"A country is always judged by what it does, not by what it says"

Written by Alokananda Chakraborty | Updated: Sep 1 2009, 07:45am hrs
He is the author and researcher who developed the concepts of the nation brand and place brand in the late 1990s, and today plays a lead role in this rapidly expanding field. An independent policy advisor, Simon Anholt is expected in India to run a special Masterclass event in Delhi on September 3. In this email exchange with FEs Alokananda Chakraborty, he shares his views on national identity and reputation, public diplomacy and the brand images of nations, cities and regions.

First, briefly explain your definition of nation branding Havent countries alwayswittingly or otherwiseworked to portray a certain image for themselves. Is the concept of nation branding the same old wine in a new bottle

Its certainly true that countries have always tried to influence their reputations, but my approach brings several new ideas to the table. The first is proper, strategic coordination between all the stakeholders: International relations, foreign direct investment, exports, cultural relations, tourism, education, cities and regions. The second is a rigorous approach to measuring the countrys reputation among its (clearly defined) audiences in other countries, analysing how this reputation has come about, and precisely tracking any changes in this reputation so that the whole process is transparent, measurable and accountable to taxpayers and donors.

The third is a clear model of how reputation is built in the international sphere today. The fourth is a series of structures, bodies, processes and mechanisms for policy-making, public-private collaboration and innovation, that are designed to put the country in control of its reputation. The fifthand most important of allis the principle that a reputation can only be earned: It cannot be artificially constructed through marketing tricks and techniques, slogans, logos, advertising campaigns and other kinds of propaganda. Only a proper, long-term, strategic approach to policy-making, innovation and investment can deliver lasting and measurable influence over a countrys international image.

What is the difference between public diplomacy and nation branding Do you think the rise of consulting with regard to nation branding is a good thing What are the reasons that lead countries in establishing a nation brand

Public diplomacy is mainly concerned with the management of a countrys foreign policy image, while nation brand refers to the who spectrum of national reputation. No, I dont think the rise of consulting in this field is a good thing because as far as I can see the vast majority of companies operating in this sphere take a very nave approach to nation-branding, which is simply standard commercial marketing applied to countries. There is absolutely no proof that this works, and in all the years Ive been working in this field I have never seen a single, properly-documented case study of a country that has altered its reputation through marketing communications.

Countries are interested in their reputations because they have realised that reputation matters: People behave towards you on the basis of what they believe about you, and this doesnt necessarily coincide with the reality. It is the responsibility of governments today to understand how their

countries are perceived, not just how they are in reality.

Does the theory and practice of nation branding in any way conflict with globalisation that seems to undermine local diversity

The concept of nation as brand is really a response to globalisation. Because of the fact that places as well as companies now have to compete in a global marketplace, it is more and more essential that they do whatever possible to ensure that their reputations are true, positive, up-to-date and fair. If countries manage to communicate their real identities more completely and more effectively to other populations, this should enhance rather than diminish our shared cultural wealth.

Can you explain the interplay between international corporate citizenship and nation branding

If a corporation is well known to originate in a particular countrysuch as Nike and America, or Chanel and Francethen its behaviour will have some impact on the reputation of its home country and vice-versa. Since consumers around the world increasingly demand ethical behaviour on the part of corporations and governments, this factor is extremely important.

Does the reputation of a country influence the promotion/marketing of its products How would you explain the country of origin effecton consumer behaviour

Yes indeed, and in fact I originally developed the concept of nation as brand in response to the observation that the appeal of products can be strongly conditioned by the reputation of their country of origin. Country of origin effect in many product and service sectors is well known and well understood, and has been studied for many decades: My original contention was that a similar effect applies not just to a countrys products, but also to its culture, its policies, its people and its tourism offering.

Lets talk about PR and nation branding. Is PR more important than advertising Can you give any examples of successful nation brands that owe their power to PR practices

I suppose that PR, in principle at least, is somewhat more relevant to this topic than advertising. Advertising is useful (indeed probably necessary) when you are selling a product or a service to a clearly-defined audience, and when you have permission to address the audience in this way. Tourism promotion is one clear example of this.

But if the aim of the exercise is not to sell a product but to influence peoples perceptions of a country, then advertising is worse than useless. Once the country has a clear, coherent, inspiring and truthful story to tell about itself, then PR may well be part of the way in which the country then tells that story, but it is only that: A technique of implementation. It cannot substitute the necessity for real change, real reform, real innovation. I cant think of a single example of a country that has succeeded in altering its reputation through PR.

Could you take us through your two global surveysAnholt Nation Brands Index and Anholt City Brands Index Whats the purpose of the exercise

There are many surveys, which can tell you the facts about countries and cities, but none which tell you what people actually believe about them. It is incredibly important for governments to understand the gap between reality and perception, and my two surveys fill this gap.

Both use a large panel of around 20,000 ordinary people in 20 countries around the world, and ask a large number of questions about their perceptions of 50 countries and 50 cities: Climate, people, government, products, environment, services, attraction, importance, liveability, cultural life, cultural heritage, economic importance, and so forth. The result is a clear and detailed picture of how people around the world perceive countries and citiesfor better or worse. This can then be compared with reality, and a strategy devised for bridging that gap.

Coming to India as a nation brand: What are the positive and negative characteristics of Indias nation brand

India has, of course, made great strides in terms of its international reputation in recent years, but this has resulted in an image which is somewhat vulnerable. Firstly, its contradictory: There is the hi-tech, wealthy image of the new Indian technology firms and entrepreneurs, which lives uncomfortably alongside the more traditional perception of India as third-world country, rich in cultural heritage but poor in economic terms. Secondly, the image is patchy: Having a reputation for cutting-edge technology is great, but it needs to cover more sectors of the economymanufacturing, for example. Thirdly, India is still seen as a promising challenger, but more of a victim of globalisation than a driver of it. It needs in the coming years to participate actively and with integrity in the big conversations of climate change, macroeconomic stability, nuclear disarmament, poverty reduction, corruption and good governance, religious divisions, and so forth. At the moment, it is still perceived as marginal, and this caps its positive image.

Do you think a nation brand can be influenced by negative incidents of current affairs India, for example, has been beset with problems like terrorism.

Only if such problems persist in a clear pattern for some considerable time. Individual events tend to be ignored if they contradict a countrys existing image, or taken as further evidence for that existing image if they dont. The problem of terrorism is, unfortunately, so widespread that it isnt really seen by public opinion as belonging to one country much more than anotherwith a few obvious exceptions, terrorism is seen more as a global rather than a national problem.

Which specific nation branding strategies do you believe India should adopt in order to build a competitive image and streamline a clear brand name abroad Should India continue to lay emphasis on its traditional competitive advantages or should it re-orientate its nation-branding policy in some way

Well, it really isnt possible to answer this question in the abstract. Normally I need to spend some considerable time getting to know the country, its government, business and civil society, and finding out what their aims and challenges are before I can start to talk about what they need to do next. It is also essential to analyse the countrys existing image before deciding what needs doing. But the bottom line in every case is the same: A country is always judged by what it does, not by what it says.