Nation Brands Index 2011, U-S-A!

Today, I went to the press conference organized by the Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index (NBI) to unveil their latest survey, NBI 2011. With the United States being at the top of the list third year in a row, NBI listed a total of 50 countries’ brands. In the table below, you can see the top 10 countries from 2008 to 2011.

As I have mentioned earlier, I have several doubts about NBI as a robust measurement scale. Below, I’ll try to organize my ideas under three headings:

– What is NBI good for? When should NBI be used?

– Why doesn’t NBI measure ‘nation brands’?

– Why is NBI’s understanding of nation brands incomplete (if not entirely wrong)?

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New publication – Thinking about place branding: Ethics of concept

As you might already know, Journal of Place Branding and Public Diplomacy is publishing a special issue on Ethics of Place Making . My article, entitled “Thinking about place branding: Ethics of concept” will be published in this upcoming issue.

Here is the abstract:

This article introduces a critical theory-induced approach to the concept of place branding to expose the ethical drawbacks within the field. The author argues that the dominant approaches and definitions of place branding limit the thinking of scholars to market-driven subjects, such as measurement, effectiveness and strategies. It is difficult even to discuss ethical issues at a conceptual level within these approaches. With an attempt to further investigate these widely ignored issues, place branding is redefi ned through a communicative action framework, and a two-step model of place branding is devised – composed of domestic communicative action (Step 1) and international communicative action (Step 2). Step 1 highlights (i) legitimacy and (ii) inclusion as ethical concerns, whereas Step 2 brings in the question of (iii) consistency between the messages in the domestic and international arena. Critical theory makes it possible to take an analytical look at the mainstream approaches and present ethical issues at the conceptual level. Future studies should aim to integrate this theoretical approach to the practice of place branding.

I will share the link to the publication as soon as it becomes available online.

 

Here is the article: http://www.palgrave-journals.com/pb/journal/v7/n3/abs/pb201115a.html

Turkayfe.org on the Road: Events in New York and DC

Last year, after the Turkish festival in DC, I wrote about the importance of “creating a real community” for online social diplomacy projects. There is, indeed, an undeniable need for ‘real’ people and connections to support online communication attempts. Therefore, as the Turkayfe.org team, we are doing our best to reach out to as many people as possible.

This summer, we are hosting two events, one in New York (June 11th) and another in Washington, DC (June 15th) to discuss the past, present, and future of Turkish coffee. So, if you are in town – stop by one of our events, grab a cup of coffee and join the conversation! Looking forward to seeing you all!

New York, Schedule, June 11th

Address: Turkish House, 821 United Nations 8th floor New York City, NY 10017
RSVP Link: http://turkishcoffeeculturenewyork.eventbrite.com
7:00 PM Event start time
7:15 PM Opening remarks
7:30 PM Ercüment Ackman, Capstone Advisor, Georgetown University Real Estate Graduate School – ‘Once Upon a time Turkish Coffee’
7:45 PM Göknur Akçadağ, History Expert Assistant Professor – ‘The American Perspective: Turks in the 19th – 20th centuries’
8:00 PM Gizem Salcigil White and Efe Sevin, Founders of Turkayfe.org – ‘Digitalizing Coffee Houses – Social Diplomacy Web 2.0 and Turkey’s International Digital Coffee House’
8:30 – 9:30 PM Reception

Washington, DC Schedule, June 15th

Address: Embassy of the Republic of Turkey, 2525 Massachusetts Avenue NW Washington D.C., 20008-2826
RSVP Link: http://turkishcoffeeculturewashingtondc.eventbrite.com
7:00 PM Event start time
7:15 PM Opening remarks
7:30 PM Ercüment Ackman, Capstone Advisor, Georgetown University Real Estate Graduate School – ‘Once Upon a time Turkish Coffee’
7:45 PM Göknur Akçadağ, History Expert Assistant Professor – ‘The American Perspective: Turks in the 19th – 20th centuries’
8:00 PM Gizem Salcigil White and Efe Sevin, Founders of Turkayfe.org – ‘Digitalizing Coffee Houses – Social Diplomacy Web 2.0 and Turkey’s International Digital Coffee House’
8:30 – 9:30 PM Reception

Anholt on Turkey

Simon Anholt announced that Turkey should focus on its ‘nation brand’, a couple of weeks ago in an interview with a Turkish daily newspaper. Back then, as the Turkayfe team, we used the news on our newsletter, and put his statements in some of our materials. More recently, Nation-Branding.info picked up the news , and we are running through a second cycle of viral distribution. In the first cycle, I refrained from commenting on Anholt’s views – mostly because we used the interview to support our project – Turkayfe. Yet, I believe I can put my two cents in during the second cycle.

I want this sofa (Image from Nation-Branding.info)

Let me first extract main points from his interview. The points below are directly taken from Hurriyet Daily News article:

Turkish government must develop policies to improve the “brand” of the nation:

Now, on one hand, this is an important statement. It is nothing new, fairly obvious to anyone who has any idea of international arena in the 21st century. But, Anholt used this statement in a national newspaper (actually English version of a Turkish newspaper). On the other hand, he puts the responsibility of brand-making, if you will, to the governments. As we know from his various books and speeches, he supports the idea of all-exclusive, (i.e. public-private partnerships) brand creations. However, it seems like the governments have a leading role in his conceptualization of nation-brand. I assume, it is because he equates nation brand with what a country does. Yet, we should stop and think about moral and ethical implications of making governments the primary responsible party for nations’ brands.

Turkey has to find ways of making itself “indispensable” to other peoples:

Again – pretty obvious but great to read it in a newspaper. This statement (together with his metaphor of the celestial keyboard) raises questions about Anholt’s understanding of international system. Is he talking about a closely-linked global economy? Or about a Global Village? Global politics? I mean, what is indispensable? So, is a good ‘brand’ something that people cannot live without? Is it just this necessity bound? I like to think a brand more in terms of a network of associations – which cannot be reduced to necessity.

Turkey’s best chance to increase its reputation in the world is “to be the bridge between Europe and Asia, between Islam and other religions:

Well, this has failed so many times in the last few decades, I don’t know what to say about it… It has been used by government officials since the very early days of the Republic – never worked. It usually ended up making Europeans suspicious as ‘we are a Muslim country’ and Muslims suspicious as ‘we are a Westernized country’.

“Nation branding”..[is].. not about communication or promotion, but concrete policies:

Well, no. I highly appreciate Braun & Zenker’s* definition of place brand as a “network of associations in the consumers’ mind based on the visual, verbal, and behavioral expression of a place, which is embodied through the aims, communication, values, and the general culture of the place’s stakeholders and the overall place design”. Therefore nation branding is about communication and promotion. Actually, if we are looking at nation branding as an integrated process of creating and disseminating a brand identity; ‘nation branding’ part is predominantly communication. Turkey has to change the expressions of the country, through communication as well as concrete policies (and communicating these policies).

One interesting thing about Anholt’s Nation Brand Index and Turkey is that the country is fairly consistent across the six criteria. For instance, Egypt, which shares similar scores with Turkey, has a higher rank in tourism. However in order to talk about the causes for this consistency, one has to accept that NBI’s methodology is valid and reliable. So, I will just say this is an interesting point that might be used as a conversation starter.

In sum, Anholt’s public interviews, speeches, or even books do not provide readers/listeners with ground-breaking information, however, (i) it is great when the most prominent person in the field says these things, and (ii) it is nice to have them in one book. His comments about Turkey are generic, as this is a newspaper interview. His comments about communication and nation branding is based on an assumption that communication is about false information, spins, and manufacturing identities. Yet, ‘branding’ is an attempt to socially and communicatively adjust to living in today’s brand-era. It is a necessity to negotiate what a place means for target audiences with target audiences. It is not about concrete policies, it is about being a part of the global society.

*Braun, E. and Zenker, S. (2010), “Towards an integrated approach for place brand management”,
paper presented at the 50th European Regional Science Association Congress, Jonkoping.

Practice-Focused Theoretical Approach in Place Branding

As a doctoral student, I spend most of my time in the world of theory. In conjunction with my last post, I want to discuss what a practice-focused theoretical approach can do in place branding. And yes, I made up the term ‘practice-focused theoretical approach’.

Let me try to explain what I mean by the term. Again, as a disclaimer – I am in my third year of my graduate studies. Therefore, it is very difficult for me to talk about anything without referring to a theory. Why?

  • A theory describes your ontological and epistemological stance. In ‘smaller’ words, when I use a theory, I actually tell my audience what I think about reality and how I can make sense of that reality.

    So, what is a place brand? Is it something objective that can be reach? Do we have a list of ‘must-have’s for an attractive place brand? Or is it case-specific? Does it depend on what people think about a place?
    Similarly, what is place-branding? Is it trying to complete a list of ‘to-do’s? Is it communicating with foreign publics?

    How do we measure the brand of a place? Based on what we understand from place brand and branding, we should be able to come up with measurement criteria. If our understanding of a place brand is based on substance, our measurement cannot be based on perception. (And we also should not claim nation branding does not exists when our measurement scale is inherently flawed.) (And by we, I mean Simon Anholt.)

  • A theory, then, tells us how to approach a subject. Our conception of reality guides us when we are in the field. If we don’t know what place branding is, we cannot engage in the practice. Even if we do so, our practice will be based on our prior experience. This is why several marketing and public relations firm try to come up with branding projects that are solely based on logos and slogans.

    What should I look at when I am in the field?
    What should I do to improve the ‘brand’?

    I try to introduce a critical-theory influenced approach to place branding and define the term as “a communicative action process in which legitimate actors engage in speech acts to reach a common understanding of a place”. This definition has its roots in Habermas and even to an extent Weber. I discuss how actors claim legitimacy, structure communicative action, make claims, and engage in ‘constative, regulative, and expressive’ acts. Yet, my ultimate goal in these discussions is to reflect on practice.

    Here are some of my ‘academic’ conclusions:
    – A place brand is created with an intersubjective relationship between a speaker and the audience.
    – Creation of a brand and its communication are interactive.
    – Place branding takes places in a political environment where power and legitimacy are fundamental concepts.
    – Legitimacy is a sociologically relative term, and should be negotiated in every step of the social action.

    One of my projects is based on this understanding of communicative action. We believe that a brand is an intangible and social constructed phenomenon, therefore a branding project should aim to intervene in the construction of the place image by the audience. Communicative action is based on a cooperative deliberation process. Therefore, the audience should be able to negotiate the meaning of the place with the speaker with the ultimate aim of reaching a common rational understanding of the place.

    And the end product is….a website – Turkayfe.org. Long story short, theory does not necessarily complicate the social life for us. On the contrary, theoretical approaches simplify the reality to be analyzed more easily. Big theoretical studies are not confined to academic journals. If we can have a ‘practice-focused theoretical approach’, in other words use theory to come up with better practices; (a) we will have more robust projects, (b) we will have be able to craft better strategies.

    PS: If you are interested, here is an article I wrote with Gizem about Turkayfe:
    Sevin, E., & White, G. S. (2011). Turkayfe.org: share your Türksperience. Journal of Place Management and Development, 4(1), 80-92. doi:10.1108/17538331111117188

  • Theory & Place Branding: Theorizing or Terrorizing?

    Another important discussion we had during the 2nd Place Branding Conference was the lack of theoretical frameworks. There is no theory of place branding per se. Yet, should we aim to create a theory (or theories)? If so, how should we proceed? Here is my two cents.

     

    “Image from http://antaryamin.wordpress.com/

    Scholars tend to use theories for analytical purposes, rather than practical ones. In other words, a theoretical framework will enable us to take a systematically critical look at a social phenomenon. Given the fact that place branding seems to be a practice-driven field for the time being, theoretical frameworks will provide the scholars with more opportunities to assail place branding projects. (For some reason, I believe scholars do not need more opportunities to criticize anything…. They are doing a great job right now anyways). If practitioners keep facing ‘theoretical’ criticism from scholars, they might be in a position where they do not feel the need to share their experiences and findings with the academic community. This situation will definitely hinder the development of the field.

     

    Yet, theoretical discussions also have practical implications. Theory is fundamentally the way you approach an issue. If we explicitly acknowledge our theoretical assumptions, we might be able to strategize our place branding projects in a more effective and strategic way. Moreover, theoretical frameworks will ensure the compatibility of different aspects of our projects. As I tried to discuss in my earlier post, these different aspects come from various disciplines; therefore, there is a need for a foundation to unify them under one heading.

     

    In short, yes, we do need a theory (or theories). However, we need to work on building up these theories without terrorizing the field, our colleagues, and more importantly the practitioners.

     

    When we consider the fact that even well-established disciplines suffer from theoretical and methodological debates, such debates might ‘kill’ our emerging discipline. Undermining role of one or more disciplines in place branding might alienate some scholars. And lastly, as I discussed above, harsh criticism might cause practitioners to leave the discussion table.

     

    Therefore, I believe, we should first of all ‘cut practitioners some slack’ for the time being. Through a wait-and-see approach, we will help our ‘data-set’ to grow. The higher number of place branding projects means a larger volume of data for us to start building up theories. Secondly, we should keep encouraging inter-disciplinary dialogue and make use of existing theoretical frameworks. I know that these recommendations are easier said than done. Not criticizing practice also means postponing the development of the study (and the practice) by years. Combination of inter-disciplinary theories might be nearly impossible due to different epistemological and ontological assumptions. However, I still argue that this is our best shot! If we want to theorize the study of place branding, we have to do so without terrorizing.

     

    This post is also published at http://placebranding.ning.com/

    Perils of Ambiguity: Interdisciplinary and Cultural

    After another very long break, I’m back blogging. Last week, I was in Bogota, Colombia attending the 2nd International Place Branding Conference. The conference was an invaluable learning experience – and a great motivator. I decided to write down some of my ideas as blog posts to share my impressions as well as to build up some background information for future publication ideas.

    First of all, I owe a big thank you to all the organizers. The conference was perfect! We were around 80 practitioners and scholars around the globe (and it took us around 5 minutes to divide the group into two camps –practitioners and scholars– with several people, including myself, stuck in between). Moreover, both practitioners and scholars were coming from different backgrounds: marketing, political science, communication, international relations, geography, history, architecture etc… We discussed individual presentations, as well as the development of (the need for?) place branding as a distinct discipline.

    Right now, I am on my flight back to Washington, DC and have several ideas in my mind. Let me start with the first one. We (i) label place branding as interdisciplinary without really naming the ‘disciplines’ and (ii) claim that ‘one does not fit for all’ in place branding because of the role of culture without really explaining what that role is. In other words, we avoid some –very difficult to conclude– discussions via our safe words: ‘interdisciplinary’ and ‘cultural’. I have less to say about the latter, so I’ll start with that one.

    It is not possible to replicate a successful place branding project out-of its cultural context. But what is that context? Are we talking about the variation in how audience(s) perceive messages? Do people from different cultures have different place understandings? Do different places have different properties? Is the relation between locals and audiences different in every place? – I know, the answer to most of these questions is just yes, but this doesn’t disprove my point. We can still identify, at least try to identify some of the dynamics that make up the culture difference in place branding campaigns and come up with ‘guidelines’ if not modifiable/flexible models.
    Interdisciplinary…. During the closing panel, I tried to mention about the peril of this work. I, myself, have written about the interdisciplinary nature of the field formally and informally. I have also tried to name those disciplines: communication, marketing, political science, international relations, (and as I learned at the conference), history, place management, geography and more…. I do not know a scholar who has a working knowledge in all these areas. Alas, I even cannot think of a team of scholars from all these disciplines working together.

    However, several of the questions we have been trying to answer in place branding/nation branding/and to an extent public diplomacy have already been answered by scholars… Our answers are out there in the literature. Though, it is difficult to pinpoint which literature we are talking about in this sense…

    Therefore, how should we approach to the study of place branding? Should we send out scouts to the domains of unknown literatures and wait for their return with precious knowledge? Should we figure out what we can agree on in our limited experience of knowledge-creation in place branding and then focus on them? Or should we just accept that place branding is not and will never be a discipline? Should we build up theories on practice? on ideological stances? Or should we just not build up theories?

    I, personally, think we should recruit brave knights from several different disciplines…

    This post is also published at http://placebranding.ning.com/

    The Latvia Pavilion – Technology of Happiness

    For the last couple of weeks, I was trying to find some time to take a closer look at the Latvia Pavilion at the World Expo 2010 . Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to write something about the project before the Expo was over. But still, I would like to acknowledge this novel idea. (Plus, apparently the Pavilion will be up for an auction this Tuesday. If you have missed the fun in Shanghai, it might be time to call your local amusement park).

    I called the Latvia Pavilion a novel idea, because the project team managed to come up with a non-traditional but still straight-forward concept to exhibit within a traditional event. It is difficult to make use of ‘events marketing’ as a participant, yet it is not impossible. Here is Latvia’s Expo 2010 concept:

    Latvia’s strength lies in its people, who through their industriousness and creativity, have become among the world’s best specialists in their respective fields. They have proven that things can be done differently, and with excellent results…hrough the creative use of innovative technologies and inventions, they hope to improve the quality of life in their communities, in their country, and in the world at large. Such is the TECHNOLOGY OF HAPPINESS on display in the Latvian pavilion. Taken from http://www.latvijaexpo2010.lv/en/latvijas-paviljons/koncepcija/

    Latvia, a country that has been labeled as Communist, Soviet, Eastern Bloc, Eastern Europe, Central Europe, new European, new EU member in less than twenty-five ears, makes use of Expo to demonstrate a less-known (and probably more-fun) part of itself and its people. The design shows the country’s technological capabilities. The fact that it is a ‘toy’ (Lack of a better word, I would call this miracle a toy in quotation mark) shows the place of ‘fun’ in Latvian daily life.

    When it comes to nation branding, several countries actually act with an image restoration understanding. There is always a seriousness, a desire to apologize, an eagerness to correct misinformation. But such messages only reach the interested audience. What if a visitor at Expo 2010 has no interest in Latvia, how can you communicate with him or her? Who will not stop to see a few people flying in a pavilion? This causal approach, I claim, helped Latvia to reach several people who would otherwise not be interested in learning about the country.

    Moreover, we aspire to become overachievers in nation branding campaigns. If you look at the major definitions in the literature, they talk about policy changes, involvement of several agencies, high-level communication strategies etc. Even though, it is true that a large-scale nation branding program is likely to include several different aspects but a single project/campaign should be simple and straightforward. The messages should not bore the audiences. (I am 99% sure that Pavilion did not bore anyone).

    Finally, the Pavilion project was supported by online communication technologies. Apart from the website and blog, the project was active on Twitter. The Vimeo Channel is still active and includes around fifty videos.

    Long story short, The Latvia Pavilion was a successful and original nation branding project idea. Changing the perception of a nation necessitates more than a project (or more than a collection of project). Countries are obliged to have long-term strategies. However, these ideas are effective in short term. Expo 2010 was a media opportunity for all the participants, and Latvia cleverly used this opportunity.


    PS: English subtitles would have been great in this video.

    Chilean miners rescued: Viva Chile (and Chilean image)

    We have been all exposed to several images from Chile during the last few days and learned a lot about the 33 miners, who were rescued after being trapped in a mine clash for over two months. We learned about the miners’ background stories, their experiences, and watched how they returned back to life as President Piñera said. Being aware of its emotional nature and sensitivity, I will not treat the issue as a purely branding practice. Though I believe as a scholar, it is my obligation to highlight some aspects of this triumph of human spirit.

    I tried to run a quick keyword frequency analysis on newspaper titles about Chile from 1980s onwards. Chile’s name has never been so close to human spirit, and triumph. Thanks to this magnificent rescue operation, the country will be known for the value it places on human life and for its technical capabilities at least for the upcoming weeks, if not longer. In terms of branding, it is possible to find similarities between this operation and ‘events’ branding, meaning hosting international events – such as the Olympics.

    Now, let’s back up a little bit. Let’s forget about the accident and the rescue mission. Let’s go back to May 2010. What do we know about Chile? Personally, all I can say is I believe Chilean peppers are from Chile, Pinochet is a ‘bad’ guy, and Chileans know how to play football (soccer). And here is what happened after the rescue attempt: A major newspaper (NY Times) said “the rescue of the miners this week shows how much Chile has evolved since Pinochet’s rule ended in 1990.” Chilean authorities made their best to impress the media, too. The illustration below, provided by CNN, shows the map of the ‘village’ constructed during the rescue mission. Not surprisingly, the plan includes a designated press room. When the miners reached the surface (wearing the same t-shirt, and looking very clean), they were greeted by their families, the President, several spectators, and of course an army of nearly 1500 journalists. With the help of ‘human aspect’ of the story and successful media management, we stopped asking questions about the causes of the accident, and just enjoyed the glory of humankind over nature.

    In short, the incident brought short term high volume media attention to Chile (’15 minutes of fame’ for a country). Chilean authorities were able to use this opportunity very strategically to transmit a modern, caring, unified image of their country to the world.

    A perfect rescue mission, and a flawless media management! Let’s enjoy the recently polished brand image of Chile!

    Social Diplomacy: This time on the streets…

    As you might already know, I am working as the political communication consultant for Turkayfe.org project. Turkayfe is a Web 2.0 based online platform that invites people to share their experiences about Turkey with the community. Our main is to brand Turkey through people’s perspectives. Instead of using mass media and mass persuasion methods, we aim to reach a brand image through telling stories about the country. We label our attempt as a social diplomacy project. Even though, Turkayfe.org mainly utilizes online communication methods, it is important not to forget that social diplomacy is inherently a ‘social’ understanding of public diplomacy, and requires face-time with the target audiences.
    Last Sunday, we were at the Turkish Festival in Washington, DC. We set up a table for Turkayfe, and made our first contact with the community in Washington, DC. The Turkish expats and students in the United States, as well as American citizens interested in Turkey are two of our main target audiences. Therefore, the festival was a great opportunity for us to connect with the community. You can read more about our impressions here and here.


    Shortly speaking, social diplomacy projects taking place at a grassroots level cannot survive through solely online communication technologies. The projects need to ‘solidify’, in other words, the projects should focus on creating a real community around the idea who will eventually contribute to the online communication attempts.

    The people in the post photo are (from left to right) Forest and Karalyn (alumni of Bilkent University), Gizem (our founder), and me.

    Here are some of my observations after spending one day at the festival and engaging with the community:
    – Communication is an important aspect of project management, especially if we are running public/social diplomacy or nation/place branding projects.
    – Face-to-face communication enables us to get direct feedback from people about the project.
    – Giving a face to the project increases your credibility. You are no longer only a website, you are the people who are running the website.
    – Meeting people who are interested in the project, who love to talk about your project definitely increases the motivation of the team members.

    This blog post is also posted on http://placebranding.ning.com/