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The State of a Nation’s Branding

18 Mar 2017

World Travel Market is a massive speed dating session. Every country brushes up, looking as attractive as possible.  But, when it comes to persuading, voices drive our choices.

Before conversations start, countries use words to position themselves. Straplines abound.  Like, ‘Imagine Your Korea’.

Can you imagine your Korea? Even if you’ve been before it’s a struggle to know what’s yours. It’s an impossible (and largely pointless) task if you haven’t.  As a line it raises the white flag; essentially asking you to describe why you should visit, yourself.

Mongolia’s effort, ‘Nomadic by Nature’, is neat work.  In three words it sums up core difference and personality profile. Potential visitors are likely to be nomadic in their own nature. This isn’t spoken by luck – quality creative thought has gone in.

These examples show how hard it is to start a conversation.  It’s even harder to continue one. Especially when many countries are speaking to similar audiences. Why should people choose your country over others?

We did a major piece of analysis for an Australian state. It included both regional and international rivals for tourist affections. And despite all the talk of wine (bizarrely even Canada mentions it) the analysis was sobering.

Over 60% of what the destinations talked about was generic. They were saying pretty much the same thing as each other. And the biggest thing they talked about to attract European tourists? History and heritage. Art and culture was top of Australia’s national agenda. You’re never going to topple Europe’s lead in history and culture, so why even try? The reason, of course, is the influence of governments on national agendas. Many parts of the New World want to be seen as sophisticated, culture vultures.  But people are attracted by difference from home, not similarity. In effect these countries were encouraging people to stay in Europe.

Some experienced tourist marketers argue convincingly that countries can’t all be different. But, partly, this is because tourist boards focus very heavily on geographical features and food and drink. How many whiter beaches, taller mountains or tastier steaks can you have?

This focus on things leads to a strongly masculine tone of voice. There’s precious little about people, relationships or what the experience will be for you. New Zealand was the only country with high levels of affinity, that’s ‘you’ and ‘your’. But when it comes to visitors’ experiences it’s nearly all about people. And arguably every country has a different people-profile. That’s why national states exist isn’t it?

Getting to the bottom of national personality doesn’t have to be smiley, schmaltzy stuff – it simply has to be true and appealing. Eurostar’s ‘Stories Are Waiting’ campaign is happy to highlight occasional Parisian grouchiness. And who goes to New York expecting the locals to be polite, patient and restrained?

Without something unique and appealing to say you’re just shouting into the wind. Converting character into communications is a great starting point.

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