Whenever thinking about a specific product brand, one immediately thinks of its visual representation: the logo, the slogan, the colors, the packaging, and so on.
Design helps brands compete in a world flooded with products and services that sometimes offer basically the same features, quality and even price. When it comes to products of the same general category, design and brand identity are crucial for differentiation.
The classic and most obvious example is with commodities such as water, where branding, brand identity and design are essential to create value.
A place, on the other hand, whether it is a country, region, city, or even a neighborhood, is not a product on a shelf. Instead of selling a tangible product, a Nation or Place Brand represents and encompasses a wide range of emotional assets and associations. Geography, climate, people, culture, historical memories are some elements underpinning them.
As expected, Nation and Place Brands are inherently more complex and thus require a different approach than consumer branding.
Whether we’re talking about products or places, the first thing that comes to mind when we think of brands is logos. However, logos alone do not make a Nation or Place Brand. A logo alone may create marginal (if any) differentiation for a Nation or a Place brand in the minds of target audiences.
Nation and Place Brands are not absolutely in need of a logo… When asked about the logo of London, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, Italy, Singapore, global citizens are most likely to forget, even remember it, but will tend to remember certain emotions, images popping into their minds when reading these country’s’ names and cities’ names out loud.
Moreover, logos won’t help to improve the reputation and competitiveness of countries, regions, and cities in the international arena in the long term unless combined with tangible stakeholder engagement, policy development, and other non-marketing-related efforts. The logo should be the cherry on the top.
In some cases, which unfortunately happen quite frequently, logos may even have a negative implication for the Nation Brand or Place Brand as contentious feedback among a range of stakeholders, specially domestically, divert attention away from all other efforts been made to create a successful brand. We, at Bloom Consulting, have seen this happen (almost) every time a country, region or city uses a logo to announce the launch of their “brand.”
As a result, it’s critical to consider the risks and benefits of having a logo when developing a Nation or Place Brand strategy and take preventive actions to avoid negative consequences.
So, if you were to ask me, first and foremost, I would say that the value of design in Nation and Place Branding projects should be more focused on the design thinking process.
Rather than being used as an output, design should be used primarily as an input. We should focus on how design and design thinking can be utilized as a vehicle for solving challenges for countries, regions, and cities while also instilling positive emotions/feelings and perceptions about them.
Why not (design) think differently?
By Jose Filipe Torres
CEO of Bloom Consulting and an Expert in Nation Branding and Place Branding.