The Basics of a Country
or City Brand Strategy
@ Bloom Consulting
Think Strategically about +36 billion USD / year
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Building and managing a strong, positive and resilient brand is a challenging task. Whether it’s a Country, Region or City, building and maintaining the image and reputation you want requires more effort and commitment than any destination’s marketing or promotion campaign. Sweden, Barcelona, and Madeira are a few examples of how it is possible to change and improve perceptions, medium and long term, based on a brand strategy.
These destinations are proof that Place Branding works. How were they able to implement their Country or City Brand strategies? Each of these cases shares the ingredients or fundamentals of a successful brand strategy. If Countries, Regions or Cities have these essentials, the chances of success are much higher.
The foundations of a successful Country or City Brand strategy are as follows:
1. A brand strategy based on a Central Idea – think strategically. Firstly, it is vital to understand what a Country or City Brand really is and its purpose. Again, this is not about marketing or promotion. Instead, it is about developing a strategy to align people’s perceptions of a place with the reality. The main purpose of any Country or City Brand strategy is to erase misconceptions about a Country, Region or City and increase international awareness of what makes it unique, special and relevant. This way, it is possible to build an image and reputation for the Country, Region or City that is not only positive and fair, but can enhance its attractiveness and competitiveness worldwide.
A cornerstone of any successful Country or City Brand is the development of a consistent, coherent, and long-term strategy; a mix of ongoing actions, activities, and policies aligned with reality and the desired perception you can convey to the world. Therefore, the first thing to do is to assess the gap between current perceptions and reality, while keeping in mind the variables that affect the Country or City Brand. It comes down to understanding what your main assets and competitive advantages, audiences, and target markets are. In addition, you need to understand your main competitors. Then, based on the brand assessment, the desired goals are set.
The next step is to establish and define the Central Idea. This is the desired insight that will help the Country, Region or City grab the attention of their target audience with their preference and achieve their strategic goals. The Central Idea is not invented. It is a result of discovering what makes the Country, Region or City unique and translating it to the Central Idea. The only way to succeed in this industry is to consistently put words into actions. This implies developing a set of brand actions, activities, and projects that bring the Central Idea to life, accompanied by comprehensive implementation planning.
2. The right organisational structure. One of the biggest challenges of the Country or City Brand is ensuring the strategy can be implemented and managed that is adaptable to any government changes. Establishing a politically independent and autonomous brand management structure must be used to accomplish this.
The brand management team must have its own resources and a realistic budget to execute, manage, and maintain the brand strategy, despite current and future political circumstances. The ideal management structure is one equipped with a passionate, experienced, capable, and resilient team that makes things happen. This team should have the support and practical guidance of experienced brand strategy consultants. They must be present every step of the way, facing challenges with the management team. With this, the brand management team can acquire the skills and knowledge to successfully make the brand strategy a reality.
3. Clear KPIs and measurement processes. Constant monitoring of activities and measurement of results by the brand team are key to the success of the Country or City Brand. It allows management to intervene in the event of non-compliance with given policy or inadequate delivery of projects. It does so while positive results help justify the need for such an approach and continued investment in brand strategy over time.
The best way to do this is to assign tangible key performance indicators (KPIs) to each individual brand action, activity, and project as well as to the overall strategy. Performance metrics for projects, rankings, focus groups, and opinion barometers are examples of valid options for KPIs.
However, economic and social indicators make it possible to assess the real impact of a brand’s strategy. They also make the contribution to internal development (i.e. increased exports, attracting investment and talent, creating job opportunities, happiness and well-being of the population).
4. Management of Digital Identity. Since initial attempts made decades ago, the practice of Country or City Brand’s have transformed over time. Not only are Country and City Brands visible in the real world, but in the digital world now too. What happens offline also happens online in all Countries, Regions, and Cities and must be taken seriously. What happens in the digital world has a tremendous impact on real-world stakeholders’s perceptions and actions. Few studies on this dimension of brand management have been undertaken. However, the interaction and relationship of external audiences with Countries, Regions, and Cities through digital platforms is undeniable.
The information that international stakeholders find online significantly influences their decisions on where to invest, do business, visit or live. Countries, Regions and Cities need to work in new ways on the development of their strategy in order to succeed in the digital era. They must think and act digitally. In other words, they need to recognise they now have a Digital Identity to manage. For the success of the whole process, it is crucial to not only speak with one voice in the real world, but in the digital world too. Any offline action, activity, or policy must have an online component so the digital message is consistent and aligned with the Country or City Brand.
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