Friday, June 26, 2009

Engaging Citizens for Nation Branding

In modern politics, the personality of a country’s leader is an important factor in the successful development and implementation of the Nation Brand.

So let’s take a look at how some well-known political personalities are working to develop their particular Nation Brand.

There is no question in the minds of most people that Brand America has benefited from a new president in the White House. And it’s just as well because Brand America was on a fast track to the nation brand graveyard.

But it’s not just horrific and culturally and religiously insulting images from Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay that have damaged Brand America. It’s also the question marks around the legitimacy of the invasion of Iraq, the ineffectiveness of it’s supposedly sophisticated emergency services during Hurricane Katrina and more recently, the dubious behaviour of people working at the ‘great’ financial institutions that have practically brought the world to it’s knees.

What’s interesting, from a Nation branding perspective is that despite the Bush administration spending US$1 billion a year polishing the image of the US around the world, polls continued to show anti-Americanism had risen to record levels, especially in Muslim and Arab nations, where, incidentally, the bulk of the funds were spent. Further proof, if it were needed that creativity is not enough to build brands.

But then came Obama. The first black man elected to the presidency of a country where whites have a majority. But in a country where as recently as 30 years ago, it was illegal in some states for a white woman and a black man to marry, race didn’t seem to come into it. When push came to shove, it appears that the colour of his skin meant nothing as the American people voted for the person best suited to the job.

America, and perhaps more importantly, the world believe that Obama can change things for the better. They believe that he can shape history to such an extent that the troubling events of the last 20 years will be put behind us forever. And it seems that to do this, Americans understand that rather than the traditional domineering, almost dictatorial American approach, it must have a smarter, more engaging strategy from its leader to bring the American Nation brand back from the brink of the graveyard.

And early indications are that over the next 4 to 8 years, Obama will shape the image of Brand America in the eyes of the world by engaging those previously considered not worthy of American face.

The concept of Nation Branding is relatively new in Asia. Very few Malaysians think of their country as a brand. But the fact is we have an image in the eyes of many people and many governments around the world. Although there have been efforts to develop a Malaysia brand, primarily by Tourism Malaysia, the image of Malaysia has been created in a fragmented way, by both good and bad events in the country.

So where does that leave brand Malaysia today? Right now, Brand Malaysia is in the hands of all us. But the CEO has well and truly bought into the brand. There is a common thread running through the strategies of Obama and Najib , and that is one of engagement. And engagement via the internet is especially critical to both men. Obama engages Americans via, Najib is accessible via

And in the digital economy, this is of course a smart move . Indeed Najib understands that he has to reach out to and engage the 15.9 million internet users, 3,024,000 friendster, 758,000 facebook and 735,000 my space unique visitors from Malaysia (May 2008) .

So Obama and Najib continue on different yet similar paths, especially in terms of how they shape their respective Nation Brands.

The Malaysian public is being offered a forum to contribute to the future of their country. It will be interesting to see how Malaysian citizens use this forum to share thoughts and ideas with the Prime Minister.

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