3 June 2020
DRD Advisor, David Landsman, looks at the criteria and branding for countries to come out of the pandemic on top.
COVID-19 is a global pandemic, but it’s also a local shock for every country too. Once it’s under control, we’ll see which countries have enhanced their reputations and which have lost out. We should be wary of premature rankings of infection or death rates, especially when we still know very little about the virus and its longer-term trajectory.
More broadly, governments businesses universities and others will be watching the “country brand” league tables carefully to see what effect COVID has had. While many rankings will remain fundamentally unchanged, the shock will provide some countries with an opportunity to seek out a stronger position, while others may need to do some repair work.
The first step towards making a success of country branding is to understand what success looks like? Some sophisticated “soft power” metrics have been developed, covering everything from economic strength to governance and connectivity in education, technology, culture and sport. But before looking at the numbers, it’s important to understand the underlying assumptions.
If you’re a foreign policy analyst, you’ll be interested in country brands from a strategic perspective. But if you’re responsible for FDI or tourism or recruiting overseas students, your interest may be more focused. At this level, the criteria aren’t the same for all countries. Just as a budget airline that exceeds its passengers’ expectations may be more successful than one which promises “full service” but disappoints, one country may be less successful than another as a FDI destination, but stronger on tourism. It’s also important to be aware of systemic biases. A ranking produced by a European think tank may rate governance and political stability differently from another in Asia. It all depends on your audience.
It may help to look also at how businesses think about brand and reputation among their various stakeholders, from customers and suppliers to employees and neighbours. One significant criterion is trust. There are three main drivers: quality, integrity and reliability. Are the company’s products and services of the desired quality? Are they innovative? Does the company treat its stakeholders responsibly, particularly in those areas which are key to their experience of it – for example a car has to be safe, a bank honest with money? Can you trust the company to do consistently what it says it will do?
This could be a useful model for countries too. Who’s the audience: potential tourists, investors, the “international community”? How are we doing on quality, integrity and reliability? After COVID-19 will be a good moment to re-run these tests.
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