Sohaib Sohail University of London

Country Branding

In an era, where the only constant is ³change´ it will be merely trite to point out that branding plays an important part of marketing processes. Armstrong and Kotler (2007) explained the fact that the most prominent and paid skill of a professional marketer is to build and handle brands (Armstrong and Kotler; 2007). As the main attributes of products can be hackneyed easily Kotler and Gertner (2002) argued that brands are the omnipotent source of product differentiation (Kotler and Gertner; 2002).

But the concept of country branding seems to ignite primitive hostility in some people. These authors believe that corporations and countries are altogether two different entities and it is impossible and unwise to brand countries (Girard; 1999, cited in Olins; 2001). While on the other hand post modern marketing authors believe that country branding is more or less similar to corporate branding and both country branding and corporate branding compliments each other. The argued the fact that state branding is the most potent reservoir of any country¶s competitiveness. They believe that a good state branding strategy not only enhances the country¶s credibility but is also allows them to negate the negative images attached to the reputation of any country (De Vincente; 2004).

A strong ³country brand´ can provide a positive country of origin effect for the firms of the countries and successful corporate firms help in developing innovative aspects of country brand (Bojan; 200). This paper will confer the argument that in order to compete effectively in this

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highly competitive world, countries need to come up with efficient country branding strategies as country of origin image is considered as an important determinant of any product or services brand image (Paswan et al; 2003). In the latter half of the essay ³the story of China´ will be discussed to identify that how even after facing so much criticism China has able to stage one of the most successful Olympic games of all times.

Country Branding (A Theoretical Perspective):

Oxford Dictionary defines brand as a type of a product made by a firm and have a specific name, but this lexical definition does not provide the theoretical discussion which is the main focus of this essay (Oxford Dictionary; 2010). The main difference between product and brand is that brand is something which is bought by a customer and it is unique, while of the other hand product is made in factories and there are fare chances of a product getting copied by the competitors. In other words it can be said that brand is a product with a futile name attached to it (Iacobucci; 2001).

Building upon the upper mentioned definition the American Marketing Association defines brand as a name, term, sign symbol or design, or a combination of these, intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate from those of competitors (cited in Armstrong and Kotler;2007). Due to it broader category scientists are still unable to come up with a unified taxonomy of branding (Iacobucci; 2001). Up till now the underlying

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nature of ³brand´ is yet to be resolved, hence there is lack of general theory, however the brand definition can broadly classified in 12 main themes (Chernatony and Riley, 1998). These themes include legal instruments, logos, company, shorthand, risk reducer, identity system, image in consumer¶s mind, value system, personality, relationship, adding value, evolving entity (p, 418). The majority of the literature on branding cover these themes and even if the jargons are different the broader meaning is still the same (Arnold; 1992).

In the recent years the focus of brands has been shifted from the functional benefits to the more iconic personality intangible asset. A successful brand always help companies to launch new products within and even outside category (Armstrong and Kotler; 2007). Brand extension gives a new product easy acceptance and instant recognition. The amount of trust people show on a certain brands is easily translated on to the profit sheets of that particular brand.

As discussed above country branding is always considered as a very ardently debated issue, some authors considers country branding as unimaginable crime as it will hurt the dignity of a country while on the other hand there are many authors who hold the stance that nation or country branding helps countries to promote and propagate the country¶s image (Fan; 2005). Olins (2001) believed that country branding is a continuous process, he argued the fact that the dichotomy lies because of terminologies and their interpretations (Olins; 2001). For some branding is just confined to the boundaries of labeling and packaging of products but for other it is a lot more than that. But as explained above the brands are now the source of identity, experience, exuberance and belongingness just like a nation.

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A country image can be defined as a subconscious picture of a country, people hold within their minds, while on the other hand country identity is the country¶s thought about of what it is. De Vicente (2004) nurture the idea that the powerful country brand should be combination of both and marketers should try to hit the balance between the country¶s identity and its image (De Vicente; 2004).

Some marketers considered National branding simply as the idea of country¶s positioning strategy. Holloway and Hubbard (2001) argued the fact that if a country never tries to strategize its image but even then people still have some particular distinctive images at the back of mind for that country (Holloway and Hubbard; 2001). Papadopoulos and Heslop (2002) also backed the argument that people create stereotypical image with in their minds which influence their decisions patently (Papadopoulos and Heslop; 2002). Hence to consolidate and survive in today¶s highly innovative and competitive world countries need to brand themselves powerfully.

With the above discussion, it is quite evident that the concept of country branding is here to stay; now it will be more appropriate to discuss the different dimensions of nation branding. The image of any country revolves around the parameters of these 6 dimensions. But to achieve a successful country branding strategy, the brand managers should identify their strengths and figure out the opportunities and try to focus on couple of dimensions of country branding at a time (Anholt; 2003).


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Anholt Nation Brand Haxagon Source: (Anholt; 2005)

Anholt (2005) elaborate upon the idea that the nation brand is the people¶s perception of country and it revolves around these 6 dimensions, the ranking of any country can be found out by the help of the individual ranking of these dimensions (Anholt; 2005). Hence it is possible that a country might be the finest in tourism but it might achieve a very low rank when it comes to culture and heritage. It is upon the discretion of the nation and government of a particle country that how they want to position themselves.

As argued by Kotler and Gertner (2002) that it is very important for a country to carry out SWOT analysis of themselves, this will help them identifying the strength, weaknesses internally and it will allow the country to foresee the upcoming opportunities and threats (Kotler and Gertner; 2002). Most of countries are showing proactive approach of branding themselves, if any

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country does not act other countries will brand it to their competitive advantage and it will make things even more complicated (Gilmore; 2001).

Country of Origin effect has been debated for quite a lot in the literature regarding branding. It is defined as the name of the country which people associate with a brand or company as being the parent country of the brand (Kotler and Gertner; 2002). The empirical evidences showed the fact that the simple manipulation regarding the country¶s name have had a direct influence over the purchase decisions (Pappu et al; 2006). Hence it is quite essential for countries to have a positive association in the mind of people, in order to generate more profits and positive recall (Fan; 2005). Some authors argued that the country¶s brand image and the product¶s brand image is somewhat similar and multifaceted, people may associate different images when asked upon Nike and same is the case with countries (Papadopoulos and Heslop; 2002).

Branding a nation is not only the task of governments, individuals or firms, it is always an integrated activity and all the stake holders should play their part if they want to brand a country successfully (De Vicente; 2004).

In the last part of this theoretical discussion the author will talk about the notion of country equity. The concept of country equity is similar to brand equity and is defined as the emotional value derived from the individual¶s association of a brand with a country (Kotler and Gertner; 2002). Hence it can be deduce that foreign direct investments and tourism are two main stream

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drivers of any country¶s equity. As argued by many modern day authors that country¶s image and identity weigh quite heavily when the multinational firms are looking to enter any country¶s local market (Hollensen; 2007).

Most of the empirical research done on the topic of country branding augment the argument that nation branding is here to stay (Paswan et al 2002). Now it is upon the discretion of marketers and brand managers of the countries that which area of country branding they focus. In the next part of essay the author will discuss that success story of China¶s effective country branding.

China (A lesson for younger Nations to learn):

Historically one of the oldest civilizations of the world, China is today¶s world largest country with the population above 1.3 billion people. But this ancient civilized country was always perceived as a manufacturer of low quality goods, and the country has contributed quite little to built a positive brand image (Berkowitz et al; 2007). This section of essay will talk about the idea of how China was able to turn the table around and is now perceived as one of the possible super powers of modern era.

After shifting to the market economy, China is showing approximately 9.5% of GDP growth rate, they account for 4 % of total world¶s economy and it has a trade of about $851 billion.


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People were quite certain that the orthodox foreign policy may well lead to deteriorate the image of China and it will also harm the prospects of staging a successful Olympics (Marquand; 2006). Empirical results also backed the fact that china has to overcome an uphill task in order to improve it continuously damaging brand image (Anholt; 2005). Commentators on nation branding argued the idea of China being a confused nation, they elaborate the fact that China needs to identify what sought of image it want to have in the eyes of the world, then China should come up with a nation branding strategy and then it should communicate that strategy not only by words but also by their actions (Berkowitz et al; 2007). In his empirical study Anholt (2005) debated that people vigorously repel Chinese products, he went further on explaining that china has long way to go in order to enhance the credibility of Chinese products (Anholt; 2005). The study showed that apart from the strong showing in the culture and heritage dimension China ranked among the bottom three in all other aspects of branding.





Investment and Immigration

Culture and heritage

(Source: Berkowitz et al; 2007)


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This figure clearly illustrated the fact that China has a lot to do in order to enhance its brand equity, and Beijing Olympics 2008 can be regarded as leading nation branding opportunity for a country who has been criticized quite a lot in the past many years.

China rose to World Stage:
With Olympic Games comes many things, not only it enhance the tourism and financial sectors of the country but it also allow nations to take the centre stage and has the opportunity to propagate itself in a way with suits the country¶s image in the long run. But for that country needs to have a right strategy, which should be implemented in such a manner that the desired brand image is communicated with in the true spirit (Berkowitz et al; 2007).

China stake holders knew the strength and weaknesses of their country and they came up with a fairly straightforward country branding strategy. They decided to address those issues which needs quite a bit of attention, the most common criticism on lack of human rights, manufacturer of low quality products and highest contributor of green house gases (Gittings; 2001, Chao; 2003). To eliminate these international views on the State, China divided its Olympic Campaign into 3 basic themes; People¶s Olympics High-tech Olympics Green Olympics

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In the next part of this essay the author will discuss these 3 branding themes and try to identify that the change in country¶s image after this mega event.

People¶s Olympics:

The Olympic Committee of Beijing 2008 came up with ³one world, one dream´ slogan, according to the official Beijing Olympics website, the slogan contains the message of unity, participation, harmony and dream (Beijing; 2008). The main thought behind the theme as described by Chinese Officials was to communicate the idea of peaceful expansion, pleasant society and people¶s contentment.

These acts of China not only negate the western argument of using Olympic Games as propaganda and humiliate the already worse human rights state but it also gave them a chance to improve their rating on the Anholt Nation brand Index (Berkowitz et al;2007). China used these games to magnify the culture and heritage of the 5000 years old civilization and to the use this factor to promote harmony among nations.

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Beijing National Stadium (Bird¶s Nest)

High Tech Olympics:

Empirical results in the past had confirmed the fact that the ³Made in China´ label hurt the reputation of Chinese brands (Swystun; 2005). Through this Olympic games Chinese tried to remove these thoughts as well, they invested quite a lot in the technology, for instance the Chinese government imported special quality steel to the build the above shown Beijing National Stadium. This state of the art stadium required 30,000 tons of steel according to the government officials it has make the country proud (Berkowitz et al; 2007). Another major infrastructure improvement came in the transportation sector when the Chinese government introduced the magnetic levitation trains, the speed of these are trains are about 500 kilometers per hour. Berkowitz (2007) argued that the investments in the high-tech mechanisms

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will definitely enhance the country rating on the ANB Index, and it will enhance the credibility of Chinese exports (Berkowitz; 2007).

Green Olympics:

China has always been criticized for it being the leading emitter of green house gases. International pundits has argued that the environmental concerns were the foremost reasons because of which the Chinese Olympics bid was rejected in 2000, much to delight of international media and fans Chinese Government spent more than 12 billion dollars on environmental improvement projects (Hildebrandt; 2003).


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Building of parks and reduced dependency on coal and fossil fuels are couple of many environmental measures took by the government of China. Xin Xu (2006) argued the fact that by investing on environmental up gradation china is opening new doors of foreign direct investment and the credibility upon the governance of China (Xu; 2006). These efforts of Government of China will earn them points in the Anholt Nation Brand Index and its rating in both investments and governance might see a major increase (Berkowitz et al; 2007).

After the successful conclusion of the mega event, researches were done to gauge the change in brand image of China, the results clearly demonstrate the fact that the image of China has been improved quite a lot (Green Peace; 2008). In this short span of 5 years China has done quite a lot to ensure the image of China improve drastically. All the measures taken by Chinese Government and Olympic Committees made sure that they are able to communicate the message they wanted to communicate.

Many empirical studies concluded that although the foreigners like China, but they still have some negative perceptions, Ashley Esarey of Harvard University supported the fact that the brand image of China has definitely improved after the games (China Daily; 2008). There is no denying of the fact that China has made great strides to improve its brand image, but it will take quite a lot of effort in the upcoming years to build and consolidate on this solid platform laid by Beijing Olympics.


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This essay supported the argument that nation branding is one of the key exponent of today¶s success. In order to compete in this dynamic world, countries need to come up with strategies which help their cause of successfully developing the image they want to portray in front of other nations. As explained by Olins (2002) nation branding is an activity which is here to stay, most countries are keen to implement country branding strategies and in the upcoming years there is every chance of it being a normal practice (Olins; 2002).

As identified in the literature review that state branding is the perfect opportunity for developing countries to portray their self image, in the way in which they want to seen. Hence countries need to do their SWOT analysis to identify the position they are in and then to come up with strategies which can enhance the brand image of the nation (Kotler and Gertner; 2002).

In the second half of the essay author discussed the case of China, a country whose international reputation and image was not something to talk about, but through the proper implementation of strategies they now started to move in the right direction. The way they stage the biggest international event will always be remembered in the hearts of those who witnessed it. This can be said with any doubt that China has arrived on the world¶s centre stage and Beijing Olympics 2008 was just the start of Chinese dominance around the world.

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Sohaib Sohail University of London, (2008), ³Olympics lifts country's image among foreigners´ (accessed on 13-April2010) De Vicente, J., (2004), ³State Branding in the 21st Century´, Master Thesis, The Fletcher School, ( accessed on 10April-2010., ³One world, one dream´ (accessed on 12-April2010)., (2008) ³Green Peace´, (2003), ³Technology and its role in shaping a modern China´, ( accessed on 12-April2010. Marquand, R . (2006) ³China¶s media censorship rattling world image´, Christian Science Monitor, 24th Feb 2006, ( accessed on 12-April-2010. Swystun, J. (2005) ³The strategy for Chinese brands´ ( accessed on 12April-2010


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