A country is much more than its landscape, culture, products and services; countries are an amalgamation of these elements coming together in the public eye to form a brand. In the hyper-connected world we live in today, where opinionated citizens are capable of influential recommendations or disastrous negative reviews, it is necessary to do more than the typical advertising of showing images and videos of beaches, castles, lakes, mountains, streets, restaurants and hotels on TV, computer or mobile screens, or on bus stops and street billboards.
It is no longer enough to cultivate the best peppers if it is the children who toil the land. It is no longer acceptable to mix them with other peppers that do not have the guaranteed quality when delivering to customers. Nor is it enough to offer the best incentives to build a plant in an industrial area if it is necessary to unofficially line someone’s pockets to create the business. Having the most idyllic white sand beaches in the world is useless if, when visiting them, it is likely that you will be robbed, or that a vehicle will run you over because there is no respect for traffic signals, or you may get a disease due to lack of water or food treatment.
Countries can’t depend on reputational attributes if they do not have tangible proof of results with real positive impact. However, it is no longer an option to entrust the success of a brand entirely to its image. The other four factors of LLYC’s reputation model, Reputation Relevance, are credibility, transparency, integrity and contribution. These must be taken into account to uphold a sustainable reputation plan that allows for not only a positive positioning of nation branding, but also for good crisis management, in case something goes wrong and a buffer is needed to reduce damages.
Reputation over image
Although the image is usually a person’s first point of reference with a brand, when deciding whether or not to become a consumer, they also take into account other factors of reputation:
- Credibility – the experience consumers have with the product and how it aligns with the product’s image and promises. When a brand provides positive experiences, it leads to customer recommendation.
- Integrity – the brand fulfilling its legal and ethical obligations.
- Contributions – the brand having a positive influence in its industry.
- Transparency – communication of accurate information that fulfills user expectations of the brand. This includes information on image, credibility, integrity and contributions.
The latest study by the Reputation Institute on nation branding, from spring 2018, states that “a new era is emerging, where reputation intangibles have an impact on political, social and economic changes.”
Sectors and stakeholders for better nation branding
Why is a nation’s positive reputation, and not just its brand, important? Firstly, efforts to achieve and maintain that reputation will force the country to consider public policies and programs, the proper execution of which tends to improve the living conditions of the people in that territory, whether or not they are residents.
Additionally, a good reputation makes a country attractive to investors, reduces the price of its currency, and increases trade and tourism. Foreign investment is considered an opportunity for business that allows the country to gain more influence in international forums.
A sustainable plan
Beyond what nations do to create and promote their brand, they must think in terms of reputation so that their positioning is based on more than just image, something that plants the seeds for positive beliefs and ideas about a territory to spread and makes it more difficult to underestimate or even discredit those beliefs. This implies having a well-designed from the start, in which the positioning factors play a fundamental role in defining the actions -of communication, of course, and others in terms of public policies, processes, protocols, laws, regulations, etc.- to be executed. Priority should be given to targeted communities when forming this plan – not only in terms of action, but also by listening enough to identify and measure the risks that need to be managed and the opportunities for growth.