Sometimes it takes a foreigner’s fresh eyes to see and describe a country’s brand assets. Xabier Diaz de Cerio – originally from Basque Country in Spain – through his work as journalist and editor, and now via his creative design agency, is an expert in explaining and illustrating what makes Peru special: its products, landscapes and people.
During my Peru visit, we met at his office (which is very cool and feels like a forest) for a vivid exchange of ideas and projects. In this follow up interview, Xabier shares his views on Peru, its branding, and country-of-origin strengths.
Xabier, Peru has become quite well known internationally as a destination for foodies and nature/adventure lovers. Do you remember your own perceptions of the country before you moved here from the Basque Country, Spain?
When I arrived in Peru twenty years ago, its promotional slogan was “the country of the Incas” and the tourist offer was basically focused on one destination: Machu Picchu. Then Peru celebrated the arrival of a million tourist as a great achievement, and gastronomy was only a source of pride in the family. Hardly any talk of specialized tourism and the few tourists who came to have nature experiences were seen as adventurers in the style of Indiana Jones, or National Geographic scientists.
How have your views changed since then?
Promperú has done an excellent job establishing a strategy to successfully place the country in different rankings. Peru stopped having an offer only focused on Machu Picchu to becoming a multi-destination country, with proposals for each traveler. Peru is one of the 17 countries with the most biodiversity in the world and has developed an offer of nature, gastronomy and culture around a very special territory.
One of the things that have changed the most in the last twenty years is that Peruvians have reinforced their identity through elements that were not previously a source of pride. Now they recognize them as their own … and this is an important step in building an image of the country.
Over the last years you have been involved in the branding of several Peruvian products of national significance. Briefly can you tell us which those where?
The country brand has been fundamental for organizing a set of ideas, values and experiences about Peru that the rest of the world should know about. It has marked a very interesting path and is the umbrella to develop a very ambitious strategy.
We (Fábrica de Ideas Studio) have developed two new distinctive brands: “Superfoods Peru” and “Pisco, Spirit of Peru“. The first brand helps to position the enormous variety of native, organic and healthy foods that the country produces. The second brand is part of an international communication strategy to present Pisco – a distillate of grapes considered the national drink – to consumers in the United States and Europe.
Superfood and Pisco share strategic elements and values which are also visible in the country brand, and in the graphic development.
Which would you consider the main challenges right now, for a continued success of Brand Peru?
Getting recognition is difficult, but maintaining that recognition is even more challenging. The biggest challenge is to maintain authenticity and fill the brand with content without losing its focus. Peru must remain Peru and not resemble anyone. That must be its greatest virtue.
The country’s history is inspiring but its future should be a source of inspiration too. The country has used an aesthetic based on references of its cultural past. However, this is not enough. In such a globalized world, Peru must find a path that combines universal visual references without losing its Andean identity. Peru needs to contribute to the global discourse with its own and current ideas.
Which are the opportunities yet to be seized?
I believe that an opportunity is in its people, in their knowledge built and maintained through generations. Peru is one of the seven places considered the cradle of agriculture in the world. This is a very important fact. It is an incredible source of knowledge and it is the Peruvians who live in the highlands, in the jungle and on the coast, their guardians. They have many of the answers that the world needs to know. For example, the ability to adapt to climate change, perfected over the years, is one of them. They are a permanent source of inspiration for us.
When we design a brand strategy we are very interested in the views of rural people because they have a very special relationship with the essential issues of life, with those that really matter. Their voices should be an important tool to position Peru. A country is its people.
To your mind, why has Brand Peru been able to become such a successful country brand, where so many country branding initiatives in other regions fail?
I consider that the success of the country brand of Peru lies in its coherence. It offers what the country is and it does not disappoint. Some countries make a great effort that visually takes the form of a logo, an image that is often empty of content or very poor in terms of communication. We return to the same point: the people.
The good health of a brand depends on the people who connect rationally or emotionally with it. The country brand of Peru has done it not only with people outside its borders but, above all, within them. It has been a local success: the Peruvians have adopted it as part of their identity and feel that it represents their way of being in the world.
Looking abroad, which would you say are Peru’s unique strengths as destination for visitors, talent or investors?
The greatest strength is their living culture, an ancestral culture that is still present day by day through the native languages, such as Quechua or Aymara, in their respectful relationship with nature, in its dances, rituals and spirituality.
On the other hand, it is a country with great economic and democratic stability. Peru is connected to the world through 19 Trade Promotion Agreements. The most important treaties are signed with the United States and the European Union. It is also one of the countries with the highest microenterprise index in the region. In recent years, its position on competitiveness indexes has improved and according to Forbes magazine it is one of the best countries to do business in the region.
The country-of-origin effect can be very influencial in determining consumer perceptions and behavior. Which products or exportations have benefited the most from Peru’s strong brand, abroad?
The products that have benefited the most from Peru’s country brand are agricultural exports, such as coffee and cocoa. Both are of excellent quality and for a few years now they have been winning prizes at the main international fairs. Organic products are also very popular in countries that are looking for natural, non-transgenic products that can guarantee traceability.
There is also another group of products, such as blueberries, golden berries and the great variety of chili that have great potential to conquer new markets. Many of these products are linked to the boom that the Peruvian gastronomy is achieving in other countries.
Gastronomy is identity and culture and Peru has begun to conquer the world through its smells and tastes.
Which countries do Peruvians tend to look up to, or admire?
I think Chile is a great reference in the region, for Peru. Both countries have a history in common, share a border and, despite wars in the past, they appreciate and respect each other. Chile has economic interests in Peru and vice versa.
Further afield, I think Mexico is another example that is followed in terms of country brand. Peru and Mexico are two countries that have many points in common. I think that Peruvians admire how Mexicans feel proud of their culture and traditions and have turned them into an worldwide exportable product.
Briefly, can you tell us about some of the main lessons you’ve learned so far, in connection with your work for and with Brand Peru?
I think working for the Peru brand is a great responsibility, because there are many people without economic resources who depend on our work. If a country brand manages to connect its products with new markets, it allows many small producers and farmers to have more opportunities and a future.
Our work as journalists and designers has a very clear social purpose: it is not only to understand a reality and interpret it visually, but to design pieces that facilitate the exchange of goods and ideas that drive development.
While interviewing many locals in different cities, towns and rural areas, I’ve become a better listener. I developed a better disposition for a rich dialogue. I come from a very different reality, but through my work in Peru I have discovered important aspects of my own identity. My work here has helped me understand myself a little bit more as a human being. Deep down, we all share the same essence. Just some external aspects change.
How do you imagine Peru to be, ten years from now?
I would like to live in a more united country, without so many big socio-economic gaps. Peru has many possibilities of growth that still need to be developed. You need to consolidate products with added value and work in the export of services. In ten years it should improve education and health and design the tools to face climate change. The Peru brand should collect these concerns because a country brand is something much deeper than a tourism brand.
Thank you, Xabier
The interview with Xabier is part of our special report on Peru and its potential as country and destination, supported by PromPerú.
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