José Filipe Torres, founder and chief executive of nation branding specialists Bloom Consulting, argues a country’s digital identity cannot be ignored if it wants to attract visitors.
Countries, regions and cities already know they need to strategically manage their brand—not only for reputation management, but also for trade, investment, talent and, of course, attracting tourists.
Even though nation and place brands are intangible assets, the brand image has, among many other things, economic value. There is an indirect yet clear correlation between a place’s appeal in terms of branding and economic performance.
More and more countries, regions and cities have tried and continue to try to develop and implement place brand strategies to attract their target audiences. This looks like a very straight-forward process but while many have tried it, most have failed.
However, some nation and place branding strategies have worked well. Those places implemented their strategies not as advertising campaigns, but rather as comprehensive and consistent brand strategies. They behaved in accordance with their brand vision—or to put it another way, they “walked the talk” in most of their actions, activities and policies.
But are countries, regions and cities ready for this approach in the digital future?
The importance of digital brand identity
Nation and place brands will be increasingly influenced by the digital brand identity of those places, in such a way that it sometimes gets tricky to treat them separately.
According to research by Google, 65% of tourists use search engines to research a trip before they decide where to go. The same is true for international investors. According to a Bloom Consulting Study, more than 86% of investors start searching for information about potential countries to invest in using the search engine as primary source of information.
In the Edelman Trust Barometer, search engines surpass traditional media outlets and social media channels as the most reliable source of information.
What does this mean? Any information or article about a country, region or city available in the digital world has a tremendous impact on perceptions in the “real world.” The final decision on investing in, doing business in, visiting or moving to a given place is highly influenced by what individuals find online when they search for information about a place. And what’s shown on the first pages of a search is a clear indicator of the current state of the place’s digital brand identity—so it affects their nation or place brand, as well as their international reputation.
Why countries, regions and cities can’t afford to ignore digital brand identity
This highlights the urgency of adapting old strategies to the new reality of today’s fast-paced digital world, where information is constantly being generated and always available. The information is everlasting, stored and ready to view in a split second via a simple search from any device, anywhere in the world
So, what are the main implications for countries, regions and cities when they manage their reputation and the destination?
First, nation and place brand strategies need to be carried out in such a way that the actions, activities and policies undertaken by those places are aligned with their brand vision. The places must actively find ways to showcase those actions, activities and policies in the first pages of the most common search engines and social media.
Second, countries, regions and cities need to consider the core competencies of the management structure in charge of their nation and place rand. It is highly likely new types of management structures will emerge with more independence from governments and with the role of providing active support in managing the place’s digital brand identity, rather than being solely responsible for implementing the strategy itself.
Third, countries, regions and cities no longer need 10 years to build a reputation. Today, it’s possible to build and manage a reputation in three. However, reputations can be destroyed faster and easier than before. Those who react quickly and strategically to reputation challenges will have greater control over their international image.
Fourth, and finally, today, world citizens interact with countries, cities and regions in a live and digital manner. This trend is not expected to change. This means we need new sources of measurement for a place’s digital legacy and correlation between a reputation’s cause and effect. It’s crucial to adapt the current and future metrics and tools to determine the performance of nation and place brands both in the digital and the “real world.”
In the meantime, some rankings and indexes—such as the Bloom Consulting Country Brand Ranking and the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index—can help measure the digital appeal of Nation and Place Brands, as well as how they influence their digital identities and reputations.