Building an emotional connection with the brand
By Chris Evans
Branding is a key factor in the development and success of any product or organisation, but over the last few years countries have been taking it a step further and embracing branding as a tool to promote their entire country as an entity. Branding countries isn’t anything new however; some countries have always done it well and used it to alter perceptions and to sell their exports. Indeed, throughout history many of the world’s great civilisations have had strong and recognisable ‘nation brands’ that even to this day conjure up the values and characteristics of that time, and the strong brands that were built represented the substance of those countries and the people who rallied behind them. Take for example the ancient Greeks with their lasting message of philosophy and democracy, or the Roman Empire who will always be associated with their ground-breaking infrastructure and development, ages ahead of their time.
Today, modern countries use the same philosophies as the ancient Greeks and the Romans to ensure that their nation’s core values, their national identity, is communicated widely to the global audience. To be effective, nation branding must embrace all elements of the country and must communicate a message that is simple, clear and differentiated from other countries around the world. Country branding can be a very complex exercise, as unlike many organisations, a country may have numerous strands that they wish to tie together and promote simultaneously - perhaps a number of key cities, strong sporting teams, definitive political structures or key ‘brand champions’ from that country who could enter the hearts and souls of people from countries around the world.
Country brands often reinforce beliefs and stereotypes to make them recognisable to a global audience - for example the United Kingdom has capitalised on its tea drinking, politeness, black cabs, red buses and postboxes and these are best seen in tourism promotions. However they also successfully tie in their business and education experience into their country brand, and a great example of this can be seen in how the UK portrayed itself to the rest of the world during London 2012.
Power of country brands
So what is the power of a country brand? A country or nation brand that is defined locally, regionally and globally has incredible power to evoke pride, to inspire an entire people and to create unbreakable loyalty. In today’s era of globalisation, a strong and succinct country brand has never been more important, and creating or shaping a country brand is an exercise that countries of all sizes are pursuing. Countries need to have clear and well thought-through identities that will establish their unique place on the international stage, help their citizens to understand their own values and nurture and foster national pride.
Internal and external factors in country branding
Country brands provide two key functions - an internal function and an external function. Internally country brands help to define and establish the heritage, character and national identity of the population at large. A country brand can express all the inbuilt values that people imagine when they think about their nationality, and creates for them a focal point on which they can base their pride and passion. The second key function of a nation brand is the external role it plays in portraying the country to the rest of the world. From tourism through to government and trade, a country brand that effectively expresses the positive and outward-looking approach of a country is hugely beneficial and if done well, it should ensure that all of the country’s attributes are expressed consistently and clearly. In addition, differentiating a country from its neighbours can be highly effective in giving it a competitive edge in terms of tourism and exports - the power of a strong brand in driving up interest and sales should not be underestimated.
These elements are being brought into sharp focus for Qatar, as the spotlight turns to it ahead of its role in hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup - but how easy is it to actually develop a country brand? As Qatar looks to build ‘Brand Qatar’ what are the important elements that the country needs to consider as it strives to enhance and shape its own image?
We believe there are two key considerations that are vital to developing a successful country brand:
The first is shaping a complete and clear character of the nation. Finding the core values of the country and its people is crucial, as the character needs to be accurate and believable. The core value should be an element that is embedded in the whole spectrum of the nation. Think of Qatar as a person - what would they be like? You need to think about what this person looks like, what hair colour they would have, what clothes they would wear, what hobbies they might have, and perhaps most importantly, what does this person say and how do they say it? It is essential to really understand what Qatar is to ensure that its message is communicated effectively.
The second consideration is narrative. All great brands throughout the world tell a story and this is just as important with a country brand. For Qatar’s nation brand, the country needs to take the defined character of Qatar, and tell its tale. The story should reflect the history and the heritage of the country; it should tell people where the country is going, and why and how it is going to get there. It needs to decide whether this story is rooted in the success of the past or if it is inspired by the opportunities and challenges ahead. People have always loved a good story, and this is a prime chance to tell it well to everyone who wants to listen.
Today we live in a shrinking world where boundaries are being blurred and the clutter of noise from overly marketed products and services is deafening. We define our identity by surrounding ourselves with the brands we are able to associate with, or desire to be associated with, so how a country brands itself it crucial to how people will embrace and interact with it. The brand strategy therefore needs careful thought and consideration before commencing. As Qatar begins to write its story and tell the tale of the country and its people it needs to ensure that people around the world will begin to form an emotional link with its brand. This emotional brand link will create a depth of connection that is difficult to break; a link that will stand the test of time and that will allow Qatar to develop its message around the world and reap the benefits from it.
Author: Chris Evans, Head Creative, Creative Action Design
Chris has acquired a wealth of experience producing creative solutions for a wide variety of companies. Combining creativity with strategic insight, he helps brands maximise their impact in the commercial marketplace.
Spending much of his time developing ‘brand experiences’, Chris helps companies express themselves visually, wherever they come into contact with the consumer. He has written on the subject, and has spoken at a number of events about the importance of inspiring and engaging people through creativity.