Nation brands: the case of Spain and the Crown

<a href="http://www.ie.edu/eng/sobreie/sobreie_expertos_detalle.asp?id_exp=340">Gildo Seisdedos</a>. Professor. IE Business School

30 May 2007

In the brave, new world of globalisation, countries need to design a nation brand that describes who they are. Today, the monarchy of King Juan Carlos does just that for Spain.

Globalisation and the making of nation brands

Nation branding is a clear example of a strategy that countries are adopting to help them compete on the global stage.

New information technologies and transportation infrastructure have freed us from seemingly impossible circumstances: the constraints of time and space or, as academics prefer to call it, the space-time friction. Because globalisation is here to stay whether we like it or not, governments and companies must stop hiding within their own markets and start to look beyond their borders in order to really compete.

The old hierarchy is dead. Indeed, national frontiers no longer pose impenetrable barriers against competition. And competition is growing fierce, not only as countries seek to attract more investment, but also as they promote tourism, fairs and congresses.

Countries are increasingly aware of the need to analyse their clients and plot their strategies from the view point of demand, rather than just of supply. This has led towns, cities, regions and countries to adopt marketing techniques such as market architecture, market research and market positioning, all of which require the skills of business management and public sector administration.

This combination gives rise to a new national management strategy. Government interest in creating or reinventing its brands is a clear indication of this. Nation marketing seeks to increase public awareness of the need to optimise public services. Nonetheless, the key obstacle to achieving nation marketing is the lacklustre response it elicits from citizens and public servants.

Key issues involved in the design of a country brand

In our experience, the designing of a nation brand is similar to a game of tic-tac-toe: Three elements must be brought into line.

The first is the physical and human composition of the country, which speaks silently of its historical dimension. The territorial structure of a country, its regions, towns and cities, helps shape its tradition and its identity, which constitutes the second important element. Geography is made up of the features that unite inhabitants. Discovering how these three elements interact requires an interdisciplinary approach that combines historical, sociological, architectural and urban planning analyses with market research techniques. The first stage of this process should define the country´s identity and explain how this identity is affirmed by the citizens who share it.

The second phase of the process is devoted to projecting this identity as an image. The values on which the brand is built are derived from the first stage and the techniques used are typical of brand building in the business world, where market research tools are necessary. But the policy must be two-pronged: one looking inward to win citizen approval and the other looking outwards to capture audiences such as tourists and investors.

To analyse what role the country wants to play on the international stage, it is important to analyse the competition and to engage the country’s stakeholders in an open dialogue. Indeed, throughout the whole process, stakeholders should be implicated in the search for new and innovative formulas for public and private collaboration.

Next comes the material design phase of the country brand and the launch of a media plan aimed at introducing it to citizens and other ´clients’. It is of utmost importance to unveil the brand at an important or emblematic event that can be identified with the country and its image. The new nation brand will change and modernise in line with the country’s identity, while offering a new image that is coherent with the values its embodies. Subjecting the brand to the test of public opinion plays a very important role.

The case of Spain and the Royal Family

A nation brand is the external expression of a country´s identity and, as such, it includes all the regions, towns and cities within that country.

Nation brands should be broad enough to enable all the regions and towns and cities in the country to share a common denominator. And, at the same time, they should be sufficiently specific and clearly defined so as to stand out in a saturated world.

What is the image of Spain? And what is its identity? What does being Spanish mean?

In other younger countries, or in countries that are more culturally homogenous, this question can be easily answered with a clear stereotype.

In the case of Spain, one of the oldest nations in Europe, strong-willed regions like the Basque Country or Galicia coexist with towns and cities that are icons in-and-of themselves, such as Madrid or Valencia.

In this case, how do we build the Spain brand? A nation brand is defined by the international strategy of the business community, the government’s foreign policy and regular coverage of its domestic and international affairs in the international press.

Although Spain’s image has improved in recent years, it is still unfocused and stereotypical.

An open mind, good humour and enthusiasm are the most outstanding features of the Spanish character. Tourism, gastronomy and a rich cultural heritage are attributes most often associated with Spain .

Spain most closely shares the social and human values of advanced societies, but it is still far from enjoying their business competitiveness.

In this context, the use of silver bullets is fundamental--meaning the presence abroad of exemplary Spanish companies and world-renown Spanish personalities plays an important role in promoting Spain’s image. The royal family makes a big contribution to this endeavour.
During the Middle Ages, the loyalty of the people of Catalonia and Aragon to their count-king was established in this agreement: "We, who are as good as you, swear to your Highness, who is no better than we, to accept you as our sovereign lord and king as long as you respect all our freedoms and laws; But if you do not, we will not."

This agreement of the past illustrates a way to link a brand to a target audience. It also suggests why the Spanish monarchy has become a symbol of modernity. Indeed, the monarchy of King Juan Carlos is the most visible brand of modern-day Spain.

We must remember that in 1975 the Spanish brand had more than just a few problems.

Australia is the country with the best nation brand according to a study by Anholt-GMI published last August. To draw up the index, six features were taken into consideration: cultural heritage, government, products/exports, population, tourist attraction, investment climate and immigration.
Spain stands at a very respectable 12th place, an unthinkable feat just a few years ago, and there is no doubt that much of this success is directly attributable to the royal family.

(1)Study: A brand for Spain for ADC DirCom

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