Why do we keep hurting ‘Brand Sri Lanka’?

Tuesday, 11 December 2012 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Last Saturday I got the opportunity of watching the two-time Grammy award winner Jon Secada perform at Nelum Pokuna. In my view it was a swashbuckling performance that I have seen from an entertainer as against the likes of Britney Spears or Beyonce that I have been privy to.

Maybe the logic could be that Jon Secada is a powerful singer in his core, whilst the others being entertainers that are backed by technology and special effects.

When I got back home and checked the viral media on Sri Lanka, there were many updates on Secada’s performances in Colombo and his visit to Sri Lanka, which sure did a lot of good for ‘Brand Sri Lanka,’ the reason being the author Simon Anholt always advocates that nation branding is a process where respect is earned with a series of activity over a long period of time rather than orchestrated activity.


Sri Lanka is worth $ 23 billion

As per the last brand value survey done by Brand Finance, Sri Lanka is valued at 23 billion dollars and is ranked fourth in South Asia. Post-war, events such as staging IIFA, the Cricket World Cup and maybe even the Night Races would definitely help us be a 50 billion worth brand within the next two to three years is the forecast coming out.

However, the recent developments between the Legislative and the Judiciary and the media reports hitting global media, like the Guardian, Al Jazeera, CNN and BBC, are denting the vision of Sri Lanka becoming a $ 50 billion brand. I am not a legal expert to comment on the rights or wrongs of this development, but from a brand perspective, I wonder why we keep hurting ‘Brand Sri Lanka’ when we have so much going good for the country.

GDP growth of 7+, the Doing Business index picking up to be a top 81 friendly country in the world, whilst from a more broader life perspective the ‘Best in Asia’ in the Human Development Index are just a few of the many highlights that can be showcased for the country. Let me throw more light on this concept.


Nation Brand Index?

Very simply, the Nation Brand Index measures the power and the appeal that a country has globally. Conducted annually it uses the works of a top policy advisor and consultant to many governments, Simon Anholt. The Nation Brand Index examines the image of 50 nations. Each year, approximately 20,000 adults aged 18 and up are interviewed in 20 core panel countries. The Anholt-Roper Nation Brand 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 individual’s 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.


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 ministries 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 run by the private sector, if the private sector keeps generating messages to the world like what the Ceylon Chamber issued last week on the impeachment of the Chief Justice it does not augur well for the country and 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 intimates 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. With the recent media reports of the tax waiver on luxury sports cars and the subsequent outcry in the viral and main media, even if the facts were not right the damage was done to ‘Brand Sri Lanka’.

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 Sri Lanka becoming the ‘Wonder of Asia’.

Past experience – Singapore, Spain and New Zealand

When Singapore began its journey of building a strong nation brand, the first task that was done was to identify what people currently thought of them as a nation. Thereafter they evaluated it as 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 its watch business, and 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’. Before arriving at a catchy tagline, a more strategic thought process had to embarked on is the lesson coming in from 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 that a typical country has. For instance, in the case of Singapore, it was decided that the key strength is the efficiency and pragmatism of the people in the backdrop of political and economic stability, hence oozed out 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, 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 guide the policymakers and show 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 of 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 take place.

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,’ then it had to ensure that such incidents would not happen again.

Let me also highlight whilst there is no weightage that can be assigned to one of the key contributors to a strong nation brand, in a coalition Government like Sri Lanka it is on the attribute governance policy. This means competency and honesty by which a government respects citizens’ rights with fair treatment and global behaviour in the area of international peace, which highlights the responsibility that policymakers have to play in the overall process.

At the end of the day, the brand custodians are the people and it is only the people of the country that 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 leader. 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.)

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