Nation Branding

Feb 18, 2013 (LBO) – Sri Lanka has a chance to strengthen its ‘nation brand’ after the end of a civil war, by building upon freedom enhancing values and being focused and consistent on messaging that differentiates the island, a international consultancy has said.

Sri Lanka has entered a country brand index (CBI) compiled annually by FutureBrands, a consultancy for the first time at number 67 out of 118 as awareness grew about the island among global citizens, Future Brands said.

The study is based on a sample of 4,000 respondents, which has been conducted for almost a decade and is used by state agencies engaged in promoting investments and tourism and private corporations, the firm said.

Perception

“We don’t’ determine who gets into the index and who does not,” head of Future Brands South East Asia Sarah Reiter said.

“Those respondents have told us that their awareness and their familiarity and associations are high enough for you to be included in the study. You have not just entered the study at the lower end. You are coming to the middle of the study at 67.

“So it is fantastic news for Sri Lanka and a solid achievement. And it really a reflection of some of the stability that the country has seen in the past few years and some of the policy advances as well.”

A 30-year civil war ended in 2009 and the country has seen a surge in tourist arrivals and infrastructure is being rolled out. Private investment is yet to pick up in a significant way.

FutureBrands last week donated its study valued at 80,000 000 to the Centre for Research and Sustainable Studies in Tourism (CRST), a non-profit organization founded by Srilal Miththapala and Dileep Mudadeniya, veterans from Sri Lanka’s tourist sector.

“Nation branding is a hot topic among marketers,” Mudadeniya said. “Research and data on nation branding is a recent development.

The study measures a country across several parameters, called attributes, made up of value system, quality of life, good for business, heritage and culture and tourism.

“Having researched information is the foundation of developing a sustainable nation branding strategy,” Reiter says.

“The important thing to bear in mind is that the strengths that Sri Lanka has is beginning to be recognized by the global citizen.

“And the benefits of a strong nations brand can be profound. They are economic, in terms of foreign direct investment, migration, immigration, consumer markets, and tourism as a revenue stream for the nation.

“But a strong nation can also provide greater legitimacy for governmental negotiations.”

Freedoms

Reiter says Sri Lanka has scored well on several fronts and the brand is not overly dependent only one area such as tourism like some other Asian nations.

“Sri Lanka has outperformed Bangladesh, Vietnam and Indonesia on best place for live,” Reiter said. “You also perform very, very well on heritage and culture, attractions.

“The important thing to keep in mind is that these are perceptions, not necessarily married with reality. They are also the perceptions of the global citizen, not the Asian citizen or the neighbor. So this is how the world sees Sri Lanka.”

“We would see that the data suggesting that you have very strong foundations to move forward in a diversified brand that is recognized for a holistic range of dimensions.”

The most important is the value system covering governance and freedom. It has the attributes of political freedom, stable legal environment, freedom of speech, environmental friendliness and tolerance.

“We would see that any country needs to do well on the value system dimension before it can advance on the index more generally,” Reiter said.

“So Sri Lanka is part of the South East Asia, South Asia neighborhood. Generally the neighborhood scores badly in the dimension. So we see opportunities for Sri Lanka and the region to address.”

Brand Building

“The data is just one part of the equation,” says Reiter. “Knowing what to do with the data is the next critical question.

“One of the challenges Sri Lanka needs to address in the nation branding is focus. What do you stand for? You have business markets with different needs to tourism markets. So understanding Sri Lanka – who you are and what you stand for – and being able to communicate that is a focused way is very difficult.”

“A second aspect is communicating consistently and effectively.”

Small countries can have big brands. Nation branding is not dependent on the marketing budget, she says.

Reiter says Sri Lanka can also strengthen its position by a campaign involving a focus on chosen icons and also building on trying to differential its cultural attributes from its neighbors.

She says a campaign has to differentiate from the neighbors, based on heritage as Sri Lanka may tend to be blurred within a larger South Asian identity. A set of own very recognizable icons and signature have to be identified.

Positioning higher up the value chain can attract premium business, Reiters.

In Asia, FutureBrands says it has assisted countries like Malaysia and Singapore.

“One of the key aspects of the identity development exercise – and I think one of the greatest risks that can happen when you are creating the look and feel that’s meant to embody the spirit and character of a nation – is that you modernize the visual brands without respecting the heritage that you come from,” Reiter says.

“I think it is a very fine line between advancing the look at feel – logo and visual assets of the nation – without losing that personality and character that defines the nation.”

A community of advocates can be created using technology and citizens themselves.

Update II