Do you remember the time when some nations or their progressive leaders/decision makers thought of nation branding as an innovative and cool tool to position their country in a globalized world?! That is to say: a time when nation branding was (deliberately) used by countries like Japan, France, or Australia to market their strengths and to show the world why it makes sense to visit their country or invest in it (by actual direct investment or by buying its export products etc.). Well, nation branding will probably take on a new dimension. The objectives will be similar to common nation branding, but the reasons for doing it will be completely different: Countries are going to use it as a last resort in order to rescue what there is left or in order to recover from a total (political, economic, social/cultural, ecological) crash or crisis. Here are four examples:
Countries in the Middle East
Even though Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Bahrain and all their neighbors have very distinct differences with regard to history, economy, society, politics, they are all standing on the brink: The Arab Spring brought tremendous changes to the region and changed many certainties. Jordan has more and more been perceived as a hopeful progressive kingdom. Israel has an extremely innovative computer industry. Egypt has always been qualified for large-scale tourism. And Bahrain has been advancing its post-petroleum economy, especially with regard to finance. But this all does not really matter at the moment – the world looks at the regions and tries to find out how each country relates and reacts to the Arab Spring. It is even more politics now than it has already been in the Middle East. A country wants to boost its tourism industry, advance its high tech sector, play the role of a mediator in the region, or market itself as the freest economy in the Arab world? Fine, but this undertaking will fail if no strategy is found to present the country’s politics in a trustworthy way. Otherwise, none of the countries in the Middle East will welcome all the tourists, investors, or statesmen that would like to come.
Is it still an image problem or has the United States already lost its superior position in the world economy? US-Americans are trying to understand how their strong nation could not only be the epicenter of THE financial and economic crisis of the 21st century, but also lack so many features in order to deal with this critical situation. Years of political divide and economic outsourcing and especially offshoring have built a systematic cancer that seems to have already attacked many aspects of the US – its society with respect to hopes and fears, its political system, the financial market, the housing market, and particularly its economy. In times of skyrocketing budget deficits, high unemployment rates, a significant natural resource dependence, signs of a double-dip recession, and widespread fear of China’s rise to the top, it is hard to believe that America will be perceived worldwide as it still was a few years ago. Major actions are necessary in order to secure the image of economic strength and innovative power. Otherwise, not many firms will invest in a country that its own people see as desperately lost.
Is it closer to the Western world or to the Islamic world? Is it a democracy or on its way to a Sharia-ruled society? The latest developments in Turkey have posed a lot of questions to country experts, politicians, and businessmen. Unsolved issues with the Kurds, plans for a censorship-like online filter, a cultural war between liberals and Islamists in the field of academia and judiciary etc. In which direction will Turkey go? Without any doubts, its economy and political weight will ensure Turkey’s major role in the upcoming years. However, a country will have a hard time attracting innovative investors, creative thinkers, or efficient and dedicated bureaucrats if it does not solve its internal conflicts that bear the risk of tearing the nation apart. Turkey might have to undertake major efforts in order to present itself as a modern, economically sound country with an integrative society that will support the decision makers’ vision of a Turkey striving for power and success.
From the perspective of nation branding, it is not so much the ‚Tsunami-Fukushima’ disaster per se that puts Japan in a difficult position. It is the manifested imbalance between Japan’s deliberate marketing of its technological superiority and the actual reality. How can a country deal with the current situation if the belief in and reliance on high tech is ubiquitous and similar to religion? From this year on, the world has a different idea about Japan – influenced and partly formed by pictures of technological doomsday and environmental devastation. It will be essential to review the Japan brand related to a society in harmony with nature – now that the world is witnessing the destruction of the precious environment and wildlife in the region.
Overall, these four examples underscore how nation branding will probably fill in a new role: closer linked to crisis management and ‘crash recovery’ than to marketing the beautiful aspects and the strengths of a country.