Countries spend millions in promotion to attract buyers for their products and services, skilled migrants, tourism, trade and investment.
While Covid-19 has implications for the movement of people, New Zealand’s brand and that of its leader is arguably stronger now than it has ever been.
For small countries like New Zealand, a leader that epitomises the country’s values and attracts positive international interest, can help belie the nation’s size.
Conversely, stakeholders can become confused if a leader’s personal brand does not align with a country brand that has been built over a long period of time – consider Trump and the United States.
Under Jacinda Arden’s leadership, our response to Covid-19 has been hailed as an international success with global media describing New Zealand as a safe haven. Surveys, including one by IDP International Education Specialists of 6,900 prospective international students ranked our response as the best among destination countries, and New Zealand as the safest country for students and citizens.
But what use is a good brand if it isn’t being used? As a small country at the end of the world, our distance to markets has often been seen as a curse. In a Covid-19 world, it has been a blessing. However, as a small trading nation, we cannot afford to lockdown our engagement with the rest of the world. Smart thinking and technology enable us to remain connected without fully opening borders.
It has been heartening to see the government, together with APEC economies, agree to keep markets open and trade flowing. Recent announcements about the potential to extend our border bubble to include Australia, and to consider an exception for international students if health risks can be managed are positive signals. Microsoft’s decision to establish a datacentre for cloud services here is also a good endorsement of New Zealand’s attractiveness.
Thought needs to be given to how the brand power we currently have can be leveraged for the greater good of New Zealand now and for the future. Are we for example leveraging our reputation in the best way when promoting the exports of goods and services, when considering attracting investment (rather than people at the moment) into productive sectors, or by sharing lessons with other countries for the greater good globally?
Covid-19 has provided a great opportunity to reimagine our economy to be a true embodiment of our brand – not just clean, green, and “new” in name – but in ensuring that our products, services and technology are good for people and the planet.
Brand personality can create unique and favourable associations. A leader’s brand, just as much as a country’s policies, provides cues as to how a country can be expected to behave during a given situation. The Christchurch terrorist attack and Ardern’s empathetic response is a case in point. Then, we saw the establishment of the Christchurch Call – a commitment by Governments and tech companies to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online. How can New Zealand demonstrate international leadership this time?
In a highly competitive world, successful country brands can increase international political power and partnerships, encourage exports and investment, and encourage others to accept a nation and its people. While we remain focused on fighting a health crisis, we shouldn’t lose sight of the value of our brand and the important role it can play in the economic recovery.
This article is an abridged version of “What use is a good brand if isn’t being used?” which was first published by the New Zealand Herald on May 13 2020. It draws on Ziena’s 10-year award-winning career promoting New Zealand trade, investment and education in Asia, and her Master’s thesis looking at the role of country leaders as brand ambassadors for their nations.