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Nation Branding: What Works?
David Aaker, author of the all-time best selling branding textbook – Managing Brand Equity, attempts to identify the most effective nation branding tools
Issue Date - 06/10/2011
During August, I spoke at the inaugural conference on nation branding, a project the President of Korea initiated in 2009 to create a nation branding programme for Korea. In preparing my talk, I attempted to identify the most effective nation branding tools. I came down to four.

The first is the hosting of global events such as the Olympics, the World Cup, the British Open, The Australian Open, or the G20. Such events get enormous visibility through media coverage, they provide all sorts of positive associations, and they generate visits from influential people and others who will talk about their experiences. The second are events created and owned by the country. They can be within a country, such as the annual Korean Knowledge Forum that attracts luminaries and thought leaders around the world, or the Singapore Film Festival. These events also provide visibility, association involvement and visitors. The events can also be hosted outside the country, such as Korean Day in New York with a K-Pop contest where the winner received round-trip tickets to Korea. Such events provide a culture story, a country experience for those who have not visited, and a chance to allow people to relive a prior trip.

The third is the identification and leverage of country symbols. Symbols can take many forms, such as the Guggenheim at Bilbao, the Edinburgh Castle, a visual of trekking in Nepal, Queen Noor of Jordan, or prominent athletes such as Rafael Nadel of Spain. Such symbols make vivid some aspects, perhaps the central aspect, of the country. A symbol, unlike a verbal description, is easy to remember especially over many exposures.

The fourth is to encourage and leverage corporate brands. Think of the impact Singapore Airlines has on Singapore, or Mercedes has on Germany. These corporate brands control many of the salient country image factors such as cultural values or perceived innovativeness. Further, the sheer budget makes a difference. Samsung plus Hyundai/Kia will spend well over $1.5 billion in media advertising in just the US, a budget that will dwarf the promotion budget of any nation. The impact of Samsung product leadership in the 90s and Hyundai’s ability to get 5% of the US car market with quality and upscale cars has had an enormous impact on the Korean brand.

There are a host of other approaches including advertising (which works mainly to attract tourists) and social media. But, in my view, these four, properly managed, generate the most impact.

In my talk directed at the Council for Nation Branding established by the President of Korea I discussed the importance of creating a strategy that would include objectives, target marketing and brand vision. With a strategy in place, I identified four effective nation branding tools: hosting a global event such as the World Cup, creating events such as the Korean Knowledge Forum, identifying symbols such as the Guggenheim at Bilbao, and supporting the work of corporate brands such as Samsung and Hyundai. My theme was that, in my view, efforts of the council to build the Korean brand should focus on opportunism, support and leverage. I suggested the council should not sponsor or direct brand building programmes, especially local ones, nor expect an ongoing budget to create communication programmes.

Opportunism: In my view, the council should be on the lookout for people or events to emerge that would advance the image of the country. So when a woman, such as So Yeon Ryu, wins the US Open Golf Championship, an opportunity exists to advance the aspiration image dimensions of Korean brand.

Support: A person like Ryu is trained to play golf, not to represent Korea, even though she would like to do so. So someone connected to the council should be available to coach her and give her suggestions as to what to do.

Leverage: Someone within one of the Korean firms might use their contacts. For example, a Samsung PR person might call someone he or she knows within The New York Times and suggest that a the Korean winner of the US open has a great back story that could support a feature.

The basic idea is that the council should use the expertise, experience and networks within the council to identify, support and leverage people and events with the potential to advance the Korean brand. This activity will do more than to advance the brand than any event sponsorship or ongoing communication budget that in any case would be difficult to sustain.

David Aaker is vice chairman of Prophet (www.prophet.com ), a strategic brand and marketing consultancy that helps clients win by delivering inspired and actionable ideas. Aaker, who is also professor emeritus at the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley, is a leading expert on brand & marketing thinking, having written 15 books & numerous articles on related topics. He can be reached at daaker@prophet.com;
Amir Moin           
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