Asia is a global economic hotspot. Asian countries are fast emerging as global economic super powers. If the Asian Tigers ignited the economic boom in the 90s, the Asian giants – China and India – are powering the Asian rise in recent years. Many factors make Asian markets more lucrative for quantum growth than many of the highly developed, sophisticated Western markets. Asian markets offer a huge captive market of more than 4 billion people, majority of whom are young, gradually making the transition to middle class, with high disposable income and craving for branded products. Such a combination has not only made home grown companies take advantage of the tremendous market potential, but the Western companies have also made a grand entry over the years.
In spite of the dominant Asian trading mindset, Asian companies have started to make strategic investments in building brands in order to attract and retain customers, and to earn better margins. In addition to demands for branded products, Asians and Westerners alike have unanimously supported Asia’s thriving tourism industry. Such demand has further propelled the tourism industry to invest heavily in building strong brands. The last decade has seen cities, islands and even countries very aggressively branding themselves in order to create a resonating identity among the customer base and build sustainable life time customer relationships. This article examines that very topic of country branding in the specific context of an Asian country, Indonesia.
Country branding refers to a process in which a country claims a distinct positioning in the minds of its citizens and the global customers. To claim such a positioning, the country does a lot of coordination and integration of a multitude of activities. Take for example Germany. The country is known across the world for precision engineering, and quality, so much so that German cars such as the BMW claims German engineering as one of its strong advantages. To achieve this global positioning, Germany ensured that it trained the best engineers, invested in developing the required research and development facilities, cutting edge technological infrastructure and the government also facilitated regulatory assistance for Germany to emerge as the leader in precision engineering. As is evident, claiming a distinct position is almost the end of an entire process whereby all the constituents of a country – the government, public and private corporations, the people, the many institutions, investors and others – are aligned to achieve an all encompassing goal. As such, branding a country is highly challenging.
Any country that has a strong brand also benefits the products and services that come out of that country. The country, from which a company (product/service/brand) originates, has an effect on the company’s perceived quality and likeability in the minds of consumers – this is the country of origin effect (COO). Swiss watches, French wine, Danish designs, Thai hospitality, Italian fashion, the 100% pure New Zealand are some of the well known examples. Research has proven that COO has a very strong influence on customers’ willingness to purchase products and the price level they are willing to consider.
Given this introduction, what is the position of Indonesia? Even though many other Asian countries seem to have captured a very strong brand position in the minds of customers worldwide, Indonesia does not readily conjure any particularly strong images and connections. Singapore: state of the art technology, Thailand: exotic beaches and cuisine, Malaysia: Truly Asia, and South Korea: Thriving cultural movement, world class electronics and scenic beauty. None of these connections are automatic. These countries have invested millions of dollars in building such a brand identity and then have ensured that the identity is consistently communicated to all possible stakeholders through all possible touch points worldwide.
In spite of being surrounded by such global branding jewels, Indonesia does not seem to have realized the value of developing a strong country brand for itself. Even though it might seem surprising to an onlooker, for a branding expert this is not very surprising. Branding trajectories are closely tied to a country’s economic situation, regulatory frameworks, dominant cultural roots and the customer mindsets. But given the strategic importance of branding countries, Indonesia should be very aggressive and proactive about building its country brand. Below are some suggested actionable guidelines.
To be successful in branding their countries, the following four steps can be strategically important:
Create an overall positive brand image: The fundamental step for countries is to create a very positive brand image. This not only ensures that tourists, customers, investors and corporations are attracted, but also projects a positive facet of the brand to prospective stakeholders around the world. This can be achieved through a phased system of creating basic awareness, creating excitement about the many facets of the country and then offering these many stakeholders a memorable and enriching brand experience (such as special showcases of the country, brand visits etc).
Establish brand associations through alliances: Some of the best country brands – Germany, New Zealand, and Switzerland – were not created in a vacuum. All these countries created an intricate network of alliances with their cities, their unique cultures, their people and cuisines, and their unique national heritage and exotic places. Such a thing can be achieved through consistent communication strategies, comprehensive tourism packages and showcasing of Indonesia to tourists who visit the country. Such moves will allow Indonesia to achieve the first step of creating an overall positive brand image and a unique position among all the other countries competing for attention.
Offer credible tangible product features: Once Indonesia is successful in creating positive brand image and associations, it will have to back them up with strong tangible product features. In this case, such features could be a well implemented public safety program, a world class infrastructure that would continue to awe the different stakeholders, a robust regulatory environment that would protect intellectual properties, and an overall enriching brand experience. Such tangible measures would reduce the gap between the brand vision and the brand experience, thereby allowing Indonesia to create a consistent and resonating brand identity with all the multiple stakeholders.
Manage the holistic brand experience: The final and most important step is to proactively manage the holistic customer and stakeholder experience. The government, public and private corporations, many other service providers, and the general population of the country together should take consistent steps to ensure that tourists, businesses and investors are offered enough opportunities to enjoy, grow and prosper. Further, any and every interaction that these stakeholders have with the outside world should be monitored to gain valuable feedback. An integral part of managing experiences is to constantly evolve the processes and procedures to ensure that the customers gain a reasonable rate of return on their investment.
There is no denying the fact that branding countries has become a strategic issue for most countries. Gone are the days when only global tourist locations invested in building brands. But given the ever changing global competitive landscape and the ever increasing choice set for investors, customers and tourists, creating a resonating identity and offering excellent opportunities become a matter of survival for countries, especially for developing countries that strives to carve out a strategic position in the competitive landscape. It is high time that Indonesia takes some concrete steps to build a global country brand and showcase all the assets Indonesia has to offer. The guidelines offered in this article will provide an excellent beginning towards that goal.