Branding has for years been a buzzword in the business world and companies – big and small alike – has channeled significant funds into the creation of their own brand and increase brand-recognition. Before long this marketing approach has begun to spread to the state sphere and the practice of location brandinghas arisen, with states hiring branding consultants from the private sector. This new tendency has arisen at the crossroads of public relations and international relations and for this reason ought to be viewed together with the other communicative approaches of dealing with international relations. (van Ham 2002: 249)
The increasing globalization has created a sharper competition between states as it has become increasingly difficult to stand out from the others and governments have therefore sought ways to increase their own relative competitive edge in relation with their neighbors. Nation branding has here been a welcomed way to try to stand out from other comparable countries. This chapter will go more in depth with how nation branding originated and how it is practiced. (Cerny 2007: 272-273)
The idea of nation branding and the brand state is in a way not that new a concept. In a way the creation of nations in itself is a kind of branding. When states began to be transformed to nation-states primarily in the nineteenth century many strategies similar to branding strategies were utilized. The creation of a national flag, a national anthem or a constitution all helped setting the country apart from the others and created a kind of national identity both for people viewing the state from the outside as well as its citizens. (van Ham 2002: 259-260)
One of the main differences between the creation of nations in the 19th century and the nation branding of the 21st century is that the creation of national ideas were primarily planned to affect the inhabitants of the state whereas the nation branding initiatives are directed towards foreign publics and corporations.
Before moving on it is necessary to explore the concept of branding in itself before putting it in a national and international context. Branding is in its origin a part of an advertisement terminology. Advertisement tries to deliver a message that a certain product has a certain quality or promotes awareness about the product. Branding is taking this a step further by adding some emotional value to the product and making the product tell a story. This does not necessarily have to have anything to do with the primary product function as such and the quality does not necessarily have to be better than similar products. People’s perception of the product is what counts and by adding some sort of emotional value to it will make it stand out from the rest as it has its very own story to tell the consumer. With successful branding strategies and increased brand-recognition there will be an added value to it.
The idea behind nation or location branding is to give an added value to a country, to a region or to an organization. The added value comes from the general perception people around the world has about the country. They might see it as an environmentally friendly country, technologically developed country or a very artistic country. Nation branding is the conscious effort of state officials to define/redefine peoples’ understanding and view of their country. (van Ham 2004: 2-3)
It is suggested that there are four main reasons why it is a good idea to consider creating a brand and they are as follows:
“…(1) products, services and locations have become so alike that they can no longer differentiate themselves by their quality, reliability and other basic traits. Branding adds emotion and trust to these ‘products’, thereby offering clues that make consumers’ choices somewhat easier; (2) this emotional relationship between brand and consumer ensures loyalty to the brand; (3) by creating an aspiration lifestyle, branding offers a kind of Ersatz for ideologies and political programmes that have lost their relevance; and (4) the combination of emotions, relationships and lifestyle (values) allows a brand to charge a price premium for their products, services and locations, which would otherwise hardly be distinguishable from generics.” (van Ham 2002: 251)
So in short these reasons for embarking on brand creation campaigns are to set the location apart from so many other similar locations and through this making people’s perception of the location more favorable than to any other place and making sure they will consider the place if they are planning a holiday, considering where to invest or any other possible interaction with the place. By tying values to the locations the added value will also come out of it and people will suddenly pay much more to go to one holiday island instead of the neighboring one because of its brand recognition.
Limits to nation branding
It is not possible for a state to completely freely decide on what image they want to show to the outside world as people around the world will likely already have some perceptions of the country. These perceptions cover both countries people might know a lot about such as ideas of Germany being a strict and efficient country or United Kingdom being a conservative and traditionalist country or countries people might just have a faint idea about. Estonia has for example struggled with getting rid of the stigma of being a post-Soviet state through trying to brand itself as a pre-EU or Scandinavian state. These mainstream views of a country can either be good or bad for a country and the state can therefore try to get rid of or enhance the image. The German brand for example has been good economically for the automotive sector as the cars made in Germany will have a higher perceived value than the car made in Ukraine – it matters less if the German car really is better than the Ukrainian one. The United Kingdom on the other hand has generally had a bad brand economically resulting in for example British Airways and British Telecom changing their names to BA and BT in an effort to hide their country of origin. (van Ham 2002: 261-263)