We are continuing our conversation with Jose Filipe Torres, one of the vanguards of country branding.
We talked about success, failure, limits and dreams. This is the second installment of a three-article interview series with Jose Filipe Torres. Click here to read the first part of the interview.
Why do country-branding projects fail?
I would say 90% of such projects fail. Most of the country brand strategies that I know have to deal with serious internal issues. Political problems and conflicting priorities make project management a tough task.
There is also a misperception of what country branding really is. People tend to think that brand is a logo. This creates problems especially from the domestic point of view.
Not to mention, democratic countries have elections every 4-5 years. If the current leader does not win again, then the project will most likely to be discontinued. It is a very complicated political issue!
Finally, there is the whole problem of measurement… It is very easy to criticize a country-branding project since it costs money! People start criticizing your decision, calling the project as a “vanity investment.”
You must to be able to defend your project with hard data. How does it affect your country economically, and socially? How much impact does it have on your GDP? You have to show them ROI.
What’s your description of success for a country-branding project?
I think if a project can be born properly, managed sufficiently, and financed adequately then it is successful. That’s a good parameter for initial success.
As per long-term success… If you have a good measurement system in place that continuously demonstrates positive ROI then, it means, you have succeeded.
I am aware that you cannot measure everything. It is impossible. But you can still use some parameters to track down progress. There will be a certain margin of error for sure.
Why do country-branding projects succeed then?
I think the main reason is that they agree on an agenda. They do their homework properly. They also manage their internal stakeholders. Often times this happens naturally as long as there is a real need! Sometimes countries build a country brand without even noticing! For instance, Ireland is a great example.
Brand Ireland was specifically built to attract foreign investment. 30 years ago socially and economically they were in a tough situation. Then, the government, the unions and other stakeholders all came together and they decided that the most important thing for the country was to attract foreign direct investment. Low taxation, policies to attract talent, all those things are part of their country branding strategy. But probably Irish did not know that they were building one!
Once you have your policies in place, you can do all the advertising you want. But design and promotion are just a platform. The real brand is the internal stakeholder alignment, and the policies that come out of that!
Another extreme is New Zealand. They deliberately built a fantastic brand on “purity.” Everybody was aligned. They advertised too. But again, promotion helped them to transmit their big idea. That’s all.
Do you have a first 100-day plan for your projects?
It starts with relentless reiteration of the need to stick to the plan! Our goal is to keep the main focus on the original agenda. We try to prevent letting different political agendas creeping in.
Also, we decide “to whom the brand needs to be launch first.” Are we going to let the locals see it first or the rest of the world?
Then we make the necessary adjustments from brand management point of view. Who works on the brand? Who is responsible for what? These kinds of issues must be resolved.
How do you overcome mass resistance?
This is a real challenge. Getting the locals involved is a smart strategy. But it is also a very dangerous one! Because once you open the branding process to the public, you cannot control the whole process. It is, of course, OK to lose control on some things, but when it turns into a logo contest then, you have a big problem on your hand!
Another alternative is to not get anyone involved, and not launch it domestically. Ask yourself: If you are trying to attract investors, why would you need to launch the brand domestically? Why would locals be interested in your big idea?
Can you talk about your dream project?
To find a client that is brave and sophisticated enough to build a country brand without the logo!
I hate the logo simply because it becomes a lightning rod. Everybody starts talking about the logo. Then people start thinking that brand is the logo. When people zero in on the logo, the conversation goes in the wrong direction.
When I hear this argument, I ask people: “What is the logo of San Francisco or Barcelona?” Nobody knows! But when they hear the names of these cities, something comes to their mind. THAT is the brand.
Does every country brand need to be truly global? How do you define the scope of a country brand?
I think you cannot define the limits of the brand. Because you will lose control eventually. What you can do, is to focus on specific geographies.
For instance, if you are Latvia, you need to prioritize your six strategic dimensions and determine your target markets. To be able to achieve that, you need to do research, conduct interviews. Then you have to go after those markets relentlessly!
Especially small countries don’t have the budget to advertise all around the world. And in reality they don’t even have to! Why would Latvia want to be known in Chile? What does that do to your country? Instead, focus on your top target markets. The other geographies might happen by accident over time.
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Here is another insightful interview with Mr. Torres by Place Brand Observer: