Jasmine Montgomery, CEO and founder of branding agency Seven Brands that has worked for nations including Singapore and Bahrain, discusses how to create an identity for a country than really stands out.
Globalisation, for all its benefits, has ushered in a curious unison among nations blossoming in emerging markets. Despite increased exposure to the world, few destinations have proceeded to succinctly articulate their uniqueness into a destination brand that resonates globally.
Identikit logos, the customary exclamation mark and generic slogans such as "Remarkable…!" and "Amazing!" (examples below) are aplenty and virtually indistinguishable from competitors. Worse still, what defines them - their people, land, culture, history or any combination of them - doesn’t seem to get a look-in.
The grand CNN ad or repurposed billboard with inauthentic actors and unrealistic visualisation of the destination lead to meaningless messaging that does not cut through as desired. These combine to rob a nation of its personality and its ability to craft an authentic and distinguished identity that attracts visitors to what it has to offer. These one-size-fits-all media and PR strategies are, then, of a real concern.
How to better brand countries
Branding a nation has to be a conscious process that draws on all or some of the assets a state, province or city has at its disposal. Some locations like Silicon Valley and Buckingham Palace actively craft their brands by shining a spotlight on their unique geographical and visual assets or cultural exports to distinguish themselves as effective destination brands. Some do not.
After all, all destinations have reputations that precede them, hewn into shape by the passage of history and sewn into their fabric throughout the annals of time. Yet these are mostly ignored in the process of brand-making by a country’s tourism board and marketers. And it is these qualities that will drive not just tourism but foreign direct investment and business by helping make them desirable places to live.
If destination brands make the choice to utilise these reputational markers of identity, they can creatively bend them to their will and in the process take control of their global reputation. By doing so, they will activate a frisson of excitement in the minds of first-time visitors through compelling creative that draws on these assets and engages travellers effectively – tourists and business alike.
The Economic Development Board in Bahrain did just this. The Business Friendly Bahrain campaign leveraged the 4,000-year-old legacy of the state as a cosmopolitan crossroads for the Gulf befitting of a state seeking to attract expats and economic investors amidst fierce regional competition.
Encouraging viewers to picture themselves in their new home, a call to the senses was paramount to create demand. By also showcasing the architectural delights of its hotels as well as evoking the delight of culture, expressed within the conduit of food, through warm toned imagery, the pleasures available to travellers and expats alike were brought to life.
At its core then, destination branding is about unity. To unify all the disparate elements of brand design, tourism and corporate brands, and the unspoken reputational brand that exists independent of marketing efforts, is to create enduring work that will become a calling card of a nation for generations to come.