Do you ever peer out the aircraft window and do a mental ranking of the various airlines taxiing along the tarmac? Does the extra-long Airbus with the gleaming white fuselage and yellow bird on the tail say confident and safe or corporate and arrogant? What about the same aircraft with the tutti-frutti livery and rounded, friendly font? Does it suggest 10 hours of non-stop in-flight fun or potentially the last flight of your life? How about the jolly looking commuter plane in three shades of blue with the angular logo? Does it say “fast, efficient, I’ll get you there on time” or “bankrupt and ground-ed by the end of the month?”
If you’re a hardened plane-spotter (that would be us), how much are your opinions of these airlines prejudiced by the flag they fly under? Is it possible to judge a brand on the merit of colour scheme and typography alone? If airlines can do it, can countries do the same? Many governments seem to think so.
Whether they’re in the market for a fresh coat of paint, a new slogan or going it alone, nations and rebellious territories alike have never had it better when it comes to choice in flag-makers, constitution consultants and anthem writers. The image consultants have never had it better either.
If brand is everything then the concept of place branding is still virgin territory within a well-served and saturated sector. In tiny town halls and the parliament buildings of nations loved and unloved, leaders, advisors and consultants are making phones ring in the branding hubs of New York, London and Hong Kong. The result is that Stockholm has been fashioned as the capital of Scandinavia and as any CNN viewer can sing: Malaysia’s truly Asia.
For clients with a strong proposition like Stockholm, a rather grand slogan and a little bit of graphic design might do the trick in cementing the message with Chinese government agencies who want to snatch up dormant factories around the capital or Indian carriers who want a hub to connect them to North America. States or territories without the raw assets have to work a bit harder on the ground to build a credible, legitimate story and then spend big to sell it to a sceptical, snarky world.
Which brings us back to our airlines. Do you want to cross large bodies of water on Lufthansa or Air Jamaica? Do you want to invest in a start-up in Cologne or Kingston? What are the essential assets to sustain success or move your way up to the top table? (See our 10 quick fixes to enhance your national brand image).
For this sixth issue of Monocle we looked at a variety of states: failed, fledgling and unfamiliar. From Khartoum we report on how the capital is going about the business of branding itself while Darfur prepares to receive its first wave of UN peacekeepers. From Abkhazia our correspondent looks at the challenges of a state that’s yet to gain international recognition, and its prospects for independence. And from half-way up the Gulf of Bothnia our contributing editor reports from little-known Åland on how its state-within-a-state model might serve as an example for Kosovo.
For comment and context we asked a series of bright sparks to contemplate everything from Brand Africa to what a refreshed version of the United States of America might look like (the Stars and Stripes take a back seat) to what you do with a place like Poland.
In between we questioned branding experts from around the world about where they think has the best country identity and which nations they’d like to get their mitts on.
And finally, for a splash of pure fantasy we let our Milan correspondent and London-based art department create a new take on an old state by letting Liguria and Monaco join forces to become Costazzurra – a thriving Mediterranean powerhouse to rule the region.
How to get your name known
You’ve mastered the basics (a respectable ranking on various transparency indexes, good human rights record, healthy citizens, decent inward investment) but you’re still a bit of a nowhere nation according to a recent global poll. Of the thousands of people interviewed for the survey by a major think-tank, the data revealed that people don’t have much of an opinion about your country one way or the other. They also don’t know what you’re famous for, who your heroes are or what you export. What to do?
You can either call in a team of highly paid consultants or you can study our 10 point, self-help guide to improving your national brand and save your taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in the process. Having deconstructed the elements that make some countries more appealing than others, we’ve developed a shopping list for heads of state in search of fixes both quick and more complicated. Master all 10 on our list and you might even inherit the world.
Develop an appealing national cuisine
There’s no easier way to spread international good-will, understanding and introduce (impose) your culture on others than going via the stomach. It’s worked for Italy, Japan, Mexico and more recently Thailand and Korea. Given its questionable human rights record and approach to basic civil liberties, where would China be without its varied cuisines?
Develop a wine, beer, spirits industry
In the absence of something interesting to pull out of the oven, developing vineyards or micro-breweries is an easy way to position yourself as an innovator and suggest to the rest of the world that there are smart entrepreneurs in your country who are both creative and fun to spend an evening with.
Be recognised for being fair and just
No one wants to spend a decade waiting to have their grievance heard. Nor do they want to spend a similar span of time behind bars because the justice system is corrupt. An efficient legal system breeds inward investment and, for the most part, a sense of fair play.
Re-engineer the heavens
Perhaps one of the more tricky things to master but good weather can do wonders for your national brand image – particularly if you fall short in other areas. If you’re a country like Sweden you spend a lot of money on expensive photographers and make the world believe that all your summers are sunny and every bare rock poking out of the Baltic is draped with bronzed boys and girls.
A good brand travels
Would Singapore have achieved its current status without its airline? Ditto Dubai without Emirates? A well run, safe and iconic airline, shipping line or rail network is an excellent way to both punch above your weight and capture imaginations on distant shores.
Polite, well mannered nationals go down a treat in any situation and act as a secondary, if not frontline, foreign service. At home, a properly behaved populace keeps visitors coming back for more.
Go easy on religion
You heard us and you get our drift.
Visitors and investors will never go home and talk about how much they loved the museums but they will bore dinner party guests with tales about punctual trams, how wonderful the airport is and what wonders the schools are.
Build brands people want
We didn’t want to return to Sweden but the country’s done something rather extraordinary for a nation of nine million. Foreign aid and intake of Iraqi refugees aside, it’s also produced two international retail brands that have been adopted by consumers around the world. Offering good design at a good price, Ikea and H&M have done much to boost Sweden’s brand equity globally.
Invest in athletics
If all else fails, throw everything you’ve got at sport programmes up and down your country and aim to scoop gold at the next Olympics, clean up at Wimbledon and return home with the World Cup.