Traditionally, Tourism Malaysia has had the responsibility of raising the awareness and promotion of Malaysia. And Tourism Malaysia has worked hard to build awareness of the country as a tourist destination and on the whole, it has been reasonably successful.
But in an increasingly competitive world, Malaysia is not just in a global competition to attract tourists. It is also in a global competition to encourage talented Malaysians to return to the country, international talent to live in the country and international investment. Malaysia also needs to move away from its image as a supplier of commodities to the provider of more valued added products and services and increase its influence in Asia and on the world stage. As if there weren’t enough, it is also in a domestic battle to forge a national identity bought into by multiple races!
A strategic tool to achieve the goals of attracting talent, increased revenue through expanded tourism and more valuable exports is Nation Branding or country branding. Australia, India, Norway, Oman and Qatar are all making a concerted effort to attract the world’s attention, interest and revenue by embarking on Nation Branding initiatives.
In this competitive environment, complicated by bickering politicians and individual agendas, tactical rather than strategic initiatives, fragmented and outdated communications, a lack of integration and communication between organisations and dwindling global funds available for investment, Malaysia has a lot to offer.
It is a progressive, innovative and stimulating country in which to live, work and visit. Malaysians are enthusiastic for development and have a natural ability for entrepreneurship. Individual races have capabilities in specific areas important for the growth of the country. For such a young country, it is remarkably open and many times it has been called a model Islamic country. It has numerous natural resources that should ensure quality of life can be high. Residents and visitors can enjoy the benefits of increasingly advanced infrastructure combined with a vibrant, diverse culture and a reasonably well trained and educated work force.
But, unfortunately, Malaysia does not have a clearly defined image or the visibility internationally that it deserves. Part of the reason is that it lacks a national Brand that resonates with Malaysians and enjoys wide acceptance internally and is effectively and consistently communicated externally.
As a result, international perceptions vary widely. Some believe it is an undeveloped country rich in such natural resources as rubber and timber; others look at the Petronas twin towers and fail to see many differences between Taipei, Shanghai, Bangkok, Hong Kong and other Asian metropolises. This lack of a consistent Nation Brand persists despite the efforts of successive Prime Ministers, international events such as the Formula 1 Grand Prix and the 1998 Commonwealth Games and increased visitors to the country.
The need for successful Nation Branding is recognized at the highest levels.
Most recently, the Prime Minister, via his website and with the assistance of Tony Fernandes, CEO of Air Asia has outlined the need to shape the country moving forward and asked for help from citizens. Although technically not a citizen, I have three children growing up as Malaysians so I have a vested interest in the success of the country.
So what should Malaysia do to start building the Malaysia Nation Brand?
Five key factors are required to achieve the prime minister’s goal as an international “corporate nation.” These include:
• Widespread agreement and acceptance on what Malaysia stands for, and what makes her unique in the community of nations. The agreement and acceptance is based on communication and understanding among all levels of government and all facets of society.
• The identification of industries most likely to complement Nation Branding initiatives and a clear process for investing in and sustaining that investment and developing those industries.
• Clear, consistent and coordinated communications to domestic and international audiences by public and private sectors. A long-term plan with goals and measurements is critical. Ideally, these communications must be tailored to specific segments.
• Successful execution of brand messages. This is not just a communications exercise. The public and private sector must facilitate international and other economic involvement, while tourist-related industries and areas must perform according to expectations.
• Leadership. Current branding efforts are hampered by a variety of uncoordinated tactical efforts, each promulgating a different message. Leadership is required to ensure that Malaysia both speaks “with a single voice” and has the necessary long-term commitment.
The following are the key steps required in the development of the Malaysia Nation Brand and they are as follows:
1) Carry out a brand audit. Who do we think we are? Who do our stakeholders think we are? What do we have? What do we want to become? What do we have? Do we have the skill sets required to sell it? Are our communications communicating this effectively? Does the content of our communications resonate with target markets or are we using a one-size-fits-all strategy to communicate with everyone? Are we using the right platforms? Who are key stakeholder influencers? How do we communicate with them? What do stakeholders want from us? Can we deliver? If so how?
2) Analyse and review the data collected in step one and identification of key industries to help drive the Malaysia Nation Brand.
3) Develop the nation brand framework. This stage includes the development and articulation of the vision, mission and values of the brand as well as the development of a positive & competitive identity that offers economic, experiential and emotional value to each target audience
4) Develop a holistic and comprehensive visual and verbal brand. Sadly this is where most nation brands start. Using a creative driven approach, they look to spray advertising across as many platforms as budgets will allow and pray that it sticks in at least some of the places. This ‘spray and pray’ approach to branding is destined to fail nearly every time.
5) Develop the brand strategy. Only AFTER the above steps can the brand strategy be developed. Normally a plan to drive the brand forward, it outlines how to position Malaysia as a unique, different and attractive country for key stakeholders such as tourists, investors, strategic partners and talent and includes, branding, marketing, sales and other imperatives as well as measurement, budgets, responsibilities and more. Individual country brand strategies should also be included for key markets. The brand strategy also outlines requirements to clearly communicate relevant messages to the target constituents and stakeholders in multiple countries.
6) Make sure all initiatives systemically connect the Nation Brand to Malaysia’s core industries, corporate brands and Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector brands
7) Measure, improve, refresh and keep relevant.
Building a nation brand is not easy. It requires commitment and perseverance and the will to stick with something even when it may not be going according to plan. Follow the elements above and we will have a much better chance of building a Malaysia Nation Brand.