If Your Country Is So Great, Why Is It Not Famous? Could It Be Your Bad National Reputation?

Written by Chipo Mapungwana

Tourism is only one of several areas that every nation needs to develop and only one of the sectors that can benefit from country branding. After all, a country with fine beaches might also be an easy or safe place to invest in if relevant legislation is in place and the rule of law firmly established.

How a country is perceived, both domestically and from abroad, from the quality of its goods and services, to the attractiveness of its culture and its tourism and investment opportunities, to its politics, economic policies and foreign policy, can be shaped under a brand. The branding process should strengthen democracy and helps both internal development and successful integration into the world community, on all levels.

To do their jobs well , politicians  have to be trained in brand management. Their tasks should include finding a brand niche for their country, engaging in competitive marketing, assuring customer satisfaction, and most of all, creating brand loyalty. Good luck with that!

A successful branding effort delivers benefits that exceed any government or administration. In the same way that Coca Cola is sold through a successful global branding and marketing campaign, year after year, irrespective of who runs the company in Atlanta, so too a good branding and marketing campaign for a country can reap benefits for it, irrespective of who is at the top of its government.

Why brand places?

As globalization intensifies, places increasingly compete with other places for attention, influence, markets, investments, businesses, visitors, residents, talent and events. Somehow many politicians and business people don’t get this, that what they do and say  has profoundly negative or positive impact on a country’s attractiveness to  investors and tourists alike.

Competition is no longer restricted to the familiar places down the road, over the hill or across the water. Places now compete with cities, regions and countries halfway around the world. Places are increasingly getting caught off guard by unexpected and seemingly sudden shifts in competition and abruptly lose their historic purpose or their competitive edge, be it economic, social or cultural.

Country  branding is not solely a task for the private sector, but rather a collaborative undertaking of the place’s key stakeholders. These Partnerships consist of such diverse groups as the country’s public, private, civic and cultural sectors (and specialist entities within them). It is the task of all stakeholders  to devise a joint brand strategy, as well as shared implementation plans that ensure the country will exhibit ‘on brand’ behaviour.

The importance of  National Image.

National image, regional image, personal image is important because it is  the way society works. It  is the way that markets work, It’s the way people communicate with each other. Perhaps, when we were all Neanderthals, living in caves, things were a little simpler, because we didn’t have to rely on anybody’s reputation, in order to make decisions about them, because we knew them, they lived in the same cave as us, or perhaps, the cave next door. So, if I were a Neanderthal and I wanted to buy an axe to kill a mammoth, I would buy it from the guy who made the axes, who lived in the cave next to me. And I would know that his axes were good, because I would have talked to other people who had bought the axes, and I had seen him make the axes.

Fast forward to 2012, and we are living in a very different world. Most of the products we buy today, most of the services we consume are not made by a man in a cave next door to us. Many are not made by men at all. They’re made by somebody we’ve never met,  will never meet, somebody about whom we know almost nothing, who lives in a country on the other side of the world. I do not have a single pair of shoes that is made in my country and I frequently consume food that is not grown or manufactured in my country , by somebody whose language  I can not speak.

Many of the products that are sold in out  shops are made in  country that probably, we can’t even reliably point to on a map.

Our lives are affected every day by the decisions made by governments, by corporations, by banks, by individuals, on the other side of the world. While in the UK, I was always astounded that I could go to a grocery shop to buy vegetables and fruit and I would come out with vegs and fruit from India, China and Pakistan while wearing shoes from Korea and a dress from Spain. How international is that?

In order for a country to gain in tourism and indeed in any other commercial enterprise, that country needs to enhance its reputation.  Therefore,  reputation becomes critically important. If your country has a good reputation, everything is easier. If you have a bad reputation everything is impossible. And country reputation is unfortunately, not about what you think about yourselves as a nation. It is about what people around the world think about you and your country. And as far as those people are concerned, their sources of information are unfortunately for your country, true! I digress, but many country government executives  complain about “foreign media tarnishing the country’s image” while at the same time doing nothing to change that image.

An Englishman called William Shakespeare once said a very wise thing about reputation, he said, and I paraphrase because I can’t remember the original quotation from Othello, he said “if you steal my wallet, you steal trash, it was mine, now is yours, you can have it. But if you steal my good name you steal something which makes me poorer, without making you richer and which I can never replace”.

This is the importance of reputation. If we have it, we are rich, and if we lose it we are impoverished. Your country  is one of many, many countries in the world today, and let’s not forget that this is a very big market place.  There are 200 products competing directly against each other. That is a very, very busy supermarket.

I cannot stress this highly enough because unless people and in particular businesses, politicians, community leaders  in a country  are aware of  the effect of reputation, they will continue to make many, many mistakes. It is a fundamental rule of marketing that other people are much less interested in your country  than you are in it yourself. People  spend every day, every hour of every day, eating, drinking, sleeping, talking “my country” People in the rest of the world don’t care about your country unless it is of some economic or strategic importance.

And sadly  people in many  countries don’t even think about their own country.

They think about  other countries that are in the news regularly. They think about America, because the U.S.A is always in the media. It is in your face. It is always doing something… to promote its interests or damage our interests. You might also be thinking from time to time about Iraq, Syria, Israel, or Afghanistan, ‘because they also have very powerful images. They are constantly in the media.” We may think about China and India , more than usual at the moment because they have such a powerful impact on the global economy, at the moment. And that’s it. And you may possibly think about a country where you are planning to go on holiday if you can afford it. For what?! Thirty seconds a day?! If you are really planning your holiday quite vigorously, maybe thirty seconds a day.

Therefore those 3 or 4 or 5 countries are the only countries out of the 200 in the world that most people spend any time thinking about. All the others, effectively, don’t exist. As a test, name any 50 countries in the world , in the next one minute without a break or a pause.

The  gigantic challenge that countries face is to be one of the 4 or 5 countries that people around the world think about.. Why? Because, frankly, if you deserved to be one of those 4 or 5 countries, you would already be there. Your country would already be famous.  If you are still struggling to find ways of attracting tourists ,or getting people to  think about your country in a positive way, you have not gotten there yet. Your marketing communication is wrong. And I don’t mean the advertising  messages that you churn out on your country adverts. I mean all the other things that you say and do that people in the world get to know about through the media and through social networks and their friends and family.

I always like to quote my father who once said  and I would like to say this to those country tourism executives  everywhere who think  that somehow by some horrible and nasty turn of fate, their countries are cursed, have been overlooked etc etc “If you are so fantastic. Why aren’t you famous?” and I suggest, if I may be so bold, that every morning tourism and business executives in the sector  start by asking yourself that question “If our country  is so great. why isn’t it famous?” And then proactively plan to do and say things that will put you in the top 4 to 5 countries that people around the world are thinking about positively.

For brand and reputation, Marketing   and Social media training and consulting, contact Chipo on chipomaps@gmail.com

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About chipomaps

A brand reputation, marketing and new media trainer and consultant. Constantly curious, constantly learning.
This entry was posted in Branding, Marketing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to If Your Country Is So Great, Why Is It Not Famous? Could It Be Your Bad National Reputation?

  1. Anthony Kunaka says:

    There is more to a country and branding than meets the eye and it all can be wrapped up like a gift in one box and one ribbon. It does not really matter what the outside world thinks of your country when non pays attention to what the citizens and residents in that country think of it. Rulers come and go, politicians, whether they like it or not, come and go but the residents and citizens of that country will always be there and what they think of their country matters a whole bunch more than the labels and brands that the foreigners, marketers, tourist put on the country.

    Visitors can come and leave the country with the best of impressions and world famous accolades but as long as the residents and citizens are living in abject poverty and fear the country’s brand remains tarnished until its people have pride in their country.

    There is more where this came from and I just thought of dropping a quick comment to ask if Zimbabweans can start thinking about Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans who are in the country and less about what the outside world thinks of us.

    • chipomaps says:

      Thanks for the comment. As with all brands be they corporate or otherwise, the process starts from within. If we are not our own brand ambassadors, then we can not expect the outside world to do it for us. The article also seeks to clearly spell out the pitfalls of a perceived bad reputation on the tourism industry in any country and the fact that external visitors’ experiences have a detrimental or positive effect on tourism and country tourism stakeholders need to be aware of that they do and say as this does affect tourism revenues. Unfortunately, reputation is not something that the incumbent labels for him/herself, but is given to companies and countries by external stakeholders in response to what they hear, what they see, what they experience.

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