23 January 2011

Branding Greece: is it possible? Part 2 - To Re-brand or Not a country?

In the following series under the Title "Branding Greece: is it possible?" or "Greece: Rebrand me if you can!", an effort is made to capitalize academic, research and practitioner's knowledge about the topic in order to propose a name and stratedy for the branding of Greece as a nation.

Part 2 - analyses some well standing cases of nation branding and suggest a strategic nation re-branding framework.

Enjoy the journey!

Re-branding nations

According to Simon Anholt, author of ''Brand America: The Mother of All Brands,'' a select group of countries have national images ''so powerful and so positive'' that they amount to ''megabrands.'' Other countries have successfully turned around, or repositioned, their national  brand in recent years. Still others are actively working to polish their brand identity. 
MEGABRANDS -  ''These countries,'' writes Anholt, ''are effortlessly synonymous with a number of valuable attributes.'' :
  • FRANCE: ''chic and quality of living.''
  •  ITALY: ''style and sexiness.'' 
  • GERMANY: ''quality engineering.'' 
  • SWITZERLAND: ''purity, wealth, integrity.'' 
  • JAPAN: ''technology, entertainment, design.'' 
See Elsevier’s book for some of the above countries’ brand strategy development.

But nowadays, a new term has become more trendy than branding: Re-branding!

‘Rebranding’ became fashionable, and almost a rite of passage for new bosses, in the late 20th and early 21st century. Too often it was a smokescreen that implied, but didn’t always deliver, change. But it looked and sounded good – at least until the wheels came off (remember Consignia and New Coke?). But, on the other hand, there are many powerful examples of successful rebranding, not least by countries – particularly New Zealand, Spain and Colombia.
However, it is useful to distinguish between rebranding, which implies radical transformation and usually includes a significant change in the product itself, and refreshing the brand, which refers to changing some brand values or changing the focus on existing brand values and presenting them differently. This is more than just a semantic debate.
It is important because, for most destinations, rebranding is out of the question: they neither own nor have control over the destination’s main assets – its heritage, culture, scenery, natural environment, people and character – in the way that a manufacturing company has over its products. They are generally therefore not in a position to change the product, with some significant exceptions such as Las Vegas and Dubai. Refreshing a destination brand, on the other hand, is much more of an evolutionary process and an essential weapon in a destination’s marketing arsenal.
Rebranding a destination is possible when there is a radical transformation in the country’s DNA, such as after a revolution, economic crisis, major and widespread physical redevelopment, or a fundamental change in the nation’s character (eg Russia and eastern European countries after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, post-apartheid South Africa under Nelson Mandela).

But, unless a radical transformation in the country’s tourism offer and infrastructure is planned, it is usually more instructive to think in terms of refreshing a destination brand, rather than rebranding it. This is because:
  • the destination’s core appeals are unlikely to have changed significantly in visitors’ eyes
  • refreshment of a brand is within the destination’s control
  • radical change risks losing the brand equity that has been built up at considerable cost over many years
  • brand refreshment is less traumatic and therefore more likely to be seen as it should be – as part of the ongoing marketing process – rather than as a one-off expensive, earthshaking corporate upheaval. 

The right time for refreshment

But when should a destination refresh its brand? How can a destination manager tell when the time is right?
In the commercial world, consumer products are generally rebranded for one or more of the following reasons:
  • the product has failed
  • the product has grown tired
  • the product’s reputation has been severely damaged
  • the world has changed but the product hasn’t
  • consumer tastes have changed dramatically
  • the company has been taken over or merged with another
  • the company has lost its way
  • there is a new managing director or chairman.
This is a useful test for destinations (with the exception of the last point about a new managing director or chairman) when considering whether it is time to refresh their brand. When a market declines, people’s motivation for travel changes, a new market segment emerges or the current brand has just grown tired and fails to inspire people, the brand needs to be refreshed.
Destination managers need to be constantly aware how their destination is perceived in key markets and, whenever necessary, tweak or change the way in which it is presented. A living brand should be sufficiently dynamic and flexible to absorb such adjustments smoothly.
It is very important, before embarking on a brand refreshment exercise, to identify what has changed so that the destination response is appropriate. What is required: an improvement in destination product quality; more creative marketing communications; or refreshment of the brand? Sometimes it is just the way in which a destination’s brand values are conveyed in marketing campaigns that needs to be refreshed, rather than the brand itself. If they do not come across sufficiently strongly or the creative execution is poor, the marketing (and perhaps the marketing agency) needs to be changed. Before embarking on a brand refreshment exercise, destination managers should ask themselves whether it is the marketing execution or the brand itself that is failing to create sufficient impact. Otherwise a very expensive mistake can be made.
Rebranding can also be mistakenly viewed as a panacea when the brand is underperforming for other reasons. Such miscalculation often stems from:
  • failure to agree on a destination’s core characteristics, which comprise its essence
  • failure to truly understand how visitors and potential visitors perceive the destination
  • lack of courage to adopt the focus necessary to distinguish the destination from competitors in the eyes of potential visitors, for fear of not being sufficiently representative of some constituents, regions or businesses
  • failure to commit to the long-term implementation of the brand
  • failure to integrate the destination’s core brand values effectively and creatively in all marketing communications.
Rebranding, or brand refreshment, in such circumstances is akin to repainting a car that needs a new gear box. Lipstick never looks good on pigs.

 The steps in Re-branding

Nation brand managers or policy makers need to take into consideration the existing country image and design appropriate nation branding strategies to work towards and sustain a favorable country image.

On the other hand, an unfavorable nation image can be offset by the improvement of some key resources. In this case, nation brand managers or policy makers should identify the key resources, evaluate nation brand strengths and weaknesses, assess the environmental opportunities and threats, and employ the resources effectively and efficiently to achieve competitive advantage in the global marketplace.

The major steps in a nation re-branding strategy are the following:

  • No matter if the country intends to either present a new “brand promise” or “re-brand” itself, the reality of the past performance of its society should be taken into account to lend credibility to its nation branding initiatives (Anholt 2006; Gilmore 2002; Tatevossian 2008).
  • Based on the findings , country brand managers or policy makers should evaluate the current state of the country, including its strengths and weaknesses in its resources as well as their impacts on its key “financial” performance, that is, exports, foreign direct inward investment, and tourism.
  • Next, they should establish a clear and feasible vision to plan for the long term, provide guidance as to where the country should go, and identify how to move forward (Anholt 2005, 2008).
  • Further, they should prepare detailed nation branding strategies by taking into consideration the environmental opportunities and threats to lay out the steps to achieve the vision. Just like a corporate brand, the nation brand can be assessed, evaluated, and strengthened through SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, and Threat) analysis (Kotler and Gertner 2002).
 One of the most successful turnaround nation rebrand case study is the case of Spain. Once thought of as a European backwater, Spain capitalized on the 1992 Barcelona Olympics to successfully rebrand itself as a hip Mediterranean playground (think of the Joan Miro sun symbol). 
Read the case study below and the lessons learned from Spain's case.


Spain had been a major beneficiary of the growth in international travel in the 1970s and 1980s. But Spain’s enthusiastic response to northern Europeans’ appetite for sun, sand and sea had led to overdevelopment along Spain’s coastline, representing one of the world’s most glaring examples of mass tourism. Spain’s costas catered for northern European, and particularly British, tastes, which were far from cosmopolitan. A home-from-home was created for British tourists, whereby British pubs, British menus and British holiday representatives provided a familiar environment that stripped the costas of their Spanish sense of place.
By the early 1980s Spain had a largely negative image in northern Europe as a cheap, booze-fuelled beach destination that was unappealing to higher-spending travellers who were more interested in indigenous nature and culture and experiencing somewhere different when they travelled. They were looking elsewhere in Europe. For them Spain was not even a consideration. But just a few miles inland the real Spain remained largely unvisited.
Spain took a brave decision in the early 1980s to take a radical turn and focus its international marketing on culture and the interior, which would appeal to a completely new audience from its traditional visitors. It promoted a contemporary artistic Spain alongside its cultural heritage, focussing on icons such as the Prado in Madrid, the rich variety of its cities such as Barcelona, Seville, Santiago de Compostela, and quality accommodation in former castles, manor houses and monasteries (paradores).
A new vibrant, innovative and distinctive Espana – el sol de Miro logo was created, by famous Spanish modern artist Joan Miro, using a combination of the colours of the Spanish flag. Suddenly a new image of Spain was launched to the world – cultural, ‘cool’ and contemporary.
Later, different regions of Spain, such as ‘green Spain’ in the north, and beach destinations such as Menorca and the Canary Islands, were reintroduced under the new brand. While the creative style of its advertising campaigns changed over the years, its brand values remained consistent. Then, gradually, Spain took a back seat, handing the lead over to different regions in much of its marketing. But a clear sense of Spanish identity was always retained, through prominently featuring the highly distinctive and widely recognised Espana – el sol de Miro logo and, later, by adding a creative ‘Smile’ device in all national and regional advertising, which reinforced a sense of unity and a family feel.
Spain had performed a remarkable rebranding, which had not only retained its traditional beach market, but also introduced a different Spain in all its regional glory to new markets, who would previously not have even considered Spain for a holiday.

Lessons from Spain

  • Understanding current trends and recognising existing assets are important. Spain, like New Zealand, was in part fortunate in terms of timing, which enabled it to tap into a growing demand for more cultural and outdoor tourism products in its main source markets. It was also able to deploy significant marketing resources to promote its new image; and, in the work of artist Joan Miro, it had an internationally recognisable body of distinctive modern art from which to draw inspiration for its new logo. But none of these should deflect from the genius or determination required to blend these elements into a successful recipe, which transformed the image of Spain from a rather downmarket beach destination to a multi-faceted, cultural, sophisticated destination for an entirely new market of holidaymakers.
  • A new approach can refresh existing products. It is also important to recognise that Spain’s former ‘cash cow’ – beach holidays – have continued to be a mainstay of Spain’s tourism product. And, significantly, rather than the image of cheap beach holidays dragging Spain’s image down (as might have been expected), the image of the ‘new Spain’ has enabled the country to differentiate its beach product and sell a range of different beach holidays to different market segments – from affordable family holidays to exclusive spa retreats. The image of the ‘new Spain’ has not just opened up the interior and cultural Spain, but it has also endowed the whole of Spain with a credibility that previous perceptions of it as a one-dimensional beach destination would not allow.
  • Brand architecture in practice. This credibility, based on the ‘new Spanish’ brand values and reinforced through the current ‘Smile’ device and the el sol de Miro logo, has enabled Spain’s regions to enter the international market in a way that might otherwise have been much more difficult. Regions, which previously might have struggled to achieve recognition in the international marketplace, such as Galicia, Andalucia and Cantabria, now boldly present their own identity in international marketing campaigns, while leveraging the values associated with the ‘new Spain’. This is perhaps one of the clearest examples of synergy between national and sub-national brands whereby regional brands leverage benefit from their association with the national brand, but are still able to breathe within it and convey their own distinctive identities as very different types of place.

Next post will concentrate on the concept of Re-branding Greece
giving tangibles advantages and disadvantages on the "Greece Vs Hellas" debate!
Stay tuned!

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