down into this apathy, it is obvious that our success lies in the future. That being the case, it is clear that we need to look forward.

I was recently leafing through a fashion catalogue, which had a very catchy tagline – it said ‘Our future has a history’. Grammatically this phrase might be all wrong since you cannot use the word future and has in the same sentence. But the statement itself is bold and daring.

The commercial explains the line further, saying that they have always been ahead of the times ‘with trend setting communications, visionary product innovations and international orientations’. It is remarkable to think that to control their future in the area of ladies lingerie (for that’s what this company deals with), the formula they used was good communications, product innovation and international compatibility.

Isn’t this the same formula that we need to emulate in order to position the Sri Lankan brand? Because are these not the very three areas we are lacking in how we position ourselves? Creating the Sri Lankan brand (as I discussed before in other columns) is nothing to do with what we think about ourselves but about what others think about us. Therefore, the first thing to know in positioning the brand properly is about how we project the brand story and whether is it acceptable to our stakeholders.

Firstly, has Sri Lanka really got its proper brand story in place – one that everyone can articulate in one voice?

Secondly, what are our products? Today, when we want to project Sri Lanka we look at tea, tourism or garments as our products. But we have to also look at how we project our system of government/administration, the Sri Lankan way of life, our value system and culture as unique to the rest of the world.

It was reported in last week’s newspapers that President Rajapaksa had said in his address to the UN Assembly that we have our own home-grown solutions. “We ask our friends in distant lands to drop preconceived notions. We strongly believe in home-grown solutions for them to be sustainable. It is clearly impractical to conceive of universal remedies for problems which afflict our societies,” said President Rajapaksa addressing the 66th Session of the UNGA in New York.

It was a home-grown formula that won a war and brought about peace. All this while, the whole world – including the United States of America, which is itself trying to figure its way out of terrorism – was trying to teach us methods that did not work.

Be that as it may, it is not that we had the formula to win a war that should be our image but the fact that we have the formula to win peace. That essentially is our innovative product to project.

If we take the third point of the fashion commercial, which is ‘international orientation,’ then our brand image and brand story should be compatible with international thinking. We might be living on an island but we cannot have an island mentality. If ever we have failed in projecting our brand image, this is one area we have lacked in, i.e. compatibility with other international brands. We need to find a way to make people understand that our brand has a winning formula that is proven and that our systems are worth following.

So on the other side of the coin, as much as we comply with international standards, do those looking at us from abroad understand our standards and value systems? We need to encourage people to be compatible with our own standards. These would be the initial steps towards creating the Sri Lankan brand story and projecting our unique brand image. Only then can our history be our future success.

(The writer, a PR consultant and head of Media360, was previously a mainstream journalist in print and electronic media. He also edits a new media website.)

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