What do countries really mean when they say “We need a brand”?

Meet Jose Filipe Torres, one of the best-known country branding practitioners in the world.

We had an opportunity to pick his brain on the most pressing issues related to place branding. We asked, he answered. Candidly… This is the first installment of a three-article interview series with Jose Filipe Torres. Without further ado let’s turn to Jose and hear what he has to say…

In the field of country branding, Jose is a genuine trailblazer. In 2002, he developed the Portuguese Trade Investment brand. Back then he was working for Futurebrand, and that was the first ever country-branding project completed by that firm! In 2003, he founded Bloom Consulting, specializing in country branding, city branding and regional branding. Bloom Consulting’s Country Brand Ranking that he developed in 2011 quickly became a popular research tool, used by practitioners from around the world. Over the last decade Bloom Consulting helped develop or manage the brands of Latvia, Poland, Bulgaria, Spain, and Madrid among others. Thanks to its new proprietary tool “Digital Demand”, Bloom Consulting can measure every country’s desirability in terms of attracting tourists and investment.

 

Who is Jose Filipe Torres? In the field of country branding, he is a genuine trailblazer. In 2002, he developed the Portuguese Trade Investment brand. Back then he was working for Futurebrand, and that was the first ever country-branding project completed by that firm!
 
In 2003, he founded Bloom Consulting, specializing in country branding, city branding and regional branding. Bloom Consulting’s Country Brand Ranking that he developed in 2011 quickly became a popular research tool, used by practitioners from around the world.
 
Over the last decade Bloom Consulting helped develop or manage the brands of Latvia, Poland, Bulgaria, Spain, and Madrid among others.
 
Thanks to its new proprietary tool “Digital Demand”, Bloom Consulting can measure every country’s desirability in terms of attracting tourists and investment. 

Jose what made you interested in country branding at the first place?

I was always interested in trade agreements, diplomacy, etc. But what really ignited my passion was… Wally Ollins! (R.I.P.)

He was the father of country branding. He started working in this area almost 20 years ago. When I heard him talking about branding countries, and cities and regions, I said to myself: “This is a fantastic topic!”

National territories had started to blur. The world was becoming flat. Wally Ollins was pointing out that some countries started to realize that they had “assets.” Everything started to click in my mind. I realized that countries would eventually need experts to work on their assets!

Bloom Consulting's ranking services are highly popular.

Bloom Consulting’s ranking services are highly popular.

Which experts should place branding enthusiasts follow?

Now that Wally Ollins passed away, probably Simon Anholt became the best-known figure in the world. He recently launched the Good Country Index in addition to his previous ranking system.

Then there are less internationally famous, but regionally strong specialists. I guess for enthusiasts, the best place to start would be the Country Branding Wiki. There you will see a broad list of the pioneer thinkers and practitioners.

Finally, there are traditional advertising and branding agencies. They usually get involved in a country-branding project at later stages. So, if you are interested in design or promotion then you can follow those organizations.

Place branding, country branding, destination branding… It seems like there is an influx of terms. What is your take on this subject?

I get that destination branding is more for tourism, but at the end of the day I don’t believe there is a big difference. Probably linguistic nuances have little impact on the actual methodology.

I personally call my services “country branding.” Because any time you work on a geographical branding project, you use the original (country branding) methodology.

Of course, you tweak your methods here and there for city branding projects. But I guess the bigger and the better umbrella term is country branding. Not to mention it is the original one!

What do countries really want when they say “We need a country brand”?

Why do you want to create or manage your brand?” That’s the real question! Honestly, most countries fail to answer this question.

My point is not to criticize. I just want to highlight a fundamental issue in country branding: Not knowing why you are embarking on a country-branding project…

Is it just a matter of managing perception? Do you want to improve, change, or build your perception? That’s a good starting point. But that’s not “the” why!

Improving the perception should not be the goal. It should be the means to a bigger goal. Instead think why do you want to improve the perception of your country? I guess once you answer that, then you are making progress.

So, why do countries try to change their perception?

Our country branding methodology looks at six different dimensions: tourism, foreign direct investment, pride, talent, public diplomacy, and exports.

When you have a brand -it could be a country brand or a commercial brand- you must have an output that you can measure. For country brands, the output is one of (or some of) the six dimensions.

Of the six dimensions of a country brand, which one is usually the driving force?

You see a mix of everything. In my experience, most countries wanted to build a BIG IDEA that would influence all six dimensions. But interestingly that trend has been reversing over the last 3 years!

From our perspective, building a big idea is not impossible. But it is a very tough challenge. That requires dealing with different stakeholders. The responsibilities and objectives of the people whose goal is to attract foreign direct investment are completely different from those of the tourism bureau. When you have a big idea, they all have to deal with the brand, which is less than optimal.

It is very challenging to find a shared platform that would be ideal for different stakeholders. What happens most of the time is that countries compromise their story, and uniqueness.

What’s the solution then?

I have been championing the idea that countries should create specialist brands. That is to say one brand for tourism and one brand for trade…

It is easier to manage those specialist brands. Also, thanks to their uniqueness and authenticity, they will be more compelling. To me, Poland is a good example. Bhutan is going in that direction. Trinidad and Tobago is another one.

To be continued…

Symbolic Meaning of Numbers

Are you considering to use numbers as a part of your brand? Then, you may want to learn about the symbolic meaning of numbers!

For instance, why do you think 7 is the world’s most popular number? Or does 5 have a gender? Which of the following is better to convey a sense of uniqueness? 10 or 11?

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Should the LA Clippers Change its Name?

Donald Sterling, the disgraced owner of the Los Angeles Clippers has decided to sell his team, and Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft placed a bid of $2 billion to purchase it. Since the NBA approved his proposal, now many people are wondering the same thing: Should Balmer rename the LA Clippers? Do they need a clean slate? That’s an interesting discussion. Let’s look at it from branding perspective!

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How to create a buyer persona?

“Our target audience is 18-48, female and male, C1, B and A.”

You might have heard a similar nonsense statement before… The above sentence is a feeble -and rather soulless- attempt to describe a “target” “audience”. I am categorically against using such lingo as it’s a completely outdated way of thinking. I also believe that in this day and age (#socialera), for a company to be successful, it is mandatory to change its vocabulary. What does this mean for your brand?

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How to discover your organizational values?

Are you trying to define what keeps your organization together? Do you want to discover your organizational values? Would you like to write down “the way things get done around here?” Then, read on!

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Creating a Brand Architecture for Private Label Products

Private label (PL) has always been profitable for retailers: Around the world, the retailers’ profit margin of PL is roughly 40%, which is twice as much as the profit they make from other brands. Not surprisingly, so far PL has been treated as a “cash cow.” Money was invested in PL the product, not PL the brand. Well, not anymore. Why do you think more and more retailers treat PL as a strategic asset, adding value to their main brand?

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Being in command out of control

Do you feel like the world is spinning faster these days? Are there too many things happening simultaneously? Is the pace of your life too fast? Are you looking for a way to keep things under control? How can you control people and events around you when deep down you know you can’t even fully control your own life?

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A Short Essay on Destination Branding

Working with a destination is arguably the toughest brand assignment. Experts, such as Simon Anholt think that you cannot “brand” a place in the traditional sense of the word. As someone who got involved in a couple of place branding projects, I tend to agree. Here is why…

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How to Brand a Professional Association?

Back in the day, life was easier for professional associations: Whether you were a lawyer, or an accountant, or a doctor, you would want to be a member of your professional association. Associations used to be the voice of the profession. They had unquestioned authority. Membership meant prestige. Associations used to connect smart people through their popular networking events. They would train members, helping them to keep up with the latest developments. Not to mention  associations were strong social support groups. Unfortunately, those days are gone. The Internet, and eventually the social media drastically changed the playing field. Many associations went into an existential crisis. The ones who wanted to go back to the days of glory decided to rebrand, which they perceived as a cosmetic exercise. Not surprisingly most of their members shrugged, feigning indifference. Here is why…

By Fyrsten (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Fyrsten (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Top Trends in 2014

Another new year, another collection of top trend reports!

What was trending in 2013? Which trends will still be relevant in 2014? And, what emerging trends you should pay attention? We have all the answers!

Enjoy these great reports, share ‘em with your friends and let me know if you have any other good ones.

Happy holidays to all!

The Year in Review by Euromonitor

2014 Consumer trends by Trendwatching

2014 Branding trends by Nubrand

2014 Branding trends by Landor

2014 Consumer trends by JWT Intelligence (video)

Looking into the future by What’s Next

2013 Retrospective Report by Most Contagious