SIX tips from Fusionbrand on how to avoid the same fate as Tourism Malaysia


Yes it looks like an irresponsible adult allowed a petulant child with a grudge against the creative fraternity loose on a very old software programme and yes, it should never have made it past the idea stage. It’s the creative equivalent of a train crash featuring trains carrying toxic chemicals or nuclear weapons. But does it matter? In the short term, perhaps. Long term, maybe. But it never have happened.

I’m talking of course about the Tourism Malaysia VMY2020 logo (see pic) launched at the end of January 2018 by Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, the Malaysia Minister of Tourism and derided by much of Malaysia, graphic designers worldwide and respected media organisations such as the Daily Telegraph, the BBC and the South China Morning Post.

How to make sure you don’t end up with one of these

Despite the negative reaction of, well everyone, I’m going to stick my neck out and say that the reality is the new logo (if it survives and I don’t think it will) won’t have an effect on visitors contemplating whether or not they should visit Malaysia in 2020 (and the years before and after 2020).

In fact after being featured on social media and a host of international news channels and publications, it may have provided Malaysia with yet more free publicity.

Admittedly not the kind of publicity Malaysia really wants but it’ll take more than negative publicity about a crap logo to attract or stop foreigners from visiting the country.

Nearly every business/school/institution and many individuals have a logo. We see logos on business cards, buildings, billboards, buses, lamposts, food packets, print ads, TV ads and just about everywhere else you can stick one.

And they sell computers, clothes, cars, cosmetics, finances, food, schools, fashion and fags, alcohol, appliances, airlines and holidays, and just about anything else in between.

There are good logos and bad logos, some change on a regular basis, think Google, others stay pretty much the same for years, think Apple or Nike. We’re told logos must be unique yet instantly recognisable.

They must have colour because certain colours convey certain meanings yet they must be instantly recognisable and have the same impact in black and white.

We’re told that each element of the logo has meaning. A logo designed with sharp, straight lines communicate a strong, trustworthy brand.

Curved lines on the other hand communicate a caring and supportive product or service. The rationale for combining curved and straight lines is an ambitious company.

And we’re told that everyone should have a logo because they represent the brand and make you stand out from the crowd. But crowds behave differently today and are influenced in different ways.

The illustrative style that we recognise as logos today is nearly 150 years old and harks back to a time when Western civilisations moved out of the fields and into the factories. Most of those factories are now here in Asia where we’re living our lives a little differently today than we were back then.

The main role of the logo, traditionally anyway, has been to create awareness about a business or in this instance, a destination (and not the country) and help to build a positive image about the business/destination.

Logos evoloved to become a symbolic reflection of what the busines/destination wanted to communicate to audiences. And when logos changed, it was meant to be part of an overall strategic shift in direction for the brand and would be one of many elements of that new brand strategy that had to be communicated in a joined up, integrated manner.

But over the last 20 years, businesses have got lazy or perhaps greedy. Too many businesses have changed logos in isolation, without incorporating the change into a new strategy.

They’ve updated the brand identity and called it a rebrand without making any improvements to the organisation. And then they’ve watched, surprised when nothing changes.

The London 2012 logo dodged a bullet

Sometimes when a logo changed slightly and the reaction was negative, the brand got away with it. Remember the London Olympics logo? Other times, such as the GAP logo change in 2010, the consumer response was deafening and GAP had to backtrack quickly. But overall, because these changes were ad hoc or tactical, they made little difference to the business delivery.

Another classic example is oil behemouth BP. Back in 2000 the firm decided they wanted a new logo that communicated ‘green growth’. Despite spending over US$200 million it was considered a massive failure because the opinion of most people was that there was nothing green about the business of oil. No matter what the company tried to make us believe.

Our new logo tells you we’re not in a dirty business so you must listen

And then in 2010, the largest offshore oil spill the history of the oil business put paid to the concept of the green growth oil company communicated via its logo. For many, that’s when logos lost their relevance.

With the proliferation of countries competing for the same visitors, too many destinations play safe and compete with the same look and feel, making it difficult for potential visitors to differentiate them.

Add to this mix the powerful impact of social media on the travel industry and visitors now use the Internet for research purposes and get most of the information that influences their decision making from content generated by people like them and not logos.

The rise of the ‘me too’ destination logo dilutes the importance of the logo in the visitor’s decision making process

The focus has shifted away from the identity of the destination to the experiences of other like minded people in that country. Against this backdrop, it’s hardly surprising then that the importance of a logo will not be what it was.

According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), global tourism generated $7.6 trillion for the global GDP. More than 105 million international visitors arrived in South East Asia in 2015 and that figure is growing at an average of 8% every year.

Many of those visitors will visit Malaysia not because of the logo but because Kuala Lumpur International Airport is an increasingly important hub for low cost carriers servicing destinations such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and more. And any trip to SE Asia will include visits to other countries in the region.

So in terms of the impact the logo will have on visitors to Malaysia, it will be negligible. However, it will help shape perceptions of Malaysia as a country and much of the debate across social media was how embarrassing the logo is for Malaysia.

So in terms of the reputation of Malaysia, there will be a perception impact and that will probably add to the negativity about the country. If most of the content consumers read about Malaysia is negative, then perceptions will become negative. And those perceptions can only be influenced and changed with a brand strategy that includes all stakeholders and not with tactical activities such as a new logo, advertising or events.

For Malaysia, what’s done is done. What can other countries, states, regions, cities or towns do to ensure their efforts aren’t ridiculed in the same way?

Here are 6 lessons that can be learned from this fiasco. They should be applied to any destination branding initiative.

1) Set up a nation branding task force.
Every country or state/city/place should have one. Malaysia used to have one and in 2008 the task force commissioned Fusionbrand to develop the Malaysia nation brand but the plans were canned when a new administration took over and a new department was set up under the new Prime Minister’s Office. This department embarked on a badly researched project about 5 years later that revolved around a tagline and a logo and not a strategy and as a result, lasted little more than a month.

2) Nation branding is strategic not tactical.
Nothing related to the nation brand can be done in isolation. To avoid similar failures, anything related to the nation/state/region/city brand must go through the nation branding task force. And that includes important ministries such as the Tourism ministry. Even state tourism boards and other stakeholders must share with the nation branding task force.

3) Test identity concepts before launch.
No man is an island. But sadly in Malaysia, if a senior person proposes something it is rarely challenged internally, even by marketing professionals hired supposedly for their knowledge. Anything creative should always be tested internally and with multiple consumer segments and the task force. I know it’s time consuming and expensive but which is worse, a delay in the launch or becoming the laughing stock of the world?

4) Have a plan for your identity launch.
Don’t expect to wing it. And be prepared for serious back lash from consumers because most of us hate change. Not many new logos were well received initially. But many of them are now very familiar, think Pepsi, Citi, Accenture, Qantas. After a certain amount of fumbling, the Minister stated, “I have launched it. Nazri Aziz never backtracks. This is what will be used for the world, only one logo, no other logo.” Would a clearly defined, sensible rationale have been a better way to announce the new logo? Absolutely.

5) Social media is your friend not your enemy.
I get the impression, perhaps wrongly that Tourism Malaysia was completely unprepared for the reaction to the logo. Especially on social media. Social Media CAN effect change so learn to work with it. But remember it is not a soapbox. Simple consumer research at the logo development stage on Facebook and Twitter would have saved Tourism Malaysia and the country, a lot of embarrassment.

6) Logos / taglines etc should not be confused with branding.
Malaysia has had a tough time over the last few years with the country struggling to stay relevant in an increasingly competitive environment. It’s hard to find current arrivals figures but the general consensus of opinion is that visitors from wealthy countries or high spending tourists are not visiting as they used to. A lot of this is because there is confusion over what constitutes branding and the Malaysia tourism brand has little differentiation. Brand identities / taglines / positioning statements / advertising campaigns and other marketing tactics are not branding. They may create awareness but that rarely convert to arrivals.

As I’ve stated already, I don’t think this farce will have much of a positive or negative impact on arrivals. But it’s impact on Malaysia’s brand? That worries me but that’s a discussion for another day.

Fusionbrand is Malaysia’s premier strategic brand consultancy. For more information on how we can help you get your branding right the first time, please call +60379542075.

Do Nation or City Brand rankings offer any real value?


Florian Kaefer who owns the excellent Place Brand Observer Blog drew my attention to a cracking Blog post written by Eduardo Oliviera on the Place Brands Blog.

In his post, Eduardo writes extensively on the number of country and city brand indexes and barometers as well as newspaper ‘best place to be’ and ‘best place to swim’ tables and their rankings and notes that they all use different methodologies and algorithms. Unsurprisingly the rankings differ from one to another and he wonders whether their rankings offer any real benefit.

He says, “The practice of place branding continues this ‘ranking fetish’. People seem to set great stock in rankings or lists such as ‘best of’ or ‘top 10′. But in reality these rankings don’t have as much power as people think. They simply divert focus, resources and effort from what is truly important in place branding.”

He goes on to say, “In the same line of reasoning investors are influenced in their decisions both by very material, quantitative issues (in particular costs and labour force) but also by the reputation of places.”

About the only part of his post that I disagree with is that last comment because as long as the place doesn’t have a seriously bad reputation – and even then there are investors willing to invest – if it offers specific value to an investor that investor will invest.

I’m preparred to get off the fence and say these rankings are meaningless. They have zero impact on a nation or city brand. You cannot create place brand reputation but you can influence it. It grows organically thanks to multiple components that can be influenced and often steered by the very people and other stakeholders invested in the place brand.

Ultimately it has to offer economic, experiential and emotional value to the relevant stakeholder, both internal or external and if it does it can overcome serious setbacks. Which is why countries like America can invade Iraq and upset the Muslim world and still be the number one destination for overseas education for students from Islamic countries.

It has brand credit that has built up over time and it will take a lot to erode that credit. But that credit is intangible and doesn’t need to be measured. What city and nation brands have to focus on is delivering that economic, experiential and emotional value, based on the individuals requirements for that value and they will build a brand that will be the best place to invest, eat in, sleep in, skateboard in and so on.

Another example of how consumers are building destination brands


This interactive ‘heat map’ shows which tourist attraction at every destination around the world is photographed the most.

There are as many as 1,000 photographs in some countries with New York’s Guggenheim Museum the most photographed landmark in the world.

The most phtographed landmark in the world
The most phtographed landmark in the world

In Singapore the Merlion is the most photographed landmark whilst in Kuala Lumpur it is, rather unsurprisingly the Twin Towers. In Bangkok it’s the Wat Sraket Rajavaravihara and in Kuching it is the Sarawak river.

The Merlion, popular with tourists in Singapore
The Merlion, popular with tourists in Singapore

What does this site mean to the business of destination branding? Well primarily it will drive traffic away from tourism board sites and their carefully choreographed images to consumer sites and there peer to peer content.

Those destinations that continue to focus their funds on corporate driven strategies or groups of tactics instead of encouraging engagement across social sites and consumer generated content will lose business which in turn will lead to reduced revenue for the many businesses that benefit from tourism.

Endless possibilities have ceased to be endless


It’s official, the new tagline that was supposed to launch the Malaysia Nation Brand will not now be used. The official launch for “Endless Possibilities” was supposed to be yesterday however it was cancelled. You can read more about the cancellation here.

Oops

My sources tell me that McKinsey, Futurebrand, Leo Burnett, McCann Erickson and O&M were all involved although I haven’t confirmed this. Ignoring the fact that not one of them bothered to Google the phrase “Endless Possibilities” before giving it the Prime Minister and causing him much embarrassment, my main concern is that the whole sorry process will be repeated once again and we’ll see them trying to retrofit the Malaysia Nation Brand around a tagline.

This is not the way to build a Nation Brand. You can get insights into how to build a nation brand here and here

How to make the Malaysia Nation Brand strategy successful


Let’s get something straight. A catchy tagline, symbolic logo, pretty colours that symbolize the ‘personality’ of the brand and a custom designed font are not Nation Branding.

Glossy advertisements that push the creative envelope and consist of content that is impossible for stakeholders to buy into or live up to, is not Nation Branding.

Expensive brochures and other marketing collateral that use light gray colours on white backgrounds and font sizes impossible to read is not Nation Branding.

Hugely expensive billboards that create awareness but do little else and are soon lost in the fog of the tens of thousands of messages consumers are exposed to every day is not Nation Branding.

It might have been possible to use such creative-driven branding to build a Nation Brand in the 1960s – 1990s, when countries and their advertising agencies focused more on getting attention than getting results.

But this is a different era. There are now so many channels to consumers, so many competitors all with a similar offering and so many distractions that it is no longer possible to build a Nation Brand in this way.

Furthermore, too many taglines have made promises the Nation couldn’t possibly keep or their marketing or PR collateral has left potential customers underwhelmed. This may not have been the fault of the Nation or it may be the result of poor internal implementation but it has resulted in a delivery failure that has negatively impacted all efforts till then. A case in point is the Incredible India campaign and the multiple attacks on women over the last year.

Moreover, engaging (not reaching) target markets through traditional channels with traditional tools is virtually impossible today. Especially in the digital age when consumers are more knowledgeable, have more choice and are more demanding.

So how do we make the Malaysia Nation Brand successful?
Reach, awareness etc are all irrelevant. Nation Brands today are defined based on the economic, experiential and emotional value they deliver to all stakeholders.

What will make or break the success of the Malaysia Nation Branding project is the work that has gone into determining what are the key elements of the Malaysia Nation Brand.

Identifying and understanding what we have, what is unique, who are the stakeholders, what are we are going to do to get their buy in, how we identify target segments, the knowledge we learn about them and their requirements for value and deliver value to target segments (all of whom are very different and have very different requirements for value and must therefore be engaged with content that resonates with them), how we build our relationships with them, how we work with them and provide solutions to their problems.

The ability to build lasting relationships with stakeholders, a highly trained team capable of matching country attributes to those stakeholder requirements and the ability to consistently deliver value are required.

External communications battles are not fought on the right hand pages of national newspapers, during commercial breaks on terrestrial TV or on the outside back cover of business publications. They are not even fought on the pages of digital media or on corporate websites.

The battles for the hearts and minds of prospects are fought in the comments sections of blogs, on third party sites through user experience comments, through account manager emails, forums, search engines and ongoing personalized relationships.

If the people responsible for this project can match your Nation Brand to the value customers are looking for, they may have a chance of building a successful Malaysia Nation Brand.

I am reliably informed the Malaysia Nation Brand project has a budget of RM30 million. But it’s not known what that covers. If it is simply for a communications campaign then it will not be money well spent and the project will fail.

However, if it is for a comprehensive brand audit and Nation Brand plan (which will have been developed once the brand audit was completed and will focus on internal and external stakeholders) that outlines how to deliver value as defined above and based on the “Endless Possibilities” tagline, then that will be terrific use of taxpayers money and the country will benefit for many, many years.

Building the Malaysia Nation Brand requires a strategic approach


The development of a Malaysia nation brand has been discussed for a number of years. As part of the Industrial Master Plan (IMP3), a National Branding Task Force was established and tasked with building the Malaysia Nation Brand. In 2008, through the Malaysian External Trade Development Corporation (MATRADE) and after extensive research and a nationwide tender, the project was awarded to a brand consultancy.

After a letter of award was issued to the consultancy and the project team was mobilized, the then Prime Minister stepped down and six months later the project was cancelled. Soon after the National Branding Task Force was disbanded.

Since then there hasn’t really been any organization established to develop a Malaysia Nation Brand. Some of you will say that 1 Malaysia was a Nation Brand but it wasn’t.

At the end of 2011, some firms were invited to “submit slogans for a new Nation Branding project”. Of course a slogan isn’t a Nation Branding project but it was considered a start.

The slogan chosen was probably “Endless Possibilities” because this was used during the World Economic Forum in Davos to promote Malaysia as a South East Asia location for investment and tourism.

Without any warning, a sixty second TV commercial aired on CNN in March 2013. If you have a weak stomach, I don’t recommend you read any of the reader/viewer comments below the video.

It’s hard to identify who posted the video but there is reference to a brief with the comment, “The brief from the Prime Minister’s Office of Malaysia was to promote Malaysia as a dynamic country with well developed infrastructure and an aggressive economic growth plan for the future.”

More recently, the Prime Minister was spotted wearing a badge with a design that has been described as “a starburst in red, yellow and white against a blue background.” Malaysia, in a custom font is underneath the logo.

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

In late August 2013, a local news portal reported that Prime Minister Najib Razak will launch a new national branding effort and that the national branding effort comes with the slogan or tagline, “Endless Possibilities”.

This is exciting news, so what should we expect from the Malaysia Nation Branding project?

It is important that Malaysia doesn’t fall into the trap many other countries fall into – jumping head first into a well produced communications campaign in a misguided attempt to build a brand.

India is famous for its ‘Incredible India’ advertising campaign launched in 2002. By 2009, India was spending US$200 million advertising the country. In November 2012 India announced that a new advertising campaign headlined, “Find what you seek” would be launched to build on the Incredible India efforts.

The new Indian minister of tourism announced that the new campaign highlighted to consumers that ‘they will find whatever they are looking for from a holiday in India.’

The goal of the new campaign was to increase international arrivals by 12% annually till 2016. Unfortunately, little more than a month later, a woman in Delhi was brutally gang raped and left for dead on a public bus. The story made headlines around the world.

Four months later, a Swiss woman was gang raped whilst on a cycling tour of Madhya Pradesh and soon after, a British woman was attacked in Delhi and only avoided potential death after jumping from a hotel window to escape.

Within a matter of weeks, instead of announcing increased interest, tour operators were reporting a 35% cancellation rate from women and a 25% drop in all arrivals with multiple cancellations from the lucrative markets of Australia, the UK, Canada and the United States.

Meanwhile, FDI dropped 29% in 2012 despite the ongoing advertising campaign. An advertising campaign, however good, isn’t going to change perceptions caused by crime or reverse FDI declines caused by the global economic situation. So years of the Incredible India campaign, if remembered at all will now be replaced with harrowing tales of the treatment of women in India and depressing economic data.

What nation brands have to understand is that today, not only are constituents in target markets more segmented and more knowledgeable, they also live their lives very differently, source their information more socially and in many countries, no longer believe corporate driven messages anyway.

But most important of all, in today’s dynamic, fluid social, Internet fuelled world the corporate driven message, created after months of brain storming by consultants and the like and communicated to all and sundry at enormous expense repeatedly can be undone in a moment and replaced with harrowing tales of criminality and economic woe.

Building a Nation Brand is a strategic initiative not a tactical one. A communications campaign is a tactical activity and it is not possible to build a Nation Brand with a communications campaign, especially one that is created to convince both internal and external stakeholders of something that is hard to prove.

Today, building a Nation Brand requires multiple elements that are critical to the success of any such project. However there are two in particular that will make or break the Malaysia Nation Branding project.

The first is that the community must be involved in the development of the Nation Brand and agreed values must be clearly defined and understood by all stakeholders and integrated into their lives and applied to every touch point.

Sure there must be a CEO with the knowledge, strength and unbiased objective viewpoint to drive the project but without this early stage buy in from stakeholders, the chance of success are very low.

And the second critical element is that promises made must be kept. It is simply not good enough anymore to say you are something or you are going to do something without delivering on that promise at every touchpoint.

I don’t know the full extent of this project and how the community was involved but in the video aired on CNN, the Prime Minister says, “Malaysia is the unique place where the best of Asia comes alive.” That’s a bold statement that will require buy in from all Malaysians and will be tough to deliver to all stakeholders.

So let’s hope the Prime Minister and his team pulls it off because in the current economic climate, a well defined brand that has the buy in of key constituents, resonates with target markets and delivers on promises made will give Malaysia a significant edge over competitors in an increasingly competitive environment.

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.

Good experiences will help build the Malaysia Nation Brand


I read an interesting article on the Malaysia Nation Brand which can be found here.

But I was particularly taken by one of the reader’s comments.

As someone who has worked on a number of elements of the Malaysia brand and who has written numerous articles on it, I believe I can add value to this discussion.

Firstly, it is incredibly hard to write about the Malaysia Nation Brand or any other Nation Brand in an article of a thousand words or so! It’s a thankless task which is why many experts have trouble writing a relevant or coherent book on the subject!

And, because the world is so dynamic, what is a ‘cutting edge’ tool today maybe obsolete tomorrow and a tactical solution recommended yesterday may not be relevant tomorrow.

Anyway, back to the contributor. He appeared to state that maintenance in Malaysia is not a problem and insinuated that it was irrelevant anyway because it had no bearing on the Malaysia Nation Brand.

The author of the article responded saying that maintenance is very important and forms part of the confusing image of Malaysia. The author goes on to say that poor maintenance of buildings contributes to the experience and therefore the success of the brand.

Let me state here that maintenance is a major cause for concern in Malaysia, especially at Government venues but also at privately owned venues.

Last Saturday and Sunday, I was at the Bukit Jalil indoor stadium for a world class sporting event (ATP Tennis) and the place is a sad, shabby, tired mess. Walls are filthy, the place smells, doors are broken, clocks don’t work, ventilation is poor and navigation complicated. I won’t event mention the toilets. Furthermore, the TV sets are old and either not working or showing a picture that looks as if there is a snow storm going – the list of poor experiences is endless.

As I left I looked up at the beautiful main stadium and could see numerous holes in the roof, abandoned scaffolding and other signs of neglect. And we all know this scene is replicated around the country.

If we want to build a nation brand, it will require more than a tagline, a brand essence or a glossy advertising campaign. To build a Malaysia Nation Brand will require a massive change in mindset. Part of this will require an understanding that positive experiences create positive memories which lead to positive word of mouth and an improved Nation Brand.

Because it is the experiences people have when they interact with numerous touchpoints that they will remember and communicate to others.

World class sporting events are a major way of improving a brands image and the organisers should be commended for bringing in this prestigious event. But the authorities should also do their part and make sure the experience is unforgettable, for the right reasons.

If you are interested I wrote an article on the Malaysia Nation Brand and you can find it here.

Could Yuna be the face of the Malaysia Nation Brand?


It takes multiple initiatives across multiple platforms to build a Nation Brand.

And some, no many of those initiatives will require more attention than others.

And some initiatives will take root and grow immediately whilst others may take time to thrive. Many more will require a significant investment in time, money and energy and still fail.

And many of these initiatives will be individual efforts that form no part of the Nation Brand strategy yet will play an important role in the development of the Nation Brand and therefore must be integrated into the Nation Brand plan to be leveraged effectively so that the Brand grows.

The Malaysian prime minister has set up a department tasked with building the Malaysia Nation Brand. I mapped out ten Nation Branding principles here.

As the department embarks on this daunting task they will uncover little surprises that will help them build the Malaysia Nation Brand. One such surprise is a singer called Yuna who comes from Alor Setar in the northern Malaysian state of Kedah.

Could Yuna be the contemporary cultural icon Malaysia needs?
Could this be the face of the Malaysia Nation Brand?

The diminutive Malay singer/songwriter has a wonderfully natural sound that reminds me of an early Sade. Her music is simple, her lyrics are a touch naive and she doesn’t quite feel what she sings and is still a bit self conscious but she has obvious talent. With the right songwriting collaborations, it won’t be long before her songs feature on late night Hed Kandi CDs and are forming the backdrop to romantic encounters.

Yesterday Yuna appeared on Conan in the US. Conan is the most watched chat show in the US with over 4 million viewers. Crucially most of them are in the 18 – 33 range which will no doubt be most likely to buy this music and travel to Malaysia. But it will still be hard for her to break into the US and other international markets. To do so, she’ll need a lot of marketing dollars to help her succeed.

Yuna appears on Conan

I know that the Malaysia Nation Brand team are not yet in the implementation stage but to be successful they will need to be loose, flexible and adaptive. In addition to appearing in front of 4 million viewers on Conan, Yuna has 360,000 followers on Twitter and over 1,1000,000 likes on Facebook. She is a star in the making and working with Yuna will be a great opportunity to give Malaysia a foothold on the contemporary cultural stage.

Yuna’s new album is out on 24th April.

You can listen to more of her music here.

Yuna has undoubted talent and can become an ambassador for the Malaysia Nation Brand. She won’t build it on her own but she can make a considerable contribution to its success.