The Country Branding Gospel Of Simon Anholt

The guest list at the 2005 British Brands Group brand lecture held on Wednesday, the 25th of May at Chatham House was like a who-is-who in branding and marketing in the United Kingdom, from academics, members of parliament to industry executives, they all came out to listen to a masterful Simon Anholt, deliver what many in the audience described as an entertaining, educative, inspiring and outstanding lecture on the rising new area of branding, known as country or place branding.

Master of his class, Simon Anholt delivering the 2005 British Brands Group brand lecture at Chatham House.

Mr Anholt's fluid delivery gave him away as a very confident professional, someone who knows his trade and is also very passionate about his subject (country branding), it also showed the reason why he is a hot property and very sought-after in the lecture circuits, with his company earthspeak (a strategy consultancy), he advises governments, NGOs and corporations and other key stakeholders on policies as well as techniques and strategies for a successful place branding programme, and on ethical and cultural issues.

Simon began the lecture by re-defining branding, so as to place it into perspective, he said that branding, contrary to long held beliefs is no just the message being sent out to customers but rather the context under which the message is being sent, according to him ‘while the west are already good at branding, the developing countries are still struggling', he believes that adopting branding techniques in the developing economies will actually create value for their products and services, this according to him is because ‘Theirs is like a finished PR campaign, the job is already made easy for them by global players such as Nike, Reebok etc whose products are made in the developing countries but sold all over the world, such countries only need to capitalise on such partnerships'. This according to him counters the argument in some quarters that developing economies are not capable of manufacturing high quality goods.

Uche Nworah & John Noble of the British Brands Group at the lecture

Simon used the brand value chain analysis (increase in company sales and revenues, full employment, increased corporation and income taxes and improvement in the quality of life for the people) to emphasise the long term importance of branding to developing economies, this he believes will benefit both the developing economies and their western counterparts, he faulted the current practice of continued pouring of aid to the developing countries without actually equipping them with brand building skills which they will need in sustaining their economies, ‘unless this is some kind of conspiracy by western governments and corporations to limit the competitive abilities of the developing economies' he says.

Rosemary Ajayi (a graduate student at London College of Communication) and the American, David Beal of WPP

He used the examples of an Indian perfume maker to support his conspiracy theory and also the plight of Ecotech in Estonia to illustrate the vulnerability of companies in the developing countries and how a whole country's GDP and GNP can be adversely affected by a single boardroom decision of a major global corporation.

It was a bit disappointing that there were no government officials and company executives from the developing countries in the audience, they would have benefited from the lecture more as some of these countries are currently implementing strategic image and country branding campaigns. It would have been beneficial to their projects if they had listened to Mr Anholt shoot to pieces all the known arguments against developing countries as regards their ability to compete in the global market, such arguments such as, that developing economies can not manufacture quality goods, can not brand and can not afford branding, western consumers will not buy products made in the developing countries, corruption in the developing countries affect their image and invariably hinders their trade potentials and so on were carefully analysed by Mr Anholt.

Simon Anholt, Rebecca Johnson of and Uche Nworah

While agreeing that the country of origin affects consumers perceptions of a brand, he however believes that perceptions can also be changed through branding, he cited the example of post-war Japan, when people won't touch anything Japanese, but not anymore, as the perception of Japan has changed and now anything Japanese sells especially in the telecommunications and automobile sectors, China is also another example, although it used to be known for the manufacture of cheap, fake and substandard goods, it is now the darling of the world and every company or country in the world now scrambles for some piece of the Chinese market, the extent of the rising economic influence of China was recently demonstrated in the United kingdom when any possible hopes of survival of the British car maker (MG Rover)was dependent on a joint partnership deal with the Chinese company (SAIC), the deal did not go through causing MG Rover to go into liquidation.

Simon said that part of the problems in the country of origin effect as it concerns the developing economies is the fact that they still have not been applying good branding techniques, if image is still so much of a problem for them, then they should take cues from Nokia, a Finnish company with a Japanese sounding name, Nokia does not play up its country of origin in its media campaigns, this strategy has obviously worked for them, making them one of the leading global mobile phone brands, in America people buy Nokia phones believing that they are made in Japan.

Simon also argued that developing economies should learn a few branding lessons from America, he asked ‘How did America become the cool country of origin it is today?' this is despite the fact that America largely depends on imports from the developing countries which are eventually re-branded and exported back to the countries where the products were made originally, he says that Americans are the world's best branding experts, with Hollywood and NASA at the forefront of the American branding machine, NASA for instance makes billion dollar space toys and crashes them, as a result of such ‘stunts', America is constantly in the picture, and in the people's consciousness and this improves their brand profile.

David Beal of WPP, Christine Cryne (Chief executive of The Chartered Institute of Marketing) and Uche Nworah

Simon urged developing economies to seize the opportunities of the moment presented by globalisation, he also challenged those in the audience to re-consider their views as regards how they have been dealing or plan to deal with developing countries and also informed them of the immense opportunities available in the developing countries, which should be exploited to the mutual benefits of both the developed and developing economies.

For the developing economies, Simon's word of advice is for them ‘to align themselves and their brands to major social changes', according to him, companies that align themselves to social movements and changes succeed, he cited the example of IKEA and their simplicity and cheap design concept and Coca-Cola and their post-war freedom and choice themes. He also advised them to explore the widely available funding options from donor agencies, who will be willing to support their efforts at improving their competitiveness, thereby reducing poverty and creating jobs and opportunities for their people.

To conclude his lecture, Simon advised developing economies not to spend heavily on media advertising in their country branding efforts, rather they should exploit the more effective viral marketing that is free, he cautioned on the misunderstanding mostly in the developing countries where country branding is believed to be propaganda, according to him ‘country branding is not propaganda, because propaganda is a deliberate attempt to deceive people and sell dummies to them'.

Rather their country branding efforts should revolve around what he called the hexagon approach to country branding, at the centre or heart of their country branding project will be a main theme which should be formulated into a plan or strategy, and then just like in a hexagon, the six sides should comprise of good governance, the involvement of the people and citizens, highlighting the culture of the country, business-to-business channels, emphasising on national brands, and projecting the tourism potentials in the country. All these elements he says ‘should be coordinated to create a synergy'.

Guests at the Lecture

Some of the guests at the lecture included Helen Britton (BBC), Peter Fisk (Brand Finance), Jeff Dale (Christian Aid), Bobby Brittain (Coca-Cola), Cora Govett (DTI), Baroness Hamwee (House of Lords), Louise Thomson (Interbrand), James Higgins (Diageo), David Howie (Rolls Royce), Professor John Roberts (London Business School), Emma Selwyn (The Brand Council), Richard Heath (Unilever), Wally Olins (Saffron), Angelique Beziel (Moet Hennessy), Lord McNally (House of Lords), Mark Tyers (Henkel), David Hensley (Viavaldi Partners), Andrew Brown (The Advertising Association), Professor Ruth E Annand (Taylor Wessing), Ron Crawford (Allied Domecq), Debra Sullivan (BAT Mark), Eric Mathew MP (House of Commons), Richard Heath (Unilever), Martin Rose (The British Council), Bridget Raffel (Corporate Edge), Ulrich Sacker (Goethe Institut), Jeremy Bullmore (WPP Group), Bob Boad (BP) and many others.

uche nworah is a doctoral candidate at the University of Greenwich, London with research interests in country branding, diasporas and social change.

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