From a country branding and reputation perspective, Latin America is a very interesting region to learn from. In this interview, Lina Maria Echeverri shares her thoughts on place branding in South America and the reputation of Colombia.
- The country branding of Peru and Costa Rica as good practice examples;
- To what extent a country’s political environment and its business leadership influence the process of constructing a country brand;
- The main purpose and challenges of country brands in Latin America especially;
- The difference between public diplomacy and country branding in terms of purpose;
- The current state of country branding practice in Latin America.
Lina, you recently launched the Country Brand Observatory (Observatorio de Imagen y Marca País). What is this all about?
Since 2008, I have worked on developing a series of investigations and applied research in two main areas: country brand and country image on the American continent. These investigations are linked to existing academic literature on territorial marketing.
In Latin America, and especially in Colombia, studies on country branding are scarce, and very little is being written – or even understood – about the topic.
Furthermore, country brands are being created with no consideration regarding the perception of the audience. There is a strong need to undertake research and investigations that contribute to generating knowledge in this field.
What fascinates you about country brands and national reputation?
I am fascinated by investigations and studies on perception. Many studies look at aspects like a country’s brand and positioning, but few studies focus on symbolic, sensory or personal associations and their effects on country perception.
Your thoughts on the Good Country Index by Simon Anholt and Robert Govers?
I find it very fortunate that experts like Simon Anholt and Robert Govers help prepare, or sensitize, the public and country officials in terms of the importance of culture, science, and technology, among others. Ultimately, all of this aids a process of humanization of the nations. It would be very interesting to measure the effects by regions, given that, in Latin America, there are certain particularities in the variables proposed by the authors.
Your favorite country branding example from Latin America?
Two country branding examples in Latin America that represent growth and clarity in terms of branding are Peru and Costa Rica. These are brands that have managed to stabilize and to constitute themselves as state politics.
Meanwhile, the weakest country brand in South America is Venezuela. The country’s internal conflict, the failed socialism and the negligence of the presidential figure are all factors that affect the country’s positioning.
To what extent does a country’s political and business leadership influence its place brand?
Both a country’s political environment and its business leadership greatly influence the process of constructing a country brand. For instance, a favorable image of the presidential or governmental figure benefits the national brand. With regards to business leadership, companies are the ones who reinforce the “made in”.
The essence of a brand, and what helps to protect it, is exactly that; the “made in”, or country-of-origin effect.
How can country branding support sustainable economic development?
A country brand should have as one of its propositions social cohesion and should clearly procure a sustainable economic development. However, importance should also be given to establishing an adequate surrounding environment for these things to take place.
In the case of Latin America, wealth is very unequally distributed. Without social welfare or stability, there is no economic development. In that sense, the country brand in the region must procure to raise awareness in the population about the future; how will future generations survive, what measures must be taken to protect the environment and the natural resources in order to guarantee the continued existence of the ecosystem (Costa Rica is an example to follow.)
How does country branding differ from nation branding and public diplomacy?
There are no differences. It depends on the author’s denominations. Anholt is considered the creator of the term nation branding.
Public diplomacy serves the same purpose as country branding: to capitalize the reputation of a country in international markets/internationally.
Which are the main challenges in country branding today?
Some of the main challenges for a country brand are: generating (and maintaining) credibility, to be flexible and (ultimately) to become part of state politics.
Your thoughts on the current state of country branding in Colombia and Latin America?
In Latin America, country branding is still in its initial phase. Little effort is dedicated to brand development and branding is often centralized on promotional activities.
In the case of Colombia, the fact that the country has had two country brands in less than 10 years, reveals a lack of experience. Each government develops a new proposal and there is no consistency to the brand.
The business sector in Colombia has not been able to understand the value or usefulness of the brand, since very little is associated with the “made in”.
Colombia has managed to improve its reputation, but, according to the studies undertaken by the Observatory, the country is still associated with corruption and insecurity. Also, Colombia is a country more oriented towards business than towards tourism.
Thank you, Lina Maria.
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