Endless Possibilities has endless potential

The response to the “Endless possibilities” tagline has been, as one would expect when discussing a Nation Branding project, emotionally charged.

Much of the focus has been on whether or not the tagline has been used by Israel or for that matter Mongolia. In fact, it would seem the tagline has been used not only by both Israel and Mongolia but also Sagada in the Philippines.


And while we’re at it, “Endless possibilities” has also been used by a lot of companies such as BHS in India who used it for an advertising campaign and by Florian pearls. It’s also the name of a thrift shop in the USA, a change management company in the UK and it also appears on a tee shirt underneath an infinity loop.

But most commentators and those members of the public who have cast scathing comments in blogs, forums and on social media sites are missing the point. There may be questions around the chosen tagline, how it was researched and why it was chosen but the reality is, the tagline doesn’t really matter. Yes it is a bit embarrassing that it has been used by other countries but it’s important to understand that this is not the Malaysia Nation brand.

It is a tagline. And like the majority of taglines, it will soon be forgotten. In fact, taking a macro view it will have very little influence on the success of the Malaysia Nation Brand project.

Sadly, it is not unusual for organisations to launch a brand strategy with the creative side of the project. This is wrong but unfortunately it is common. What will make or break the success of the Malaysia Nation Branding project is what the strategy consists of and what comes next.

This will be mapped out in a well researched, comprehensive brand plan that will not only form the foundations of attempts to drive the brand forward but also be the glue that keeps stakeholders together.

The world is loose, more fluid and more collaborative than ever before. As a result, nations have less control over the Nation Brand than they are used to but that doesn’t mean they should forgo a well-researched brand plan and let consumers define the brand, something that may already be happening in Malaysia. The Nation Brand plan is more important than ever as it serves as a blueprint for all stakeholders to adhere to.

Specifically, the Malaysia Nation Brand plan must communicate a positive and dynamic personality with economic, experiential and emotional values that reflect target audience requirements.

The brand plan must be holistic and comprehensive to enhance export promotion, economic development, tourism, foreign direct investment and other key national initiatives.

It must also communicate the intended message to the target constituents and stakeholders in multiple countries and at the same time, it must lay guidelines to strengthen the strategic, communications and visual impact of the Nation Brand.

The blueprint must also systemically connect the Nation Brand to the country’s core industries, corporate brands and Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector brands.

This must be established via a systematic, holistic process that accommodates the requirements of both national and international stakeholders. This process must not only be effective to optimize the Malaysia Nation Brand, but also maximize limited national resources.

But at the same time, the team tasked with this project must be flexible and open in the implementation of the plan. Let events influence the plan and be ready to adapt to events and opportunities.

The new Malaysia logo (thanks to thestar.com.my)
The new Malaysia logo (thanks to thestar.com.my)

But right now, all we have to go on is the tagline, a logo, a website and a commercial featuring the Prime Minister that was aired on CNN a few months ago. There is a Facebook page for Visit Malaysia Year 2014 that features the new logo but the site hasn’t been updated since March 2013.

VMY 2014 FB page
VMY 2014 FB page

The Facebook page features a link to a competition but this actually goes to the Ministry of Tourism website. Such competitions will help drive interest in the country and there is no reason why a competition can’t be created for businesses that may want to invest in or relocate to Malaysia.

The message of the TV commercial was to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) while the message of the website is “Whether your passion is food, culture, sports or art; whether you’re a traveler or entrepreneur; Malaysia has something amazing to offer. The journey starts here”.

The malaysia.my home page
The malaysia.my home page

One might be forgiven for thinking that sounds like a tourism message however the site features a number of feel good stories about successful Malaysian entrepreneurs, achievements, news, activities and more.

As the website evolves, it may need to focus or at least segment activities more clearly and provide refreshing and new content that is of interest to stakeholders and not repeat content that is already in the public domain. This new content will create interest in the country, be picked up by search engines and robots and drive traffic to the site.

The team tasked with the responsibility of making the Malaysia Nation Brand project a success will also need to engage stakeholders on an ongoing basis and not just use digital platforms to broadcast corporate driven messages.

Right now, a search of “Endless Possibilities” on Youtube doesn’t send visitors to any Malaysia site. The Brand plan will also map out tactics for driving users and search engine robots to original content.

you tube search of 'endless possibilities'
you tube search of ‘endless possibilities’

The launch of the new Brand strategy is set for 17th September and we should know more about the project then. But I believe, done properly and based on a comprehensive Nation Brand plan, “Endless Possibilities” really does have endless potential.


Building the Malaysia brand, one step at a time

I’m a brand consultant (that’s brand consultant not advertising agency marketing itself as a brand consultant – you can learn the difference here).

We’ve worked with many elements of the Malaysia Nation Brand and were once appointed to develop the Malaysia Nation Brand. Unfortunately, due to one of those cruel twists of fate and through no fault of our own, the project was cancelled.

However we still track developments in this space and are confident once those who are currently responsible for developing the Brand realise it can’t be built using communications and traditional tools such as PR and advertising, we will be called in again.

At the heart of our approach is the need to carry out brand audits to identify perception gaps, seek data on where the country is going wrong (and right), identify organisational issues that impact the brand delivery, recommendations for improvement and more. These brand audits require both qualitative and quantitative research including talking to relevant stakeholders including citizens.

You can read more about brand audits here.

These brand audits are critical to the success of a Nation Branding exercise. There are other principles involved and for more information on those, please read this post.

In addition to the brand audits and because no private sector organisation is going to develop a Nation brand strategy, the process also requires a heavy investment by the government in something that is strategic even though most governments have a tactical outlook. Finally, a Nation Brand strategy also requires investment in new activities, tools and departments and inculcating new cultures into those departments.

One of those new departments set up by the Malaysian Government is TalentCorp. Talentcorp is tasked with attracting top talent working abroad to return to Malaysia. It was a sensible idea to set up TalentCorp and although it is finding the going tough, it is having some success.

Recently though, I came across a rather scathing letter in the combative online news portal Malaysia today from a Malaysian citizen living abroad who had been invited to an event hosted by TalentCorp in Qatar.

You can read the full letter here.

Although the letter is not very complimentary, I hope that TalentCorp will be happy to receive this feedback and will use it to improve what is, like any organisation, big or small, new or established a work in progress.

But I do find it puzzling that the writer felt the need to write to news portal rather than the company itself. Surely if one’s intentions are honourable, then any such feedback should be sent directly to the organisation? If one has issues with the way something is done, why not write, at least initially anyway, directly to the organisation and not use a popular soapbox to air one’s grievances.

TalentCorp cannot be expected to achieve miracles but it is attempting to reverse the brain drain, which by the way is not unique to Malaysia – 500,000 wealthy Brits have left or are leaving the UK. Last year a survey there said 48% of Brits would leave if they could. The first thing Aussies do when they get the chance is leave the country. Almost 4 million Canadians live abroad.

The writer comments on the Malaysian education system and other related issues. But TalentCorp is not responsible for overhauling the education system or for addressing the “systematic discrimination amongst employers” – That’s a sweeping generalisation by the way. TalentCorp is responsible for encouraging Malaysians to come home.

Another comment in the letter states, “there is bias in the Malaysian oil and gas sector that allows certain foreign nationals to dominate various technical sectors.” I’d like to know more about this point because oil companies answer to shareholders. They need the best people at the best price. 30 years ago the majority of oil industry engineers were British with some Lebanese but mostly British.

Far sighted governments in India and the Philippines may have spotted an opportunity to encourage universities to develop courses to create engineers who now dominate many industries. If Malaysia missed the boat, it’s a shame but that isn’t TalentCorp’s fault.

Nor is it TalentCorp’s fault that many Malaysian graduates ‘are not up to the high standards required by the energy sector’. If it is true, it’s also not TalentCorp’s fault that ‘there is bias in the Malaysian oil and gas sector that allows certain foreign nationals to dominate various technical sectors’.

I also don’t think it is TalentCorp’s responsibility to improve the Malaysian job market. I also don’t think it is the responsibility of the Malaysian government to challenge the private sector. The issue with employers in Malaysia is a complex one that has at its heart the belief that employees are a cost not an investment.

Part of the blame for that lies at the feet of employers but the other part lies at the feet of the employee. And for both of them to change will take time. But that too is not the responsibility of TalentCorp.

I think the writer has been harsh in his criticism which often comes across as a rant against the government rather than TalentCorp. And no matter who one votes for, we have to accept that in a democracy, as many as 49.9% of the population can be unhappy with an election result but they have to live with it.

Besides the Nation Brand is much longer term than the government of the day and any efforts by the government to improve that Nation Brand – and the creation of TalentCorp is one key element to that process – should be applauded and given the support of citizens.

Responsible citizens with honest intentions should voice their grievances to the organisation but not to a controversial and confrontational news portal. And as part of the required corporate cultural changes, the organisation – in this case TalentCorp – must be open to such feedback and see it as that and not criticism.

I think the letter has actionable data that can help improve TalentCorp and I find it positive that this citizen was concerned enough to write a letter. I hope more citizens will provide more feedback in order for these companies to improve and build the Malaysia brand, one step at a time.

In case you are wondering, I don’t work for TalentCorp and don’t have any connection with them. However as an individual I’ve had dealings with them and I must say there is room for improvement. But I’ll take that up with them directly!

How effective is your country brand strategy?

Bloom Consulting has just published the 2012 Bloom Consulting Country Brand Ranking which classifies countries based on the effectiveness of their country brand strategies and the impact this has on GDP.

the 2012 Country Brand ranking
the 2012 Country Brand ranking

In an email to me the Ranking was explained as having a different methodology to other indexes such as the Futurebrand or Simon Anholt rankings as it “conveys dozens of variables in order to position the countries by facts and mathematical algorithms instead of pure opinions, like other country branding rankings do”.

The ranking “takes into account both hard and soft data and includes ground breaking processes to show the relationship between the country’s economic performance and the projections of the country’s brand strategy.”

It doesn’t explain what those processes are, how it gets access to those projections or how it measures them but I do like the fact that someone is trying to develop branding metrics for destination branding initiatives.

“The methodology measures the coherency between the external messages of a country and its actual economic performance under a certain period of time.

The higher a country is on the list, the better they are compared to their competitors, in positioning themselves to attract either Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) or tourists”.

Bloom doesn’t believe that it is possible to develop a single promise for a country and this I agree with (and have been saying for years – please read this article on nation branding). We’re working with destinations in Asia trying to attract tourists from the region, talent from the country and heavy industries from North Asia and North America. Trying to create an umbrella promise for such diverse target markets will be an exercise in futility!

The email went on to say, “this year Bloom incorporated Online Search Demand (OSD) into the ranking. This looks at the gap between what countries are promoting (supply) and what investors and tourists are searching for (demand).

Bloom Consulting uses the OSD along with an analysis of each country’s brand strategy to assign each nation a Country Brand Strategy (CBS) Rating©. This identifies the accuracy match between supply and demand and allows Bloom Consulting to assess the best country brands”.

You can read the report and get more information on the methodology, from this page. Or you can look at an interactive version here.

What’s interesting from an Asian perspective is that Asian countries are big winners in 2012, especially in tourism. Although the USA was top for the second year running, eight Asian countries were in the top 25.

China was the top Asian country at 4th, Thailand 6th, Macao came in 8th, Hong Kong 13th, Malaysia 14th and Singapore 22nd.

Japan was down in 28th place, no doubt the Tsunami played a part although the Arab Spring didn’t seem to have too much of a negative impact on Eqypt which, all things considered did well to come in at 31st.