Stage set for Nation Branding…


* Nation Branding of Sri Lanka taking form

* Current awareness of brand Sri Lanka is below 4%

* Omnibus research reveal many do not know of SL even for terrorism

By Rohantha Athukorala

Last week we got exposed a burst of strong share of voice(SOV)and share of media(SOM) on the President’s visit for the 65th United Nations General Assemby in New York. My take from the visit was that Sri Lanka has finally got the stage ready to launch an aggressive Nation branding campaign that can propel the country to be the ‘Wonder of Asia’. In fact, the total media blitz from ground zero echoed some of the pillars of an effective Nation Branding strategy of a country.

Nation Branding unplugged

From a Political pillar the President highlighting the performance of the MDG that Sri Lanka is way above any country in Asia, From a Business pillar the head of Brandix being featured on Walls Street Journal, the 1st lady meeting Michelle Obama at a down town social network whilst, the leadership networking with Head of the UN,EC, Iran, Norway, Saudi Arabia and Jamaica to name a few will do a lot of good to brand Sri Lanka.

This splash happening in the backdrop of the Colombo stock market is booming with the market cap increasing by a staggering 102%. The second quarter GDP growth surpassing 8.5%. The World economic Forum pegging Sri Lanka by 17 places in the Global Economic competitiveness rating. S&P moving Sri Lanka up to a B+ outlook. The country being featured in every possible tourism opinion former magazine as a must visit destination gives us an idea of the strength of brand Sri Lanka.

What is Nation Branding

Very simply it means applying corporate branding techniques to a country. Much of this work on Nation Branding has been done by a scientist called Simon Anholt. He orchestrated that there are 8 pillars by which a country can be marketed globally. An adapted version in my view that fits to the template of Sri Lanka is as follows.

But a key principle in Nation branding is that what is required is not sexy advertising on a window dressed platform. Nation Branding is emanating credible statements in a consistant basis so that a country earn a reputation that it deserves.

Earning a reputation

This is a key principle in Nation branding. There has to be a very strong partnership between ministries at a very high level and the engagement with the private sector must be very strong. Specially in a country like Sri Lanka where a seventy five percent of the economy is run by the private sector.

Another key principle in Nation branding is that people in the home country must be satisfied and talk positive before a country ventures out beyond it shores to build a brand. What it in essence intimates is that Sri Lankans must appreciate what the government is trying to do so that credibility is earned inside the country before any brand building happens outside the country.

In Sri Lanka the business community is very appreciative with new found earnings in the stock market and the positive market sentiment in the bazzar that is driving the economy. The stock market doubling its market cap on 2009 and then todate crossing a 102 percent on last years performance sure spreads a vibe which is very positive in nature. There are reports coming in that the profits of the listed companies have moved up by 156% which also stacks up to the private sector wanting to partner the government in its economic development agenda.

Now the challenge is how appreciation can be elucidated by rural Sri Lanka. This can be by way of increasing productivity in the agricultural sector or the development Industrial estates so that SME development takes place. This in turn can spruce up the per capita income in rural Sri Lanka, so that it will be in line to national average of $2000.

If this can be achieved then we can say that a typical citizen is living a personal testimony of Nation Branding. If this fundamental principle is adhered to research reveals that the Nation Branding task becomes easier due to the positive re in-forcement by multiple sources.

Past Experience –S’pore, Spain &New Zealand

When Singapore began its journey of Nation branding the 1st task that was done to identify what people currently thought of them as a nation. There after they evaluated it as against competitors on what position was engaged by other countries. For instance France was associated with Romance, United States with opportunity and liberty. Switzerland for precision and efficiency anchored by their watch business. Japan for convenience due to the use of the latest technology that stemmed from the automobile industry.

I guess Sri Lanka needs to do the same before deciding on tag lines such as ‘Wonder of Asia’ or ‘Discover Sri Lanka’ or ‘Island of thousand treasures’ or the discarded tag line ‘The Small miracle’. The point to lean is that before arriving at a catchy tag line a more strategic thought process had to embarked on is the learning’s coming in from Nation branding campaigns of Singapore, Spain and New Zealand.

Another important point to consider is that once we know the competitor positioning we must identify the key strengths that a typical country has. For instance in the case of Singapore it was decided that the key strength is the efficiency and pragmatism of the people on the back drop of political and economic stability. Hence oozed out the proposition ‘Uniquely Singapore!.

STEP 1- select a market

Lets accept it even though Nations can be valued to be worth billions of dollars with Sri Lanka that can be estimated at being between 42-85 billion dollars, no country has the resources to spend even a three percent on a Nation branding campaign. Most countries are debt trapped which includes power countries like United States and UK.

Hence the best way forward is to 1st identify which markets are important to Sri Lanka from many different perspective. It can be key export markets, propencity of attracting investment humanitarian assistance and may be tourism. In this backdrop Sri Lanka’s focus markets can be United States, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Russia, India and China. If need be may be we can include Norway and Australia so that it makes 10 target markets from a strictly marketing jargon terminology.

STEP 2- what is the issue

Lets bite the bullet and accept it that there is an issue in each of these markets that Sri Lanka must address. After all Nation Branding is a tool used only because there is an issue. If not there is no logic to invest resources on such initiatives. I yet remember a piece of advise given by one of previous bosses who was of Indian origin. He said ‘Perception is reality’.

What he meant was that in reality may be facts does not justify the thinking among the people but we need to accept that the cutrrent perceptions that exits happens to be the reality as at now. For instance we can categorize the LTTE as a terrorist organization and it is a fact but among some key policy makers in Norway the perception can be different due to the strong share of voice of the Diapora. These are the challenges that Nation Branding must address. The best example is India current which is referred to as the emerging super power of the world but current reality is that the standard of life being questioned post the Common Wealth Games debacle and top athletes and some countries contemplating to pull out of the Delhi games of 2010. This is the reality that must be accepted and addressed.

STEP 3- identify the strengths

Whilst accepting the issues at hand we must take note that the strengths of a country can easily supersede the issues strictly from a communication perspective. All it requires is a strategic communication agenda that is syncronised. The best case in point is South Africa. It was not very long ago that the world autrasized the nation for apathied and the country was banned from taking part in any sports around the world. But with an investment of 4.3 billion dollars the country show cased its strengths by staging FIFA World Cup 2010 and today the perception is that South Africa is known for its warm and friendly people. This is the power of Nation branding.

Set Objectives

Once the basic architecture has been sketched out based on selection of target markets and then understanding the issues in each market amongst its target customers and what strengths the Nation posses currently the next task is to clearly shape an objective that the country wishes to target. See page 4

The Author is a multiple award winning marketer and business leader. The thoughts expressed are his own personal observations and not the views of any organization he serves.

For instance South Korea decided to set an objective of being the value for money technology provider that will make a global consumers life more convenient. Today they have outsmarted Sony with the Samsung Brand. Latest estimates is that which Samsung brand value is estimated at 18 billion dollars Sony trails at twelve. In fact South Korea has set a numerical target of where 70% of their exported to be with branded products by 2010 and they want ten brands to be among the top 100 brands of the world. This is the ruthless targeting that is required if we want to pursue Nation branding as a country.

The stage is set

But the good news is that being an Island nation this task of quantifying the targets is an easier challenge. The latest information reveals that almost 55% of the Tea that is been exported is done in a value added form. The Apparel industry is in the process of developing a logo for its Ethically manufactured positioning. Ceylon Cinnamon branding will be fully fledged shortly. We are already in play for four patents being registered globally, that is been powered by top four companies in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka will become a Financial hub, Maritime Hub, Aviation Hub, Tea Hub,Shopping Hub in the near future for the South Asian region. We can become a Knowledge Hub, Energy Hub and Commercial hub in the more medium term.

Sri Lanka has been pegged 17 places to number 62 in the Global Economic Forum rankings for this year. We are poised to be a top 50 country in the near future. S&P has graded us B+ from a financial outlook. Hence it is very clear that the stage is set for Sri Lanka specially post the recent media splash at the 65th UN General Assembly. The challenge is do we have the discipline to practice this or will internal issues come in the way.


1) A National Marketing committee must be set up to develop an architecture for Nation branding under a powerful ministry.

2) The targeted markets must be selected with objectivity taking into account the political economy that we live in.

3) A 8 pillar Nation branding game plan must be architecture with a detail action plan for 3 years. Its almost like a road map.

4) The action plan must be agreed by at the highest level by the relevant government ministries and agencies.

5) There must be a quarterly monitoring system so that corrective action can happen.

6) This Nation branding strategy must be webbed to all other forms of communication that happens from the country.

7) We must identify the risks associated that can harm the strategy. For instance when Columbia wanted to change the perception

people had as the ‘Kidnapping capital of the world’ then it had to ensure that such occurrences will not happen once the Nation Branding campaign breaks out.

The good news is that we have already started the campaign. Now it’s the people of the country that must take it forward. The onus is on each and every citizen of the country and not just the policy makers.

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