BRANDING BANGLADESH

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What to do about the brand that is and could be Bangladesh? Interesting topic right ? Get’s your attention, and no doubt like everyone else we have talked to in the country you no doubt have an opinion. Everyone has an idea on what the brand might stand for, and what is a version of reality now, and what we should do to help brand Bangladesh improve. It is an important subject. A stronger brand means that potential investors, business partners, tourists, governments would all feel more comfortable. You can create tourism or investor campaigns and domestic rallies to make people feel good. But a brand is a lot more than a slogan.

A few months ago one of us, Dave, being a regular visitor to the country wrote a column here in the pages of ICE Business Times that it was very strange that a country that housed one of the world’s leading garment industries could not provide a T-shirt with a design that a tourist would want to buy at the airport. A t-shirt that projected an image of brand Bangladesh. The need for a new t-shirt was not the real story. Rather, as some picked up, it was a way of highlighting that an amazing country like this one needs to do more to project what its brand is and why people around the world would want to have a piece of what it is offering. Fortunately the article did evoke some discussion and we hope to continue to help get more people involved in thinking about the issue.

Together with the support of ICE Business Times our group, Marketing Futures has started something we call Lead Talk. These are informal dinners for groups of leading marketers in Bangladesh where we pick a subject and brainstorm ideas. Earlier this year we held such a gathering in Dhaka with a dozen marketers from a range of companies and asked them to discuss the “Bangladesh Brand Issue”. It was a very lively and interesting few hours. Of course everyone had their own gripe as to what was not being done and ideas on what could be promoted.

The consensus though was consistent in highlighting that the world just does not know much about Bangladesh, and what get’s headlines is usually bad. The group could list many attributes and claims as to why the country should be seen in a better light. And there was no real evident strategy as to what the brand is all about.

We discussed at length other countries that have successfully changed their brand situation. Japan’s effort on the 1960-80’s projecting itself as the new technological wonder and establishing it’s brands as the benchmark of consistency. South Korea is using a co-ordinated government and business strategy to flood Asia with pop culture in order to change the image of everything from the nation as fashionable. Singapore has been consistently pushing a message of clean ( physical and process ) efficiency and service. And we wondered what would or could be the thread that Bangladesh could stitch together it’s brand around? Our discussion highlighted that there is no doubt that Bangladesh has a lot of interesting product features, by which we mean elements that are offering some quality or newsworthiness that could be used in a greater strategy :
– The fastest growing economy in Asia over the last few years
– A vibrant young workforce ready to gear up in the digital era and with the advantage of a high level of English speakers
– Over 600,000 IT freelancers, apparently the highest number in the world
– It’s garment industry is now trying to create a whole new face and is indeed putting in place some leading edge “green” facilities.

We could argue for example that it has been a center for true banking services innovation, first with the idea of micro-banking and more recently agro-banking. It is a country that can claim some world leading difference makers with the likes of Dr Younus. Of course it has natural attractions like the world’s longest beach which is almost unknown outside the country. And yes at least at it’s given preferred sport it is a rising star of the cricket world. There are stories to tell. Lot’s of elements. But not really a coherent brand.

OF COURSE A BRAND IS A BRAND

Whether we are talking about Bangladesh or TATA or Colgate, the rules are basically the same. We have to start with a strategy and that means identifying who we want to impress with our brand, what we believe we offer that is differentiating, how our brand will behave and what it stands for so that we can create an emotional connection of trust.

When you look at how country brands are measured it is pretty easy to find some good guidelines. For example the global consultancy, FutureBrand has been running it’s Country Brand Index for the last decade or more. They look at the World Bank’s list of the top 75 countries based on GDP and then use six measures to understand a country’s brand offering: 1. Value System 2. Quality of Life 3. Business Potential 4. Heritage & Culture 5. Tourism 6. Made In (Products & Services). All of which seem like normal measures for any brand. How does Bangladesh do in their latest 2019 study? Not great. While the country was ranked the 45th economy, it’s country brand ranking from 71st out of 75. So as a brand Bangladesh is punching well below its weight. And perhaps a good start would be to look at those six measures and focus on how to better position the country against each.

There are other ways to measure and understand a nation brand. A couple of years ago we undertook a study of Thailand and some of its near neighbours in SE Asia using the SignificanceSystems artificial intelligence platform. That system analyses all the content on the internet ( articles, websites, social media ) and plots what are the strongest narratives around the subjects under investigation.

We had the platform do the analysis and select the 10 most important attributes that drive “nation branding” and rank them by their effect on the overall narrative of a country’s brand. Ranked from most important to least the top six attributes are those that make the most difference in a country brand’s narrative building ( and if you think about it they make sense as the key attributes of any brand ) :
1. Destination : the overall image as a place to visit for work or pleasure just makes it feel more comfortable to get things done. Is it easy to access, will things work, are people friendly etc
2. Shopping : a simple benchmark to understand that a country is offering easy access to goods and things to buy. Yes maybe a T-Shirt, or maybe a mega order for IT off-site-support
3. Tourism : a country with a reputation of either “nothing to see” or bad experiences when you visit is just that much harder to trust for other things, a country that people enjoy visiting gains an aura that helps foreigners build trust
4. Stability : everyone wants a brand to be safe and secure and that applies to nation brands as much as any
5. Trade : a reputation of other wanting to buy and sell always helps and having rules and regulations that are easy to comply with makes any brand more attractive
6. Future : that there is a clear image and story suggesting where the brand is going is as important as what it provides now. Think about those six attributes and then consider the brands that usually are seen as role models for country brands : Japan, France, Singapore. Look at the way other up and coming nation brands like Thailand or Vietnam are acting and you can see why these are all important. The next four attributes also matter, but our analysis found that they have less impact on overall strength of the country brand :
7. Government : the form and actions of a management are less important than it’s output and that applies to forms of governments as well
8. Economy : a countries immediate economy is less important than the plans and the belief others have that those plans can take place
9. Reputation : the headlines on news sites and the flavor of today’s facebook posts can turn quickly, a reputation is built by consistency
10. Exports : the nature of exports does not affect the willingness to engage with a nation brand as much as we think, what matters is ensuring that the exports themselves are managed in a way that enhances the brand image

So while we might think that the latter four areas are key foundations the real image and positioning of a country brand they are in reality more support points. You need them to work well to support the brand but the six attributes will drive what the brand is seen and understood to be about.

SO WHERE TO START?

As we said building a nation brand is like any good brand strategy and has to start with understanding who your brand is targeting. At its simplest level you could say there are two main audiences :
– Your own citizens : what is it about the Bangladesh brand that can change their lives? How can they be a part of the brand? How can they leverage the brand ? Of course national pride and flag waving and celebrating fallen heroes and new idols helps to make people happy with their country. But to build a nation brand you need to also make sure that all of the above is done with the purpose of making sure your citizens are helping to make your brand more attractive too …
– The rest of the world : how do people outside the country see, think, react to the Bangladesh brand name ? Having a strategy that let’s the world know what the brand is really standing for, and ensuring all your products and services live up to it.
To figure out your strategy you need to do research. It is certainly far from comprehensive but we decided to undertake an initial analysis of the Bangladesh brand using the SignificanceSystems platform. It looked at all mentions of Bangladesh across everything written in English on the internet, yes millions of items, and told us that the narrative around the country was :
– Consistent or timeless in that it is a narrative that is believed to be well known…. but then again so are most established countries we have investigated and what matters more is how positive the narrative really is ….
– Unfortunately the Bangladesh narrative is not seen as transformative when the AI platform involved analysed all those mentions across the internet
– The overall affect orientation ( a measure of the degree to which the Bangladesh narrative stimulates an emotional response ) showed it to be active but also creative more negative than good
– The emotions most commonly generated by content about Bangladesh are “gravity” and “earnestness” as a reflection of concern
– However there is also “surprise” and “expectation” which offers hope and gives an opportunity for the basis of a new brand Bangladesh strategy
– Maybe the real problem the research highlighted was the same issues our Lead Talk participants raised – The content that best reflects Bangladesh on the internet is that around concerns about the garment industry, natural disasters and cricket. Not enough about the positive side of the brand, or about things the world really finds interesting.

Of course we know that the garment industry is working hard to change it’s image. Natural disasters are unfortunately not something that Bangladesh can control. Though the way Bangladesh has patiently helped in the man made disaster of the Rohinga issue is something the country gets little credit for. And to be honest as excited as we, an Aussie and a Bangladeshi, might get about Bangladesh cricket the reality is that it is not a global platform for really improving brand image.

SO… WHAT TO DO?

We can not answer that simply here. We can, as the initiatives mentioned above, work with ICE and others to generate ideas. And we can make a few initial suggestions :
Bring business, government, academics and brand builders together to more fully explore what is needed.
Build a consistent strategy, not a tagline, that the government, businesses, the media can all work toward.
Maybe ground the strategy behind some obvious attributes like the resilient, courageous, committed character of the young Bangladesh population and it’s willingness to adopt and innovate in the IT world ?
Perhaps reconsider how to use some of it’s cultural, natural and historic features to create some soft power support to make the country more approachable and attractive to visitors ?
A t-shirt is not the answer. However we hope the desire to find one might have sparked a greater effort to build the Bangladesh brand that we will all eventually want to wear on our chests.

THE WRITERS
* Dave McCaughan
Co-Founder, Marketing Futures and Chief Strategy Officer, Ai.agency
davidcmccaughan@gmail.com
** Faiyaz Ahmed
Co-Founder, Marketing Futures, faiyaz.prb@gmail.com

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