Khalid Hasan shares some insights on how Bangladesh can position itself
Nation branding is all about positioning a particular country/nation in the minds of people. Those people are consumers, potential tourists, and, most importantly, potential investors. They are all actively participating in the country's growth process. An effective nation branding campaign accelerates the country's economic growth; and the citizens feel dignified. It must be remembered that there are around 195 nations in the world; all are aggressively competing for the attention of investors, tourists, and citizens. Therefore, a well-planned nation branding campaign is crucial.
Nation branding is a field of theory and practice which aims to measure, build, and manage the reputation of countries (closely related to place branding). An increasing importance of the symbolic value of products have led countries to emphasise their distinctive characteristics. The branding and image of a nation-state "and the successful transference of this image to its exports is just as important as what they actually produce and sell."
Nation branding appears to be practiced by many developed states, where it is often officially referred to as public diplomacy), There is an increasing interest in the concept from developing states on the grounds that an enhanced image might create more favourable conditions for foreign direct investment, tourism, trade, and even political relations with other states.
Large countries like China and Russia have also taken measures for building a "new image." The concept of nation-building has become an integral part of public diplomacy. Therefore, any efforts by the government to support the nation branding mechanism -- either directly or indirectly -- becomes public diplomacy.
Many countries are coming up with crispy, smart, and intelligent slogans and symbols to re-brand their countries, fitting the current business need, some of the popular slogans are: "Malaysia: Truly Asia," "Dubai: The Jewel in the Desert," "Uniquely Singapore," "Incredible India," "Amazing Thailand," "Sri Lanka: The Pearl of the Indian Ocean. Let us look at a few examples of nation branding around the world:
Kenya: The Kenyan government has taken a plan to revive its nation branding project. It started the project by creating the Brand Kenya Board "to enhance Kenyan national image and identity, the focal points for harnessing our energy, warmth and entrepreneurial spirit." The Brand Kenya Board's mandate includes creating an integrated national brand and identity, instilling pride in every Kenyan, and restoring international confidence in the country among the investors, visitors, tourists, and development partners.
India: With a view to be one of the global leaders by 2025, the Indian government has given top priority to branding India. This campaign, created in 2002, has approached increasing tourism and revenue. "Brand India" is fast becoming a mantra that is claimed as the benchmark for development in India. The politicians, economists, bureaucrats, policy-makers, industrialists, and even the media are jumping on to the bandwagon, with "Brand India" becoming the ethos of the upwardly mobile middle class.
To promote the young, vibrant, and dynamic India on the global stage, the Indian government has roped in popular actor Aamir Khan as its new brand icon (ambassador) to be the pilot of the campaign across the world. Incredible India focuses primarily on its rich and vibrant heritage and culture.
Colombia: Globally, Colombia is infamous for drug trafficking, guerrilla warfare, terrorism, extortions, and corruption. Recently, the government has started thinking about changing its image and, thereby, attracting tourists and foreign investors. This is considered as one of the major factors in its economic development plans.
Initiatives are being taken for changing its image from a "cocaine-based economy" to "Branding Colombia." The first part of the "Branding Colombia" series refers to using flowers to change people's perceptions.
On the Colombian Pride Day, November 17, last year, Colombian-Americans handed out over 100,000 Colombian roses to very grateful and yet, indeed, surprised New Yorkers. The act appears to have been a great success: not only was the target audience fully reached, but it also made national news in the United States. Therefore, millions of Americans were reached with a simple message: "Flowers make you smile, flowers brighten your day, and flowers come from Colombia." The program proved to be a great success, and got huge media coverage from the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and most of the network affiliates and international press.
Bangladesh has always held great promise. It enjoyed widespread international public support during the war of liberation, not only because its stuggle was idenifiable, but also due to the fact that it aimed to establish a socio-economic equilibrium and an equitable society where each citizen would have the opportunity to flourish.
Post-1971 has not been so easy, despite numerous achievements, the country has been negatively labeled by a group of people with their own motivations. They ignore the commitment and the resilience of Bangladeshis who are often faced with political and climatic trauma.
Another interesting problem the nation faces is that when it is compared to other countries it is invariably compared to nations with drug, mafia, and terrorist problems. While it is true that Bangladesh a huge population, with high unemployment rates, and increasing price inflation, often comparing it to failed or a semi-failed states does not do it justice.
Currently, the government and brand strategists are working towards developing a nation branding campaign, which should help improve its image to the rest of the world
Bangladesh was branded differently (positively and negatively) at different times. In 1971, the war of liberation put Bangladesh in a strong position. But three years later in 1974, the severe famine dragged the country to a weaker position. This was further aggravated when the father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (1975) and President Ziaur Rahman (1981) were assassinated.
The weak status continued till the nineties. Then even Transparency International started ranking us as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. However, the nation's image started improving post-2000 as did its performance indicators.
The major indicators for socio-economic growth include: improvement in health status, increasing literacy, progress in gender balance, enhancement of employment opportunities, building transport and communications facilities, huge increases in media reach amongst rural and urban people, booming ITC businesses, a rise in remittance and agricultural, industrial, and ready-made garments (RMG) booms.
In 2006, our global image increased exponentially with Prof. Yunus and Grameen Bank winning the Nobel Peace Prize. That put Bangladesh in a strong position, globally and we cannot let that slip. Therefore, it has become imperative to develop a nation branding campaign to keep us in the global limelight for the right reasons.
While branding Bangladesh, the brand strategists must consider two key basic objectives:
First, it is crucial to instill pride in Bangladeshis and to persuade our people to be positive and feel dignified about themselves and for their country. The success of the nation branding program strongly depends on their active participation, ownership, and support. They should be proud of their country, culture, and heritage.
The prime task is to brand Bangladesh among the Bangladeshis first; and this is the toughest job for brand strategists. This process should start from the school level, ensuring it is covered in syllabuses and curriculums across the nation. The future generation should feel honoured and dignified to be a citizen of a great country.
Second, the brand strategist should concentrate on branding the country externally and their success is linked with the first objective, i.e. how well external and internal images are tied together. The citizens of Bangladesh should be the ambassadors of this country and they will relay the country's image to the rest of the world. Therefore, a more positive attitude and role from them will greatly carry the country's attractive features to the rest of the world. At the end of the day, a good campaign helps attract FDI and will have direct impact on our GDP.
Country branding strategy vs. advertising: People often get confused between country branding strategy and advertising. Ads are part of a country's branding strategy, yet often simple tourism advertisements are confused as a country's branding strategy. They may be part of a larger country branding strategy, but those ads in themselves do not represent the complete country branding strategy, because that focuses on its macro perspectives.
Traditional branding concept: Unfortunately, when there is a discussion about nation branding, many bureaucrats and policy-makers refer to traditional advertising, lobbying with overseas investors, and beautifying the cities with billboards sporting idealistic slogans.
The campaign with idealistic slogans usually mention the following: "People are friendly," "A country with a positive business climate," "Natural scenic beauty," and many more. Are there any countries where these slogans can't be used? What is the distinctive attraction for foreigners to come to Bangladesh? The logical question is: what should be presented in the nation-branding campaign?
Market research for a better campaign: We need to conduct research among the people of Bangladesh, covering different segments, to understand their views and expectations. This will help in understanding the pulse of the nation and giving ownership to everyone, thus, satisfying different target audiences, different needs, and different institutions. The research should be conducted both internally (to understand the country's socio-economic situation) and externally (global research among the investors and tourists). The findings will help develop a strategic plan on the nation-branding campaign.
Post-launch monitor and impact evaluation: The impact of the campaign may be evaluated through different research techniques, including post-launch monitoring and surveys. The research will indicate the level of acceptance of the campaign, changing attitude towards the positive image and anchoring foreigners' confidence in Bangladesh.
The National Brand Index (NBI) score is made up of six categories: People, Governance, Exports, Tourism, Culture and Heritage, Investment and Immigration. These six categories are distinctive and vary in different countries and nations. Our brand strategists must consider these six categories and highlight success points in each category for changing attitudes and perceptions internally and building a positive image to the rest of the world. They should focus on the changing attitudes towards themselves and their country. Strategists must, however, focus on the positive achievements and attractive aspects for tourists and foreign investors.
Brand strategists may consider focusing on the following aspects:
Food culture: While branding, we can focus on our food culture. Cuisine can be a powerful agent for reshaping public perception. We should be strategic in using a network of restaurants and hotels and, thereby, promote tourism.
Culture and heritage: We should also highlight our culture and heritage, Ekushe February has got worldwide recognition as the International Mother Language day. Days such as that and Pahela Baishakh could showcase our rich and varied culture and heritage.
People: The people in Bangladesh are hard-working, resilient, and religiously moderate. There is no racial discrimination among them. Above all, traditionally they are very cordial and have got a great sense of hospitality.
Tourism: Bangladesh has some interesting and attractive tourism spots which could entice many people from around the world. Cox's Bazaar beach is one of those, it is best known as the longest unbroken beach in the world. We have other attractions like the Sunderbans (the largest mangrove forest in the world), and a few historical and archeological heritage sites. These can and should easily attract tourists if branded properly.
RMG and other exports: Be it Wal Mart, or Zellers, or any other retailer, the Made in Bangladesh tag has become ubiquitous abroad. Our RMGs are of high quality and in many ways are the silent ambassadors of our country. Despite the global economic recession, earnings from RMG sub-sectors are continuously increasing. In 2008-09 the sector was worth over $9 billion; moreover, nearly 2 million workers are employed in the garments industries, and most of them are females. As a result, women from poor backgrounds are being empowered.
Literacy: The educational standards at all levels are gradually improving and primary school enrollment at an all time high. The literacy rate has trebled in the last three decades. All aspects which need to be highlighted.
Health: Undoubtedly, Bangladesh has made tremendous progress in the health sector. During the last five years the health infrastructure has been strengthened. Health indicators of socio-economic development show that there is a steep decline in our child mortality and birth rate. A revolution has also taken place with birth control in Bangladesh and it is now cited as an international success story. Child immunisation and vaccination is another matter of great pride for Bangladesh.
Remittances: Bangladeshi citizens should feel proud of their overseas earners, working in different countries and sending billions in remittances. Despite the global economic recession, remittances have continued to grow and have played an important role in reducing the poverty rates in rural areas. It is quite important to note that the flow of remittances is around six times higher than it was a decade ago. During the fiscal year 1998-99, it was $1.7 billion while it increased to $9.7 billion during 2008-09. It is expected that it will exceed $10.5 billion by the end of the current fiscal year.
While developing the branding campaign for Bangladesh, we must not forget that nation branding is more than brand advertising or promotion. Nation branding focuses on the nation as a whole -- its heritage and culture, products and exports, investment, climate, tourism, and people. The campaign must address people both at home and abroad.
The present government announced a "Charter for Change," while the opposition party has also promised a positive change. It is extremely important to develop a bold and strict roadmap to uphold the country's overall image, which is essential for Bangladesh to be accepted by the world community.
The government should come up with an aggressive but distinct nation branding campaign immediately, it is essential for our progress. Countries like India, Thailand, China, Malaysia, etc started similar branding journeys more than a decade ago and should not lag too far behind. We need a forceful branding campaign for our country so that we can emerge as an Asian Tiger by 2021; which will also mark the 50th year of our independence.
Dr. Khalid Hasan is Managing Director, Nielsen Bangladesh and Treasurer AmCham Bangladesh. Acknowledgement: AmCham Bangladesh.