Larissa Perdomo, marketing communications professional and Director of Country Brand at Uruguay XXI, in this interview illustrates how Uruguay approaches country branding and how perceptions about the Latin American nation have changed over time. She also shares her thoughts on trends in destination branding and how collaboration between countries can facilitate access to growing markets, especially Asia.
Larissa, do you remember the first time you heard about country branding and reputation in connection with Uruguay? What triggered your interest in the topic?
Yes, it was about 17 years ago when the Ministry of Tourism, during the presidency of Jorge Batlle, created for the first time a country brand for Uruguay with the aim to highlight the unique identity of our country. We were experiencing the biggest economic crisis in the region back then. Uruguay Natural was first established only as brand for tourism, due to the small available budget.
I thought that branding a country will be an amazing and comforting challenge for a marketing communications professional, which is why I got involved.
As Director of Country Image at Uruguay XXI, in your view, what does “Brand Uruguay” stand for?
For me the Uruguay brand stands for values like inclusion (digital, social, human rights), transparency and quality of life (Montevideo ranks 1st for best quality of life in Latin America, according Mercer 2017). Those are our strongest brand assets, together with our focus on high quality products, safety and taking care of our natural resources.
Our talent and OLPC (one laptop per child programme) make Uruguay an interesting option for investors, together with our strategic location within the common market of Mercosur.
How has the reputation of Uruguay as country of origin and destination for leisure and MICE tourism changed over the last years?
The reputation of Uruguayan goods used to be associated mostly with the high quality of commodities like soy beans, rice, and especially meat. Uruguayan beef (our most exported product), is well-known in demanding markets, such as the European Union.
In addition to the strong performance of our agriculture produce, Uruguay has also become one of the key places in Latin America for IT services, with highly qualified software engineering professionals.
We are also growing as MICE destination, thanks to investments by leading hotel chains like Hyatt, Sofitel, Marriot and Hilton. The Punta del Este Convention Center, as well as the Antel Arena (opening in November) are attracting many international conventions, big concerts and events, which are helping us to make our tourism industry less season dependent and strong all year round.
How is the destination brand linked to Uruguay’s success as Country-of-Origin?
On a national level we use the country brand concept to nurture feelings of pride about our products, our way and quality of life, and our culture. We also promote licenses for applying the Uruguay Natural logo on some goods and services, which locals and tourists can consume in the country.
We have a brand ambassadors plan which includes our artists, musicians, entrepreneurs and soccer players. They represent our values in Uruguay and around the world.
Tourists coming to Uruguay experience a peaceful and safe country, where they can eat the best meat in the region, taste great wine in some family wineries and appreciate the quality of our dairy products. Despite being such a small country, visitors can find international and luxury destinations like Punta del Este, or natural, protected areas like Cabo Polonio, in addition to UNESCO Heritage sites like Colonia del Sacramento.
Tobias Grut in his interview illustrated how Nordic countries in Europe are working together across the region to be able to better reach audiences in emerging markets, especially Asia. Do you think this would be an example for Latin American countries to follow?
Absolutely, yes. We made the first experience recently in Russia with the World Cup, where we collaborated with Mexico by arranging an exchange of food and music between Uruguayan and Mexican chefs and artists, like Molotov and Uruguayan Candombe player Tatita Marquez.
We are planning to collaborate with other LATAM countries and work together in big events in remote markets, like the Beijing 2019 Expo or the Dubai 2020 Expo.
Recent elections in the USA, Germany and elsewhere have shown how important online platforms have become for people’s knowledge about places. How do you embrace those in your work?
We’ve run a digital campaign for the World Cup recently, as a new experience in coordination with the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, and as part of a larger PR strategy talking about Uruguayan events, in Russia.
We are still analyzing the results. But for example we already know that we reached 31 million viewers in four markets and in three languages: people in Madrid, Berlin, London and Sao Paulo especially learned about Uruguay in connection with renewable energy, product safety, logistics, technology hub and quality of life.
Apart from digitalisation, which other major trends are likely to influence the work of country and destination branding professionals in the years ahead?
I think that working with influencers, opinion leaders, content advertising and cinema productions is part of the new strategy for destination branding.
Securing adequate funding for place branding and marketing initiatives is often a challenge. How do you measure success and demonstrate return on investment of your branding work through Uruguay XXI?
We try to put some milestones and objectives to be accomplished. To obtain more budget for new communication proposals, we collect all the results and ROI on free press, business contacts, tourism increase, new residents, etc.
We also use an international software to know about Uruguay’s perception in the world press, and we conduct an international survey together with a consultancy to have an accurate idea about the evolution of our country brand.
Public diplomacy being a key part of country branding, how do you work with Uruguay’s diplomatic corps and missions overseas?
We don’t have overseas offices, so public diplomacy is a very important support for our work. We plan campaigns, forums, events and presentations in partnership with them.
How do you engage your citizens and businesses, to make sure their actions and stories align with Brand Uruguay – and the other way around?
We have a plan for the associated companies, with whom we share our main brand values through workshops, trade shows and cobranding actions. We also have brand ambassadors who represent our country in different domains like art, music and sports.
Thank you, Larissa.
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