In this guest post, Lina Maria Echeverri, founder and director of the Observatory for Country Brand and Country Image (Observatorio de Marca e Imagen País) in Bogotá, Colombia, looks at the commonalities in the management of a country brand in Latin America.
When we look at Latin American case studies of country brands, we find three points in common: a) the story behind the brand, b) the association of a country brand with a government policy and c) ignorance in country brand management.
The story behind a Country Brand
Each country brand not only tells a story, but represents an account of the collective imagination. Country branding requires writing the story again, with strong, engaging content that sensitizes and involves cultural roots. The uniqueness of every story is built on the characteristics of its population, language, attitudes, geography, nature, but especially cultural codes.
In the case of country brands in Latin America, those stories tend to be metaphors, with communication focused on what should be, not what is already there. The territorial identity is the source for creating and changing stories. The challenge is to tell country brand stories that not just fit the current government, but aim at transforming lives, generating community spirit and integrating the local and the global.
Unfortunately, the place brand stories told in Latin America are very similar, and focus on aspects hardly unique to one country, such as the Amazon, biodiversity, joy and entrepreneurship.
Association of a Country Brand with a Government Policy
A common phenomenon in Latin America is that the country brand strategy has emerged as a government initiative. It makes sense that governments want to lead in this area, but they should not be individualistic in these initiatives. A country brand should be binding, generate social sensitivity and lead to social cohesion.
In the Latin America case, it is often hard to separate country branding initiatives from the presidential figure. Places like Mexico, Brazil, Costa Rica and Peru are pioneers in making their country brand independent from government campaigns.
Another element is that the general public and businesses usually know little about the relevance of a country brand, which means lack of support and interest. Ideally, a country’s brand should be a state policy and not governmental. It must be understood as a public policy, but not necessarily be associated with the political interests of a certain government.
Ignorance in Country Brand Management
The approach to most country brands in Latin America has been inherited from advertising agencies. These agencies have experience in selling products in different markets, but usually little knowledge about territorial marketing.
In Latin America, the management of a country brand tends to be oriented towards public relations, and not much in developing strategies that transform the experiences of residents, visitors and influencers. Priority is given to communication, not strategy.
Moreover, if you ask employers what they understand by country brand, you’ll find that they interpret it as a business strategy and not as ‘made in’ country-of-origin. If you ask the public, the knowledge gap is even more considerable.
In the public mind, country brand campaigns serve to encourage tourism. A multitude of logos further adds to the confusion, with little strategic branding work taking place to establish a country brand that serves both tourism, foreign investment and exports.
A country brand should ideally be iconic by becoming a national icon. Its image should not only belong to a minority of public servants, but be shared with its residents, foreigners, employers and especially with the media.
is the founder and director of the MarcaPaísOBS Observatory for Country Brand and Country Image (Observatorio de Marca e Imagen País) in Bogotá, Colombia.
She is a member of the research group on Marketing and Operational Research at the University of León, Spain.
PhD in Integration and Economic and Territorial Development, from University of León (Spain).
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