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Country Branding has many different definitions. However, there are two relatively broad definitions that exist:

The first definition describes Country Branding as the process of using branding methods to promote the image of a nation or a place. It is the use of marketing and branding tools to ensure a change in the perception and attitude of a specific target group towards a place’s image.

The second avoids associating Country Branding with the processes of branding and marketing using terms such as “the strategic self-representation” of a country or “the vehicle” that can help a country, a region or a city reach economic and social objectives. This second definition avoids the term "branding" in order to ensure that the strategy of country branding is not confused with a product branding campaign. It emphasises the fact that places are very different from products and that it would be wrong to approach both of the strategies in a similar way.

Further Definitions

According to Rainisto and Moilanen, "Places can be branded like products and services. Place branding aims especially at increasing the attractiveness of a place. Branding does not just involve loose marketing activities, but holistic development that influences the whole place. Place branding brings added attraction to a place. A branded place makes people aware of the location and connects desirable associations. It is possible to discover for each place a combination of unique attraction factors to make it different from the competing ones." (Moilanen,T; Rainisto,S: How to Brand Nations, Cities and Destinations: A Planning book for place branding, Palgrave Macmillan, 2009)

According to José Filipe Torres, cited by Forbes and The Economist as being “a world renowned specialist in country branding”, “there is a big confusion between what is a country branding strategy and what is advertising.”[1] In his opinion country branding “is an asset and a tool for a country to establish a strategic development in the areas of trade, tourism, and talent.” [2]

According to Simon Anholt[3]who is often referred to as the "founder" of the Nation Branding[4]and Place Branding terms, concepts, field of study and practice, "the only remaining superpower is public opinion - and we are all, in one way or another, talking about effective diplomacy with that superpower."


Even though the term Country Branding would first suggest that it is only concerned with the branding of countries, it actually embraces all type of places: cities, countries and regions. The following terms are all interchangeable, although there are some differences between them:

Country Branding - specific to countries
A country is defined by its political location containing all of the regions, cities and geographic locations within its political boundaries. A country is a self-governing political entity and has its own political system that separates it from being a nation. Country Branding is therefore the way the political location is branded using its image, regions, cities and cultural assets to demonstrate its overall attractiveness to the public.
Nation Branding - specific to nations
A nation is very similar to a country, however it is defined as a group of people or a community who share a common culture. This differs to a country, which is separated by its political location and political identity. Nation branding is specific to branding each of these communities, focusing on the people as a whole.
Place Branding - specific to places
A place is an area that could include a small region and/or a city of any particular size. A place is usually defined as a location of inhabitants such as a town, city or a point of interest. Place branding is the process of communicating the image of the nations, regions and cities in the particular place to a target market in order to compete for people, resources and business with other places.
Geographical Branding - specific to geographical locations
Geographical Branding takes into account the area of the world specifically rather than the country, nation, or city itself. For example, the geographical location could be as vague as being ‘Northern Spain’, which would not take into account regional borders or whole communities, as it is based purely on geographical location. It includes an area of land, a set of features and the inhabitants in that area. Geographical branding is most relevant in wine branding.
Region Branding - specific to regions
Regions are specific areas within a country and are defined by their physical characteristics, the local people and the environmental positioning. The borders of a region are not clearly defined unless it shares a border of another country and its politically defined boundaries. In order to brand a region, the public message is often mainly focused on the region’s physical and environmental characteristics and the local people.
City Branding - specific to cities and how their qualities and their image can be marketed
A city is similar to a town and in many cases it is not clear how a particular settlement should be defined unless it is approved by law to be a city. A city brand includes its people, monuments, environmental qualities and any positive characteristics that distinguish it from other cities or make it special.
Development of Countries - development of countries refers to strengthening countries’ economies in order to improve the standard of living and their global standing
A country’s economy must be improved through creating business, which also requires sufficient branding in order to market each business to the rest of the world. As an economy grows, so should its external image. A common trait of developed countries is that they all have built up cities with modern infrastructure and a healthy level of GDP. The most effective form of strengthening a country’s economy is through FDI inflows. This can be achieved by advertising local brands that bring FDI into the country and help to improve the country’s GDP.

Key Players

The three main key players who constantly invest in research and have ongoing contracts with different governments are:

Photo Name Title Organisation Comment Link
Jose Filipe Torres CEO Bloom Consulting Strategies for Spain, Portugal, Poland, Latvia, Bulgaria, regions of Madrid, Castilla y Leon and Southwest Portugal [5]
Simon Anholt Independent Policy Advisor British government's Public Diplomacy Board Publications: "Brand America. The mother of all brands", Places: Identity, Image and Reputation, Competitive Identity: the new brand management for nations, cities and regions journal: "Place Branding and Public Diplomacy"; strategies for Netherlands, Latvia, Croatia, Bhutan. [6]
Wally Olins Chairman Saffron Brand Consultants Strategies for Mauritius, Northern Ireland, Poland, Portugal; publications: "Trading Identities. Why countries and companies are taking on each other's role" [7]

For more information please visit: Experts

History & Evolution

Earlier Approaches

There have been many theories on how long ago country branding started. The closest example to the way it is practiced today goes back 150 years, when the American government was encouraging people to move from the East to the West Coast. (Moilanen,T; Rainisto,S: How to Brand Nations, Cities and Destinations: A Planning book for place branding, Palgrave Macmillan, 2009)

However, during the end of the industrialization process, country branding grew in importance. The end of industrialization brought about an increase of unemployment and social problems. Cities and countries realized that the attraction of new investment was vital. Consequently, in the late '70s and '80s, many American cities started branding themselves. The most noticeable campaigns are New York's 1977 “I Love New York” campaign, as well as Chicago’s '89 campaign: “Chicago would like to remind you that the first four letters of its name is Chic”. Boston’s mayor, Mayor White, was also recognized as one of the pioneering city leaders to combine public relations, advertising and marketing tools in order to position his city as one of the top cities in the world. Following the example of Boston, place branding evolved and started to be widely used in combination with PR tools. In the 1980s, physical changes in cities (constructing landmark buildings, organizing areas of the city in a way that would attract a specific type of investment, etc.) were also used in the promotional strategy of places. One of the most known examples is the Canary Wharf project in London. During the same period, place branding also started to take a more professional approach as many advertising agencies began to handle place promotion campaigns. (Ward,S: Selling Places: The Marketing and the Promotion of Towns and Cities 1850-2000,Spon Press, London, UK, 1998)

The main shift in the management approach of public authorities can be linked to the 1985 conference in Orleans where “academics, businessmen and policy makers from eight large cities in seven advanced capitalist countries” came together to discuss the benefits of governments and public entities being more proactive. At the end of the conference, there was a general consensus that there was a need to shift from “managerialism” to “entrepreneurialism”. To ensure a place’s economic development in an advanced capitalist world, places needed to do more than just manage the life of people. It was necessary to find ways to bring in more wealth and sustainable development by using new marketing tools. (Ward,S: Selling Places: The Marketing and the Promotion of Towns and Cities 1850-2000,Spon Press, London, UK, 1998)

Wallace 'Wally' Olins, (December 19, 1930 – April 14, 2014) was a British practitioner of corporate identity and branding who was Chairman of Saffron Brand Consultants. Olins, could be referred to as the "father of country branding" as he advised many of the world’s leading organizations on identity, branding, communication and related matters. Olins was awarded a CBE in 1999. He was nominated for the Prince Philip Designers Prize in 1999 and received the Royal Society of Arts’ Bicentenary Medal in 2000. He was given the D&AD President’s Award in 2003 and the Reputation Institute's first ever Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006. Olins was an Honorary Fellow of St. Peter's College Oxford and in 2013 was awarded an Honorary Professorship at UPC in Lima, Peru.

Finally, many authors also agree that globalization had an important role in the development of the field of country branding. As José Filipe Torres, a consultant in the field, would say: "Convergence of cultures, European Union extension, emerging economies looking West, affordable tourism destinations and of course Internet, made all countries and geographies realize that they too, can have an influence on their inflow and outflow of residents, tourists and investors. All of a sudden, geographies started communicating ferociously in major tourism and economic publications, dreamful ideas that their location was in fact the best place to visit or invest." (Torres, José F.: How Country branding, as a professionalized service, was born, July 2009 available at: http://countrybranding-josefilipetorres.blogspot.com.es/2009/07/how-country-branding-as.html)

Contemporary Approaches

Today, the field of country branding is very well established, with consultants, academics and agencies making it their area of specialisation. There are no specific numbers regarding how many countries and cities are actively carrying out promotional projects, but it is clear that it is, at present, a very widely spread practice. The estimation of the cost of Nation Branding in the world is $1 trillion per year. The methods of country branding have evolved and are currently very diverse. Tools, such as Sports Events, Cultural Events, Public Diplomacy, Nation-brands, Public Private Partnerships and many others, are often used individually or combined to form a strategy.

Particularities of Country Branding

Comparison between country branding and product branding
Country brand Product brand
Offer Nothing on offer A product or service on offer
Attributes Difficult to define Well defined
Benefits Purely emotional Functional and emotional
Image Complicated, various, vague Simple, clear
Associations Secondary, numerous and diverse Primary and secondary, relatively fewer and more specific
Purpose To promote country image To help sales and development relationships
Ownership Unclear, multiple stakeholders Sole owner
Audience Diverse, hard to define Target segment

Source: Fan, Y. (2006) Branding the nation: what is being branded?, p.7, in: Journal of Vacation Marketing, Vol. 12, No.1, pp. 5-14.

As hard as it is to find one single definition of Country Branding that everyone would consent to, almost every specialist in the field agrees on the following differences between the branding of a place and the branding of a product:

- The complexity of the place and its collective character:

A place is much more complex than a product. It is hard and arguably impossible to define a place as one single homogeneous brand; places mean different things for different people. It is not the same as a product whose image can be defined from one single point of view. So many people participate in so many different ways in shaping a place, which makes the building of a branding strategy very complex.

- Difficulty of controlling a place:

Places change in an uncontrollable and unpredictable way and for this reason a place branding campaign should take into consideration the volatile identity of the place. Places change not only through time but also depending on the season. A customer’s experience in a specific city in winter can be very different from the one in summer, for example.

- Disturbance in the communication process:

Communication channels in a place branding campaign are very hard to control. Information about places is constantly created in a chaotic way and distributed by a number of different and often contradictory messages.

- The customer’s implication in the building of the brand:

A person's experience in a place plays a crucial role in the definition of the place’s identity. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to define a place’s identity that would embrace the experience of every person that had been there.

- Politics:

A place’s image is directly affected by the political situation. It is very difficult to design a place branding strategy that takes into consideration the unpredictability of political events that could occur during or after the implementation of the branding strategy.

- Conflicting Objectives:

Country branding campaigns are usually designed to benefit a number of actors in a place and it is often the case that all of these actors have different objectives and conflicting interests. For this reason, the objective setting of place branding campaigns is much more difficult than the objective setting of product branding campaigns.

As Wally Olins said, ¨the idea of a nation as a brand - as Kellogg´s Cornflakes is a brand - is a very big mistake¨. Products can be modified, taken out from the market, relaunched, discontinued and re-positioned or replaced by improved products. Countries, nations or places do not have most of these choices.

Efficiency of Campaigns

To see summaries of cases, please read this article: Case Studies

Since Country Branding is not an exact science and the process takes time to give results, it is hard to say for certain if a campaign succeeded or not.

However, a few cases have been recognized as success stories. Many authors have, for instance, mentioned Spain, the United Arab Emirates, Croatia and Scotland in the list of the success story campaigns. After Franco, Spain was able to reposition itself as a vibrant and modern country and replace the dark image that was generally perceived by the public. The United Arab Emirates is a good example of a country that created a sustainable tourism industry without initially having anything to offer: “It doesn’t have the Eiffel Tower, it doesn’t have the pyramids, it’s very hot, it doesn’t have the world’s most beautiful beaches, but there’s something about it that intrigues people and, arguably, a lot of that is that they started promoting themselves” writes Rina Plapler in this article; http://nation-branding.info/2010/03/13/great-cnbc-story-on-nation-branding/

Nevertheless, as much as the field of Country Branding made its start with a lot of enthusiasm, some skepticism started to grow in recent years. There have been some doubts around the use of the word “branding”, as it was looked at by many countries and agencies as a way of hoping for a quick fix for a country’s positioning.

-Simon Anholt states that: “Nation branding does not exist; it is a myth, and rather a dangerous one. The idea that it is possible to ‘do branding’ to a country (or to a city or region) in the same way that companies ‘do branding’ to their products and services, is vain and foolish.”[8].

- Nicolas Papadopoulos, A country branding Scholar stresses that "Branding is still a fad. Lots of cities, regions, provinces and countries have jumped on the bandwagon and are starting to do place branding, and that’s why there are so many errors and examples of poor performance. But in the long run, I think it will work. Place branding makes sense. The future is good. The whole business will mature."

- José Filipe Torres asserts that one of the problems is that “Country Branding has been used incorrectly and inconsistently. Most of the time country Branding has been used with several objectives at the same time, such as attraction of tourism; attraction of trade; public diplomacy; national pride, among many others. However, this is a utopia because most of the objectives are antagonistic. Objectives for tourism are completely different from trade and trying to feet the two together will only create resistant internally and confusion externally. There for that’s way most of the country brand strategy has bad reputation.”

Building a Country Branding Strategy

Reasons for initiating a Country Branding Strategy

There are a number of reasons why a place can initiate a Country Branding strategy:

- Attract companies and/or foreign direct investment

- Promote the Tourism industry

- Promote Public Diplomacy

- Promote Exports

- Strengthen Citizens' identity and Self Esteem

Type of Countries/Places that should initiate a Branding Strategy

This aspect should be, of course, looked at on a case-by-case basis. However, generally, every country or city that enjoys relative political stability can initiate a country branding strategy. It may be that countries that have suffered with reputation in the past need branding more urgently to highlight to the world their positive assets but any country/nation/region or city can participate in branding.

- Aparna Sharma, founding member and former CEO of the India Brand Equity Foundation asserts that “Nation branding is an essential strategy to project, position and promote a country. The established goals of nation branding vary across the spectrum from attracting high quality investments, to recruiting the best and the brightest, wielding political influence, exporting goods and services and attracting tourism.”

Example of a Strategy Building Process

Each consultant, agency and academic has a different approach to building a place branding strategy. The link below is an example shared by José Filipe Torres from Bloom Consulting:


Budget & Financing

A good country branding strategy usually costs at least $1 million, though the budget will vary depending on the respective countries’ needs. Typically, Country Branding strategies are financed by Ministries of Economy who, depending on the country’s geographical location, can turn to specific entities (such as the European Commission, the African Bank for Development or the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) for funding. There are also more innovative ways of financing a country branding strategy, for example by inviting the private sector to contribute in the form of fees.

It is important to note that, as the financing usually comes from taxpayers’ money, therefore it is essential to ensure a certain level of transparency throughout the process.

Preparing a bid, Launching a bid and choosing a consultant

It is essential to involve a number of different parties (trade institutions, tourism institutions, cultural institutions, FDI institutions etc.) in the preparation of a bid. This ensures avoiding repetition and overlapping of projects. It is necessary for all parties to agree on a common strategy that would align the goals of all stakeholders.

The choice of consultant varies according to the requirements of the country, nevertheless, the project should include both a consulting phase and an implementation phase. Countries and cities should not skip the first consulting stage, which is the most important of the stages, and should never jump directly into advertising and marketing strategies.

Ideally, the project should be divided into three phases:

- A consulting phase done by a specialist consultant body

- A primary implementation phase done by a marketing or branding agency

- The implementation phase done by an advertising agency

Traditional Aspects in the Development of a Country Branding Strategy

Creating a Country Branding strategy is a complex task and requires a high level of coordination between stakeholders. In general, the programme is based on clear projects, which can be easily transferred into understandable and flexible symbols. This makes it possible to reach different target groups (residents, businessmen, tourists). In the majority of cases, the strategy is supervised by the national government, in cooperation with particular ministries (e.g. foreign affairs, culture, trade) and must be supported by marketing specialists.

When building a country branding programme, it is very important to have financial stability at all stages to facilitate the flow of information between stakeholders and those who support them.

There are a number of guidelines that should be followed in order to succeed in creating a country branding strategy:

- Strategic approach: The development of a Country Brand cannot be determined by short-term propositions. The strategy needs to be planned with perspective and needs to suit the brand of the country for many years.

- Holistic approach: Country Branding processes cannot be treated as isolated initiatives (limited only to tourism promotion). A well-designed strategy should include areas such as FDI, exports and public diplomacy. Hence, all those fields must be included in the branding process.

- Stakeholder involvement: The Country Branding process is a multi-level enterprise, which involves not only governmental representatives but also companies, public organizations, media, and so on.

- Brand identity as a central issue: The programme must be based on an identity which can be accepted by all stakeholders in order to communicate the brand across different products and markets.

- Both inward and outward Branding: The idea of the country branding process must be supported by society and gradually become a kind of “social movement”.[1]

"The first stage in positioning a brand is to set up core values, which should be durable, relevant and communicable. This process should give an overview of the current situation of the nation brand, how the brand exists in the consumer’s mind (method: for example focus group, in-depth interview). It must be accompanied by comparison with key competitors. The aim of the research is to establish people’s motivations, needs, barriers to travel to the country, images about particular country."[2].

"The next step is to define what the country stands for and determine how it should be translated into brand personality (this can be difficult because sometimes the nation is perceived in a different way by its inhabitants and by foreigners). Some values come to people minds naturally and spontaneously, some are created. The aim is to develop brand essence, which captures the wholeness of a nation brand. However, brand essence is not an equivalent with a tagline from promotional campaign. Brand essence represents the destination’s identity, is timeless, and relevant across markets and products. On that basis, the communication strategy must be elaborated in order to launch the brand. At this level, financial support is extremely significant. Key aspect is to concentrate not only on advertising. In fact, stakeholders can do more for the brand (interactive media, direct marketing) than any particular promoting campaign."[3]

Mr. José Filipe Torres also says that the important issue in building a country branding programme is concentrating on numbers in order to make the project more tangible and therefore more understandable and acceptable for society. The objectives of the plan must be measurable so that it gives justification for more investments and an explanation of the benefits for the country. To get a better perspective of the project, it is recommendable to hire a company or consultant that can provide objective and professional advice.[4]

Timing of Execution and Results Expectations

There is no standard length of time for a country branding campaign but the timeline should be in accordance with the political cycle because the objectives and the financing of the strategy are usually very dependent on the political body in power.

The results in terms of brand equity and brand recognition are almost impossible to measure and, even when they can be measured, it is very hard to isolate a direct relationship between a campaign and the perception of a country’s image. For this reason, the only way to look at the result of the country branding strategy is by setting the GDP growth and economic objectives.

However, Dr Gerlinde Manz-Christ, President of the Association for Place Branding & Public Diplomacy believes that "country branding done properly is measurable, but only if done with a clear goal and for the long term. The problem often is that people enthusiastically go for an often-costly country branding project, losing interest when quick wins don’t come fast and easy."

Common Errors

Country Branding is not a quick fix. A country needs a sustainable development model to be able to attract investment and tourism and to portray a good image of itself to the rest of the world.

- Dr Gerlinde Manz-Christ states "it takes years, a lot of constant effort and hard work to firmly establish and then further develop a country brand. The belief by countries that they ought to be doing country branding, especially when they see all their neighbours doing it, has led to much misguided investment that does little to change anyone’s mind about where they’ll travel to, invest in or who they’ll hire."

- Simon Anholt has asserted that “confusing tourism promotion with nation branding is a common mistake, selling vacations is quite different from improving its overall image, and getting more tourists can indeed be achieved, partly, through good marketing.”

- A place branding strategy cannot solve all of the problems a country has at the same time: it cannot be about tourism, attracting investment and promoting exports at the same time. Specific objectives should be set at the beginning of the strategy building. According to Mr. José Filipe Torres, the strategy cannot even be the same for trade, tourism and talent, because the target groups and the objectives are completely different: “A country is not one brand, it should be 3 brands. Different target audiences, different needs, and different institutions. There is never going to be a common agreement. If there is, then you have the problem from my previous point: too many bland messages.” [10]

- According to José Filipe Torres, a further problem is the matter of accountability. He states, "The conundrum of accountability can be especially problematic when working on projects with elected government officials. Obviously, elected leaders want to remain in office as long as possible. They will be keen to show their potential voters that they have achieved quick results from place branding projects. This is one reason why campaigns based around logos and slogans are so appealing at first glance. It is because they offer something concrete for people to focus on, giving the appearance of success."

See Also

- Public Diplomacy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_diplomacy

- Branding: http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Branding

- Destination Marketing Organization: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Destination_marketing_organization

- Nation Branding: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nation_branding

- Place Branding: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Place_branding


  1. van Geenhuizen, M: Value-added partnering and innovation in a changing world, Purdue University, 2009
  2. Morgan, N; Pritchard, A; Piggott, R: New Zealand, 100% Pure. The Creation of a Powerful Niche Destination Brand, Journal of Brand Management, April 2002
  3. Morgan, N; Pritchard, A; Piggott, R: New Zealand, 100% Pure. The Creation of a Powerful Niche Destination Brand, Journal of Brand Management, April 2002
  4. Torres, JF: Country Branding Blog, http://countrybranding-josefilipetorres.blogspot.com/