04 Aug Beyond the cosmetics
Malaysia is 56 years old and aspires to be a developed nation by 2020. As the country consolidates its position and strengthens desired values within a new nation brand, we join many others in pursuit of global brand power. In the successful market positioning of our many corporate and product brands, we not only signal our collective vision and capabilities as a country; more important, we tell others who we are as Malaysians, what values we held in the past and what values we will uphold in the future. In so doing, we become a member of a growing club of country brandbuilders where information (or perceptions) on our history, economy, culture, value systems and quality of life is widely disseminated through international media and evaluated through competitive nation brand rankings across the world.
Why is there this need for countries to posture such value associations? With brandbuilding commonly seen as a marketing or promotional process, should or could a country’s image be similarly enhanced the same way as a corporate, product or service brand?
Country of origin effects.
Many might think that ‘retailing’ or commercialising a nation and its values is not only inappropriate, but perhaps even misplaced. However, over the past few decades, the popularity of nation branding, triggered by a widely studied market phenomenon called ‘the country of origin effects’ has gained momentum.
Research continues to show that the strength of a nation brand influences the way buyers select products for consumption and also the way they choose destinations for tourism or investment. Examples of this phenomenon is how we associate a nation with the quality of their products or services. Think of French fashion, Swiss watches, German technologies, Italian shoes, Korean electronics (and recently music and entertainment), American fastfoods, Chinese silk and no one needs to tell us how and why we associate certain countries with distinctive products and services. What would South Korea’s image be today without Samsung, Japan without Toyota, India without Tata, and Malaysia without Petronas?
Value of a strong nation brand.
Brands created from within a nation shape market perceptions on the attractiveness or unattractiveness of their country of origin. The reverse is also true. Once strong brand equity is built at the country level, any offering produced by or associated with a particular nation will affect the speed of corporate, product and service acceptance – a brand principle long proven in the positioning and marketing of companies versus their products and services across industries. So, while aware that we are already influenced by the ‘Made in ?’ syndrome, how do we now identify and manage these ‘country of origin effects’ to Malaysia’s advantage?
As we engage in building of the ‘Malaysia Brand’, it is clear that no country can escape the market effects of its constituent brands, be they collectively positive or negative in impact. Until a structured nation branding approach is adopted, consumer perception of the Malaysia brand will be shaped by the market effects of its more prominent constituent or institutional national brands.
How are brands created? They are all formed through what people consistently see, feel and experience and how they perform across these dimensions relative to others in the market. In the development of a country or nation brand, the process begins with the development of brand ‘form’ (what people see in the tangible structures of our national identity), the knowledge of our national ‘character’ or personality, and finally the experience of ‘delivery’.
A comprehensive audit of our country-of-origin effects will illuminate where we stand as a nation in form, character and delivery. With this information, all it takes is to build a cohesive identity, credibility of purpose and consistency of delivery. Not easy for a multicultural nation with the many stakeholder objectives and preferences.
But on greater clarity of identity, a stronger ‘sense of self’, ‘sense of place’ and ‘sense of country’ would undoubtedly emerge.
(This article first appeared in The Edge on 24 August 2013)