SINGAPORE: Why nation branding is important for Singapore
Thomas Cromwell

Marketing, advertising and public relations should be preceded by branding, whether it be for a corporation, product, service or place. Branding is all about establishing the identity of what it is you want to market. Without branding, marketing and advertising campaigns tend to be driven by catchy messages and images that are not necessarily rooted in the true brand identity of what it is they want to sell, ultimately creating confusion in the marketplace.

Branding is particularly important for marketing complexity, because it is all about identifying the essence of often multifaceted realities, so that they can better be recognized and appreciated by the market.

Compare the relative complexity of a crayon, a car, a concert, a multinational company, a city and a country. The more complex something is, the more difficult it is to describe it accurately, and the more difficult to market.

Few things are as complex as a nation. There are so many elements that contribute to its identity: its history, people, traditions, political system, economy, location and so on. These things collectively make up that elusive thing that is a nationís de facto brand: its identity in the minds of people.

Some believe that the complexity of a nation argues against any attempt to go through a conscious, scientific process of branding it. But much is at stake. A nationís brand determines its success in the world system: how much clout it enjoys in international affairs and how attractive it appears to investors, traders and tourists. It is surely a fallacy to think that by branding a country you can radically change its international image in a short period of time, but undoubtedly proactive branding can help a country establish a desired position in the world more successfully than allowing its brand to be shaped by circumstances and the perceptions of others.

In the case of Singapore, international marketing campaigns have largely been conducted by various ministries, sectoral organizations and individual companies, each choosing its own messages, images, etc. This makes sense in business-to-business marketing, where companies know pretty well who might consume their products and services (e.g. ports sell their services to shipping lines, etc), but the collective impact is to fracture Singaporeís overall identity.

The solution is to develop an umbrella brand for Singapore, a metabrand that embodies the essence of Singaporeís identity, provides a collective vision for the country and people, and supports the agendas of all key stakeholders, including the ministries and organizations seeking to market themselves abroad. A Singapore metabrand will help the country secure the position it wants in the world.

Thomas Cromwell is the President of East West Communications, a full-service consultancy based in Washington that specializes in government communications solutions, in particular, the branding of nations. He has traveled to over 100 countries and worked with many governments on their communications needs, including the preparation of country reports for The Washington Post, The Washington Times and other media. He is the Managing Editor of DiplomaticTraffic.com and has been a key figure in the development of Global Business Gateways, an Internet-based tool to help countries promote their exports, inbound investment and tourism. This article first appeared in Fusion, the magazine of the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts of Singapore. (www.mica.gov.sg/pressroom/apr-jun06%20Fusion10.pdf)