Searching for soul in a brand

Reading Time: 4 minutes

International heroes like Usain Bolt or Psy can do more for a country’s image than all the advertising dollars put together.

By Firoz Abdul Hamid

Media trainers often train on the precept of’ “reality lags perception”. Yet, today, ”perception” is debated from the perspective of ”perceived” perception

The question therefore is, perceived by whom? Who really writes the final narrative of an event, an incident, a moment that tells the story of a brand – be that of a national or a corporate brand, be that of a service or a product brand? Are brands developed through a construed defined blueprint or is it a culmination of experiences and journeys?

When we look into how the empire of Rome was built by Octavian Augustus, the founder and the first emperor of Rome, and then how the barbarians destroyed it along with everything else, we can’t but wonder how the greatness of this once strong empire stands long after its ruins.

Even as the areas around the ruins of the empire lie amidst one of the loneliest places in Rome today, the memory of its greatness remains vivid. The greatness of this empire has continued to be part of the brand of the city which has grown around the ancient Rome over the centuries.

There are many facets to how a brand is built and how it is strengthened. Yet when you break down the many strong national brands globally, you can’t but ask what were the bases to their creation, their formation and their endurance.

Was it the people, the governments, the policies, their successes and failures, their ability to document history or even perhaps their ability to articulate the truth for what it is?

The current interest on building national brands brings to the fore many a debate. In the main, building national brands cannot be synonymous with building corporate brands. As businesses grow international, countries remain national.

Employees are not citizens and so the dynamics of what makes a national brand is somewhat more unstructured if not nebulous even as the vision may be solid and crisp.

The ”buy-ins” is a process of its own. The politics, the political leaders, the business fraternity and the civil society – every stratum of society needs to know in the simplest of terms what it means for them  before we can even begin to move  into a ”buy-in” process. There are, of course, many models of how to build a national/country brand. You only have to ask a consultant. They will drown you with these models.

Some will say it is led by tourism, some by historical events, some by future aspirations and some by business opportunities.

Globally, governments are investing a lot to move up the many tables of indices as part of their brand-building exercise – from Global Competitiveness Ranking to Ease of Doing Business, to Human Development Index to Happiness Index to Brand Index, to name but a few – yet, all it takes is someone like Usain Bolt to break a few world records to have Jamaica recognised globally overnight.

Never mind if Jamaica ranked 97 on the Global Competitiveness Ranking for 2012-13. But Bolt promoted Jamaica with such an impact that no amount of media advertisements could have done for a country.

The same can be said about the recent South Korean phenomenon Psy who raked almost one billion views on YouTube for his Gangnam Style in less than three months. Those who never knew South Korea were dancing to his tune even as they had no clue what the lyrics said.

The reverse is also true. In a world moved by 24-7 media coverage, social network, citizen power and journalism, all it takes is an event to overshadow the many positive achievements of a country. We only have to read some of the recent headlines from America to Asia and Europe which testify to this.

A little emirate in the Arabian Gulf became an explosive global brand on the back of the leader’s vision. It has over 130 nationalities living and working in it. Its recognition and recall were on the same level of Coca Cola and IBM. Its brand took a beating due to excessive debt but its reaction to addressing the “media and public beating” instantly as a country made it rise like the Phoenix again. Dubai, anyone?

Whether brands are formed deliberately or by accident, ultimately the essence of what a country collectively stands for makes for a national brand.  Citizens are the products. They are the service. They are, therefore, the brand.

This isn’t rocket science and you don’t need a consultant to tell you this. The greater challenge is to know what a country wants to be recognised for not just for the realities of today but more importantly for the generations to come, long after the ruins that may be.

Hence, any exercise of nation branding must first and foremost recognise this, work with this reality and then move on all stratums to make it happen. Leadership at all levels must not only appreciate this but, more importantly, understand that the final narrative of a brand is not written by them, but by their citizens.

Belief of any kind can only translate into action when there is faith and conviction. Faith and conviction comes from pride of owning and being a part of something.

This, by far, is the most arduous exercise in nation brand-building

One of the panelists in the recent Razak Roundtable commented that one must know what success will look like and not allow external constituents to define this. Another panelist added the durability, equity and endurance of a brand is embedded in the essence of the product

Ultimately, essence and success is defined by a country’s collective ability to understand the world around it and communicate the truth to the people who are affected most by the brand in good and bad times – the citizens.

We cannot employ the ”Wag the Dog” model in building a durable and trusted brand. These are the seeds to sow in the heart to a brand that beats long after we are gone – I would concede.

Firoz Abdul Hamid was one of the moderators in the recent Razak Roundtable focusing on brand building and brand management organised by Razak School of Government and KPJ Healthcare and held in Kuala Lumpur on January 8, 2013. The comment was published in The Star on Monday January 14, 2013.

 

(Firoz Abdul Hamid is an Inside Investor contributor. The opinions expressed are her own.)

 

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

International heroes like Usain Bolt or Psy can do more for a country’s image than all the advertising dollars put together.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

International heroes like Usain Bolt or Psy can do more for a country’s image than all the advertising dollars put together.

By Firoz Abdul Hamid

Media trainers often train on the precept of’ “reality lags perception”. Yet, today, ”perception” is debated from the perspective of ”perceived” perception

The question therefore is, perceived by whom? Who really writes the final narrative of an event, an incident, a moment that tells the story of a brand – be that of a national or a corporate brand, be that of a service or a product brand? Are brands developed through a construed defined blueprint or is it a culmination of experiences and journeys?

When we look into how the empire of Rome was built by Octavian Augustus, the founder and the first emperor of Rome, and then how the barbarians destroyed it along with everything else, we can’t but wonder how the greatness of this once strong empire stands long after its ruins.

Even as the areas around the ruins of the empire lie amidst one of the loneliest places in Rome today, the memory of its greatness remains vivid. The greatness of this empire has continued to be part of the brand of the city which has grown around the ancient Rome over the centuries.

There are many facets to how a brand is built and how it is strengthened. Yet when you break down the many strong national brands globally, you can’t but ask what were the bases to their creation, their formation and their endurance.

Was it the people, the governments, the policies, their successes and failures, their ability to document history or even perhaps their ability to articulate the truth for what it is?

The current interest on building national brands brings to the fore many a debate. In the main, building national brands cannot be synonymous with building corporate brands. As businesses grow international, countries remain national.

Employees are not citizens and so the dynamics of what makes a national brand is somewhat more unstructured if not nebulous even as the vision may be solid and crisp.

The ”buy-ins” is a process of its own. The politics, the political leaders, the business fraternity and the civil society – every stratum of society needs to know in the simplest of terms what it means for them  before we can even begin to move  into a ”buy-in” process. There are, of course, many models of how to build a national/country brand. You only have to ask a consultant. They will drown you with these models.

Some will say it is led by tourism, some by historical events, some by future aspirations and some by business opportunities.

Globally, governments are investing a lot to move up the many tables of indices as part of their brand-building exercise – from Global Competitiveness Ranking to Ease of Doing Business, to Human Development Index to Happiness Index to Brand Index, to name but a few – yet, all it takes is someone like Usain Bolt to break a few world records to have Jamaica recognised globally overnight.

Never mind if Jamaica ranked 97 on the Global Competitiveness Ranking for 2012-13. But Bolt promoted Jamaica with such an impact that no amount of media advertisements could have done for a country.

The same can be said about the recent South Korean phenomenon Psy who raked almost one billion views on YouTube for his Gangnam Style in less than three months. Those who never knew South Korea were dancing to his tune even as they had no clue what the lyrics said.

The reverse is also true. In a world moved by 24-7 media coverage, social network, citizen power and journalism, all it takes is an event to overshadow the many positive achievements of a country. We only have to read some of the recent headlines from America to Asia and Europe which testify to this.

A little emirate in the Arabian Gulf became an explosive global brand on the back of the leader’s vision. It has over 130 nationalities living and working in it. Its recognition and recall were on the same level of Coca Cola and IBM. Its brand took a beating due to excessive debt but its reaction to addressing the “media and public beating” instantly as a country made it rise like the Phoenix again. Dubai, anyone?

Whether brands are formed deliberately or by accident, ultimately the essence of what a country collectively stands for makes for a national brand.  Citizens are the products. They are the service. They are, therefore, the brand.

This isn’t rocket science and you don’t need a consultant to tell you this. The greater challenge is to know what a country wants to be recognised for not just for the realities of today but more importantly for the generations to come, long after the ruins that may be.

Hence, any exercise of nation branding must first and foremost recognise this, work with this reality and then move on all stratums to make it happen. Leadership at all levels must not only appreciate this but, more importantly, understand that the final narrative of a brand is not written by them, but by their citizens.

Belief of any kind can only translate into action when there is faith and conviction. Faith and conviction comes from pride of owning and being a part of something.

This, by far, is the most arduous exercise in nation brand-building

One of the panelists in the recent Razak Roundtable commented that one must know what success will look like and not allow external constituents to define this. Another panelist added the durability, equity and endurance of a brand is embedded in the essence of the product

Ultimately, essence and success is defined by a country’s collective ability to understand the world around it and communicate the truth to the people who are affected most by the brand in good and bad times – the citizens.

We cannot employ the ”Wag the Dog” model in building a durable and trusted brand. These are the seeds to sow in the heart to a brand that beats long after we are gone – I would concede.

Firoz Abdul Hamid was one of the moderators in the recent Razak Roundtable focusing on brand building and brand management organised by Razak School of Government and KPJ Healthcare and held in Kuala Lumpur on January 8, 2013. The comment was published in The Star on Monday January 14, 2013.

 

(Firoz Abdul Hamid is an Inside Investor contributor. The opinions expressed are her own.)

 

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