By Efe Sevin
Last week, we had a short discussion about a new branding initiative, Brand USA, Inc, on Place Management & Branding’s Facebook page. I just wanted to write a short post about my take of this project. By coincidence, I, together with a colleague from Howard University, decided to drive to Louisiana from Washington, DC. to attend National Communication Association’s Annual Conference. On our way to New Orleans, we had the opportunity to observe how “Yes We Can!” and “Change” bumper stickers were replaced by humongous crosses and “We do not deliver ‘aids’ to our enemies” slogans. Let me shortly reflect on Brand USA and my interaction with my observation of ‘diverse’ America.
Brand USA, Inc (formerly the Corporation for Travel Promotion) is a public private partnership to attract more international visitors. They launched their website – along with presence on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn – last week. There are a couple of shocking (well not so shocking if you are involved in the field) figures and noteworthy points.
1) In their initial presentation, they show annual promotional budgets of 9 countries, averaging over $100.000.000 (million). Countries are indeed taking destination branding/marketing seriously.
2) In their promotional video, they argue that US is more than a collection of diverse destinations – it is an idea. Even though some of these promises and values get more and more difficult to believe as I move south on I-59S, American brand can be based on these perceptions.
Place branding campaigns more and more started to break the link between ‘place’ and ‘space’. Places exist when they have an audience (Boisen et al., 2011), and place branding is an aspect of place-making, idea-creating, influencing process in this sense. One has to negotiate the meaning of a given territorial identity with domestic and foreign audiences (Shameless self-advertising Vol.1. Here is my article about this process and ethical concerns).
In other words, the move from travel promotion to place branding (Kavaratzis, 2004) pushes the practitioners to get more involved in place-making processes. Brand USA, Inc – in this sense – aims to gather marketing techniques with place branding/place making understanding.
3) Similarly, the organizational move from Travel Promotion to Brand USA supports their willingness to create a brand, rather than simply fixing another logo and slogan to the American image [though I actually liked the United States of Awesome Possibilities].
4) Brand USA asked foreign audience to send their perceptions about USA in the form of a postcard – a nice way of collecting initial data. However, I fear they might have run into a similar problem with product reviews. (i.e. You only write a review if you are extremely happy or unhappy with the product/service. Users are very unlikely to write ‘It was a dinner’ or ‘The charger I got charges my phone’.)
In this age, we have to find better ways to collect data – and asking for postcards (though its objectivity disputable) is an innovative approach.
5) Brand USA, Inc is also looking for Brand Ambassadors to tell America’s story. This is, again, not a new approach [I actually tried to argue for the effectiveness of ambassadors in a 2010 paper (Shameless self-advertising Vol.2)]. Yet, it is a nice personal/grassroots touch.
Overall, I am excited about this project. It is one of the dozens I know working for an American brand – but I am impressed by their model and branding understanding.
Here is Brand USA, Inc’s website: http://www.thebrandusa.com/
Here is their website for visitors: http://www.discoveramerica.com/
Here are the articles I mentioned in my post: