Battle of the Nation Brands

November 11, 2016

The world is in a great race, as nations compete with each other for natural resources, economic superiority and control. And as technology and globalization shrink the distance between these rivals, more and more nations are entering the race to be the best at, well, everything.

From the smallest, most remote islands to the most developed mega-economies, nations are competing to attract tourists, investors, buyers and jobs to their own shores. In an increasingly competitive global market, countries’ brands make a difference.

Simon Anholt, a political adviser and one of the world’s top experts on nation branding, believes that branding should be a national department, similar to defense or health. “Countries with powerful and positive reputations, just like corporations with powerful brands, always trade at a premium. They sell more products at higher prices; their citizens find it easier to get good jobs abroad; they attract more tourists and investors and migrant workers,” said Anholt in a recent online column in the Guardian.

Several sub-Saharan African nations have launched their own branding and PR campaigns. A few of the most successful, including Nigeria, Ethiopia, South Africa and Botswana, were featured on ABC Insights in 2015. In 2016, one of the best examples of the stiff competition and the need for positive branding is being played out between Mozambique and Tanzania, as the neighboring countries vie for the necessary investment and access to liquidity to develop their massive natural gas reserves.

Tanzania and Mozambique vie for resources

Mozambique and Tanzania are going head-to-head in their race to attract financing, build infrastructure and develop their respective fields. The countries’ seas contain East Africa’s largest natural gas reserves, but both nations are facing obstacles securing the needed investment to move forward, with Mozambique’s position especially precarious.

“Countries with powerful and positive reputations, just like corporations with powerful brands, always trade at a premium.”

The government of Mozambique disclosed in April that it had $1.4 billion in previously hidden debt, which led the World Bank to suspend aid and to Fitch Ratings’ downgrading of Mozambique’s credit score. Now, the lack of transparency and financial woes have thrown a wrench into the government’s gas development plans, as operators consider whether or not they will continue with $100 billion worth of projects.

In Tanzania, where the government also has big plans for liquefied natural gas (LNG), the country has seen long delays in the development of these projects and investor confidence is low, according to Business Leaders’ Perceptions of the Investment Climate in Tanzania Report – 2015, released in October by the Tanzania Private Sector Foundation. The report highlights worries about transparency, corruption and complex tax regimes.

All of these issues – transparency, corruption, financial stability and even infrastructure – can be addressed through intensive branding campaigns. And even as the two nations compete to develop their gas, they will be competing globally: against Qatar, which is still the world’s largest LNG exporter; with Australia, which is gunning to displace Qatar; and against the United States, which is expected to account for a fifth of global LNG capacity by 2020.

Moving forward with marketing

Establishing a positive country brand, not just to contend with each other, but also to compete on a global level, is imperative.

According to a 2010 article by Oxford Analytica, already successful economies most easily create a positive brand, as they are able to draw on their advantages to create growth and attract even more investment. Resource-rich countries, such as Tanzania and Mozambique, also have an edge in creating a positive brand, and should focus on promoting strong governance, security, infrastructure, connectivity and tax regimes to attract workers and investors.

Similar to corporations, countries need to learn how to overcome their history, as having a “poor economic and political record has practical consequences in terms of being less able to attract foreign investments … reflecting reluctance on the part of investors to get involved.”

“Although countries with “branding” problems face an uphill battle changing the perception others have of it, history has shown that this is possible to do and that the rewards for those able to overcome the problems are large,” the article concludes. Successful branding is not just for corporations – nations, and especially those with huge natural resources at stake, benefit from taking their image seriously as they compete on a global level.