Interview with Paul Temporal on Nation Branding, Country Brands in Asia and Islamic Branding

Learn about branding opportunities in the Islamic market, explained by Paul Temporal, expert on brand development and management with over thirty years of experience in consulting and training. The interview also offers insights into the recent development of nation branding in Asia and discusses the challenges of branding in the public sphere.

Learn about:

  • The importance of inclusiveness in nation branding;
  • The challenges faced by nation branding in different Asian countries;
  • Place branding opportunities in the growing Islamic market and the key to successful market access and acceptance;
  • The role of emotion in brand strategy and implementation and how to develop key emotional drivers to successfully achieve strategic goals;
  • Most relevant topics in training professional place brand consultants.

Paul, in your view which is the biggest difference in branding a nation and branding a corporation?

The principles of building a brand are the same whatever the focus, whether it be a nation, an industry or sector, a destination or place, an event, a commercial enterprise of any size or nature, a non-profit organisation or an individual. Having said that, ways in which those principles are applied are dependent on the situation.

Countries are turning to branding techniques demonstrated so successfully by the private sector in order to differentiate themselves from competitor nations and manage their image to achieve various goals. They have seen that, just as in the corporate world, image power leads to economic power, wealth, national confidence and success.

The largest difference between branding a nation and branding a corporation is that nations are enormously complex in nature, with large numbers of stakeholders to listen to, interact with and get buy-in from.

Indeed, there is some debate as to whether the branding of an entire nation is actually possible given its complexity. And it is easier with smaller ones as opposed to larger ones. Nevertheless, it is very clear that countries are trying to maximise the strong elements of their identity and image and improve negative perceptions in order to be more competitive in the global marketplace.

What are the main challenges in nation branding?

One major challenge is that of inclusiveness. At national level, this involves policies and public diplomacy as well as changes in behaviour across both public and private sectors.

Inclusiveness is critical to success. Failure to include all stakeholders in the nation branding process will almost certainly lead to a sub-optimum outcome with intra‐brand competition, a duplication of resources, and, most likely, confused ‘customers’.

This need for inclusiveness creates many challenges for governments in gaining “buy‐in” and commitment to brand strategies, policies and initiatives from all stakeholders, including national citizens. Achieving alignment between government leaders, Ministries, Departments, Statutory Boards, Cities, Places, GLC’s and other government related entities, plus the private sector, is a huge task.

The size and complexity of the country branding process means that it takes time and there are no quick fixes. It is a long‐term process.

It also means that there must be a firm brand management structure to deal with all the issues that arise in the branding process. The structure must be designed both to give direction as regards strategic national and brand priorities and the resource to manage the branding activities consistently across both private and public sectors.

Which are the main characteristics of Brand Asia? Has there been any significant change in the continent’s brand perception over the last years?

I’m not sure that there is a composite perception of the continent as a whole, and that Asia has one brand image. It may have some loosely connected perceptions of an exotic nature, as projected in the tourism advertisements of many Asian countries, but Asia is a part of the world with many individual country brand images that often differ widely.

There are many contrasting emerging and developed Asian country brands, such as Singapore, India, China, Malaysia, Vietnam and others that are all at different stages of development. All possess both negative and positive images, but cannot be forced into a few characteristics.

The good news is that in diversity lies opportunity, and the individualistic and distinctive nature and cultures of Asian countries provide doors to open for purposes of differentiation.

Unfortunately, there is a distinct lack of differentiation in the messages coming out from Asian countries, spearheaded mainly by tourism, and it appears that industry/sector, as opposed to national, branding still rules.

This is symptomatic of the difficulties inherent in nation branding but I do believe that there could be more alignment in brand strategy and communications across industries/sectors.

There are also differing perceptions regarding separate issues. For example, the rise of China, in particular, has generated perceptions that offer both opportunities and challenges. However, the country-of-origin effect, in terms of poor product quality, continues to be a substantial challenge for China to address and overcome. The perceived bureaucracy in doing business with India is another. By contrast, Singapore doesn’t have either of these perceptions to overcome but has some of a different nature. So each nation in Asia has to deal with its own perception gaps between brand identity (how it wants to be seen) and brand image (how it is actually seen).

One of your research areas is the Islamic branding and you have also authored the book Islamic Branding and Marketing. Which are your main insights on Islamic branding? How do you see the future of branding regarding the Islamic culture?

The Islamic market in general is the largest, fastest growing, and under-served market in the world. It occupies nearly one third of the world’s population and is growing at over 1.8 per cent per annum. Financially it is worth several trillion US dollars if you include all sectors. The Muslim population is spread over 200 Muslim majority and minority countries and all Muslim populations are growing fast.

There are huge opportunities in all sectors of Islamic markets and most of them are seeing double digit growth, some over 20 per cent per year. The range includes food and beverage, education, Islamic tourism and hospitality, medical and pharmaceutical products and services, cosmetics and personal care, entertainment, digital products and services, financial products and services, children’s products, and lifestyle and fashion products.

It is interesting to note that many western brands have already moved quickly into the Islamic market space and are providing branded Islamic products and services in most of these categories alongside brands that are indigenous to Muslim majority countries. For example, Nestle has had tremendous success worldwide in working with governments to achieve certification for standards and modifying its products to suit the needs of Islamic consumers.

The importance to branding is that all successful brands are built on strong values, and an understanding of Islamic values is the key to successful market access and acceptance.

You have extensively worked both with corporations and with governments. Have you noticed any differences in how these two perceive – and approach – branding?

Well, there are similarities and differences. One commonality I have found is the frequent need to disrupt the mind set of people in senior positions in companies and governments, in getting them to understand exactly what a brand is and how successful brands do not just happen but are meticulously built over time.

Logos and slogans abound in management and political thinking, as does the view that branding is all about advertising and promotion. The real issue is getting people to understand the role of emotion in brand strategy and implementation and how to develop key emotional drivers that are relevant to both their customers and their strategic goals. This situation is not always a difficulty when we look at established global brands that understand the concepts and use them, but overall it is a common factor.

Short term thinking is another important similarity. Governments and corporations often are impatient and want to see quick results in terms of numbers, ratings, polls or profits. They are often not willing to invest in brand building over the longer term, and often do not have the vision to see the importance of building sustainable, intangible asset value.

The main difference is that in the private sector it is a little easier to create a brand strategy and implement it, as once CEO’s understand and buy-in to the activities needed they tend to see it through (until they are replaced!). And whereas at national level there are many entities vying for the ear of government and money to invest, intent on ‘doing their own thing’, in the commercial world it is easier to control and manage the brand. Employee engagement initiatives are easier to introduce and the consistency of brand communications and other activities is more easily achieved. With governments, achieving alignment and consistency is not easy at all.

I recently ran a couple of sessions for a government in which major ministries and departments were involved, but they could not even agree at the simplest level as to what the brand might stand for and wanted their existing slogans and campaigns to become the driving force for moving forward with the national brand strategy.

Suppose you lead a one-day training session for junior (place) branding consultants, what would the training look like in terms of structure and content?

It’s a bit difficult to cover all that is necessary in one day (two would be better) but typically, I would look at the following topics and use interactive exercises for each area – that is, I would run it as a workshop by introducing concepts and successful cases and examples from around the world to make the exercises that follow each concept more meaningful.

  • What a brand is (and is not).
  • Public and private sector branding – similarities and differences.
  • Getting to grips with brand architecture.
  • Issues of alignment and inclusiveness.
  • The role of emotion in branding.
  • Developing an emotionally-driven brand vision.
  • The role of brand personality in projecting values and identity.
  • Brand positioning, and how to write positioning statements for master brands, sub-brands, and product brands for different target audiences.
  • Bridging perception gaps – image challenges and how to overcome them.
  • Creating a brand communications strategy and how to generate key messages.
  • Brand management (1) Options for creating a cross-government/sector structure.
  • Brand management (2) What to control, and how to initiate brand action planning.
  • Brand management (3) Measuring and tracking brand success.

How would you define a successful place brand?

A brand that achieves its strategic objectives and proves it is different and better than competitors in attracting and retaining customers.

Thank you, Paul.

Paul Temporal’s academic profile at Oxford University here.


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