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Building ‘Brand Morocco’

Malcolm Allan discusses a recent conference on building Brand Morocco

By Malcolm Allan

On 27 May in Casablanca, the Ministry of Industry, Trade, Investment and the Digital Economy of the Kingdom of Morocco, Maroc Export and the Amadeus Institute held the first annual conference on developing a strategy for Brand Morocco.

As MD of Placematters, I was invited to contribute to the discussion. Specifically, I was asked to talk about how a national brand can raise awareness of the country’s products for export. I also explored how country of origin products can raise awareness of the national brand. Here are the high points of the conference discussion, along with my perspectives.

Opening up the discussion on building Marque Maroc to an audience of key domestic stakeholders and foreign interests – investors, manufacturers, tourism bodies and brand practitioners like myself, was a brave move from the Moroccan government. They were happy to invite comment, criticism and ideas for further brand development. This is an innovative approach in comparison to the UK, which has no formal brand strategy and no ongoing public conversation on what a UK brand strategy might look like.

We heard from 27 contributors in four ‘conversation sessions’, where four or five commentators discussed a key topic guided by a moderator. This format proved informative and democratic with no one dominating the discussion, everyone having their say and building on each other’s points in a positive way.

The four sessions focused on:
1. How to build the “Made in Morocco” label to promote the Kingdom as a modern democracy and also to promote its contribution to global prosperity, particularly its initiatives to support the development of other countries in the African continent
2. How might “Soft Power” contribute to the development and growth of the country’s intellectual capital?
3. How might the development of Marque Maroc be a catalyst for Africa’s nation branding?
4. What are new opportunities to develop and promote Morocco’s nation branding?

Discussion on the first topic identified the importance of Moroccans’ modelling the values of their national brand through actions and behaviours, especially when involved in outreach activity such as cultural visits, trade promotion tours, selling exports of Moroccan goods and services, and studying in foreign countries. These are all activities where Moroccans can be ambassadors for their national brand. The emergence of Morocco as a responsive modern democracy was cited many times as a key factor for changing public opinion and awareness outside the country about its positive progress, and a very positive context for other brand initiatives.

When addressing the second topic, the conversation highlighted Morocco’s developing reputation as an exporter of creative ideas, creative and innovative people to other African countries and its increasing role as a location where students from other countries in the continent come to study. Making a positive contribution to African development was cited numerous times during the day as a key objective of the national brand. Moroccans are very proud of this objective.

Morocco reflected its focus on soft power as a core vehicle for deploying the national brand by hosting the forthcoming global climate change conference later this year, an issue that the country takes very seriously as part of its brand development strategy. This event provided an opportunity to showcase many offers from Marque Maroc to the visiting government delegations over the eleven days of the conference.

On the third theme, delegates highlighted the opportunity for Morocco to share its experience with other African countries in addressing the many challenges it had faced to date in developing its national brand development strategy. These included raising awareness of Morocco’s development as a modern manufacturing and digital economy, raising awareness of its commitment to higher standards in educational provision and attainment and its commitment to democratic government in a modern monarchy.

Conversationalists identified a number of initiatives which should be developed to develop the national brand, the fourth of the themes. These included the need for greater ambition as a country, the need to expand Morocco’s role in the development of sub-Saharan Africa, the opportunity to model effective national brand development and increased sharing of brand Morocco’s development intelligence and know-how.

The conference was a bold move from the various central government ministries involved in developing the national brand. It acted as a vehicle for thoughtful conversation on:
1. Widening involvement from the private sector and bodies representing civic sectors in the brand Morocco development process
2. Critiquing brand development to date
3. Inviting ideas for developing initiatives that would exemplify brand Morocco
4. Being much more focussed in the marketing of the country’s core and image defining brand offers and the selection of key external target market audiences for those offers

At the end of the conference the mood was buoyant. Delegates were discussing how they might contribute to national brand development, how Morocco needs to be more ambitious in its development and its contribution to the rest of the world, and how to further harness the energy and creativity of its people as ambassadors for brand Morocco.

From a personal perspective I was left with a mix of reactions and emotions. I was delighted to have been asked to contribute to the conversation and impressed by the energy placed on harnessing the talents of this nation. At the same time, I felt depressed that my own country, the UK, is failing to develop its own national brand strategy to promote the creative talents of its people in the positive way that Morocco is doing, preferring an advertising campaign on how ‘great’ it is to one that focuses on its contribution to the rest of the world.

london transport

Tolerance wins in London

We live in an increasingly intolerant era defined by the rise of Donald Trump and his ilk. Far-right parties are cropping up across Europe like an especially virulent rash. Much of popular sentiment towards refugees is inhumanly negative, as evidenced both in the press and in social media comments sections.

But happily, there is at least some cause for optimism. Today’s appointment of Sadiq Khan as the third Mayor of London is a prime case in point. Khan comes from humble beginnings. He is the son of a Pakistani immigrant bus driver, born and raised on a council estate.

From that starting point, he became a lawyer, then an MP. Today, Khan reaches the significant heights of leading one of the world’s most influential cities and global powerhouses: London.

This is no small achievement, especially in light of the current zeitgeist both in the UK and beyond. Khan overcame a particularly nasty smear campaign from his main rival, Tory challenger Zac Goldsmith, to win the mayorship.

Goldsmith’s PR people orchestrated a campaign that associated Khan with extremism and support for terrorists. Luckily, Londoners weren’t fooled. At the polls, they lived up to their city’s global reputation for tolerance, progressiveness and inclusivity by voting Khan.

So what’s next for London? Although it makes for an impactful symbol, coming from a working-class Muslim background is of course not enough to make Khan an effective leader. What about his policies?

Well, they’re pretty much on point.

Khan empathised with the challenges facing ordinary Londoners when laying out his manifesto as Mayor. He pledged to tackle one of London’s most pressing concerns: spiralling housing prices. He’s going to build more housing, including social housing, while taking measures to improve the situation for London’s renters. He’ll rein in London’s landlords by regulating them through a city-wide licensing scheme and lettings agency.

In terms of the buyers market, new homes will be offered to Londoners first. London’s transport expenses, which rose to near-unaffordable levels under the previous mayor, are set to be frozen for the next four years. Khan has also promised to improve cycle lanes and make London better for walking.

These are two of Khan’s most significant policies, both of which will make everyday life easier for ordinary Londoners. For a change, there’s a leader who is not from the wealthy, Eton-educated, over-privileged class that seems to overrun our government presently. Instead there’s a politician who knows exactly what its like to struggle with ‘normal’ concerns.

In contrast, Tory competitor Goldsmith comes across as out of touch with ordinary Londoners, as he is from a background of wealth and privilege. People are fed up with this kind of thing. It’s about time that our country’s elected leaders were drawn from among those who have lived normal lives, faced normal problems and overcome them through sheer grit. The significance of Khan’s win is not just about Khan’s Muslim roots, but also his working-class origins.

London has lately developed another reputation alongside its existing one for tolerance and multiculturalism. It has become infamous for its intimidating costs of living, seen by outsiders as a place only for the wealthy. If Sadiq Khan’s policies are realised, that may begin to change.

With his pledge to ‘make London a fairer and more tolerant city’, having Khan as mayor is likely to repair some of the damage, improve London’s global image and make it a more appealing and accessible place to live, work, study and visit.

Panama Papers Cameron

Panama Papers: Reputation and Misconceptions

Panama Papers Cameron
photo credit: Cameron Must Resign protest 9 April 2016 via photopin (license)

If you’d asked people a couple of weeks ago where Panama was located, they would probably say it’s somewhere on the American continent, but not be entirely sure where. They might have heard of the Panama Canal, but just like the one in Suez, we’ve all heard of it, but most can’t really point to it on a map.

But today the story is completely different. If you ask people about Panama, it’s very likely that they have heard of something called the ‘Panama Papers’, not the ‘Mossack Fonseca Papers’, which should be the real name, since this is a multinational firm based in Panama, but which, as the Guardian says ‘runs a worldwide operation.’

The Mossack Fonseca website boasts of a global network with 600 people working in 42 countries. It has franchises around the world, where separately owned affiliates sign up new customers and have exclusive rights to use its brand.”

This is one of those instances in which the news cycle, and media labelling, have had a profound effect on a nation’s brand. When looked at in detail, the activities shown in the Panama Papers deal more with the financial systems of tax havens (many of them British) such as the British Virgin Isles or Jersey, but the country getting most of the negative press is Panama; so much so that the French government reintroduced it into its list of countries failing to comply with anti-money laundering policies.

Now the odd thing is that according to the OCDE’s Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information “no jurisdiction is currently listed as an uncooperative tax haven by the Committee on Fiscal Affairs.” This is funny if you read the Statement from OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría on the “Panama Papers”, where she states that “Panama is the last major holdout that continues to allow funds to be hidden offshore from tax and law enforcement authorities.” In reading the activities of Mossack Fonseca, one can clearly see that there are several countries still involved in “offshore tax evasion”, like Luxembourg, Switzerland and the British Overseas Territories.

One of the most interesting side effects from this scandal is its effect on the reputations of the countries involved. Take a look at Iceland, where the Prime Minister resigned due to popular protests. This sends a message across the world of a functioning democracy, where the people have a say and their voices matter.

In contrast, Russia’s response simply reaffirms the image of a totalitarian regime controlled by the Kremlin, with similar stories from China, Azerbaijan and Iran – hardly a surprise. The undecided factor right now is the United Kingdom, where the people have yet to decide if Prime Minister David Cameron should resign, due to his father’s use of offshore trust funds to evade taxes.

But any way you look at it, the biggest loser here is Panama, so much so that even its internal image is hurt, as can be seen in this mock tourism campaign by Panamanian satirical web TV channel “La Cáscara TV” “#PanamaIsMoreThanPapers”.

Should the Panamanian government be doing more than issuing bland remarks from President Varela about “continued cooperation” with international tax authorities? Remarks that fall short of the mark since Panama is the only big tax haven that has not agreed to implement the “common reporting standard” proposed by the OECD and already agreed to by 96 countries.

Is there a way to turn this sudden interest in the Central American nation into a positive opportunity? It seems unlikely, but you never know.

By Daniel Reyes

Daniel Reyes is former Chief Communications Officer of the Colombia Country Brand Office. He now works as a private consultant in strategic communications, with an emphasis on place brands in the digital sphere. Follow Daniel on Twitter, or find him on LinkedIn.

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Eduardo Oliveira

Place branding in strategic spatial planning: New research

Eduardo Oliveira

Placesbrands is delighted to announce the publication of an important piece of doctoral research, which we’ve been eagerly following since this site’s inception in 2012.

Dr Eduardo Oliveira, Placesbrands deputy editor and resident expert, has just published his PhD thesis, exploring the role of place branding in strategic spatial planning.

Firstly, congratulations Eduardo! Here’s the brief on the thesis.

The research focuses on bringing together place branding and the strategic spatial planning approach, specifically at the regional scale. It critically scrutinises the actual or potential roles of place branding as an instrument for reaching strategic spatial planning goals. This discussion is currently gaining momentum at a time when the application of branding techniques and principles to places is firmly on the agendas of local and regional governments.

Place branding has also become an increasingly appealing topic for academic research. The theoretical assumption offered in this thesis is that place branding could and perhaps should be integrated into strategic spatial planning, independent of the geographical scale of application and whether the place branding initiatives are novel or a re-branding exercise. This thesis investigates the empirical significance of a regional branding strategy for northern Portugal, integrated into wider strategic spatial planning, and its ability to overcome the entrenched regional, economic and social difficulties and imbalances.

To achieve this aim, a qualitative methodology is used, specifically involving content analysis of strategic spatial plans, development plans, strategic initiatives, and online traveller-generated content. Sixteen regional stakeholders are also interviewed. By drawing the attention of readers – academics, practitioners, policy makers and spatial planners – to place branding as a strategic spatial planning instrument, this thesis contributes to the theoretical underpinnings of place branding, helping to make it more effective, efficient, and socially and environmentally responsible.

Read the entire thesis on open access at the University of Groningen.

Eduardo can be reached on Twitter, or LinkedIn.

Kostroma place branding

Branding the Golden Ring: Case Study of Kostroma, Russia

Kostroma place branding

Now that destination branding has become popular worldwide, Russia is trying to catch up. However, the whole thing is seen by many as yet another way of money laundering and/or budget wasting. Russians are traditionally pretty pessimistic about most things that promise time-delayed results. They think their lives are likely to change drastically by then, so why bother?

The place branding industry has just started taking shape in Russia. Those involved in the field are mainly specialists in design and company branding, with an additional sprinkling of passionate amateurs. The main issue they face is strategy building for a destination. According to experts, in order to truly have a strategy and follow it, a city should rely on government, business, or the local community – ideally all three.

But in Russia, city branding is mainly initiated and supported by local governments. On one hand, this ensures necessary budgeting and coverage. On the other hand, though, governors often use city branding to their own political and business advantage, and once the regional head is gone, the branding process is discontinued – or slammed and U- turned by his successor. That said, city managers rarely engage specialists to work out long-term strategies as they need results to be seen (or rather shown off) while they are still in office. The measures they take are often bold, costly yet pointless, such as reviving an airport no-one uses, or trying to drive culture in a region with a programme that includes closing 200 libraries and 300 leisure centres.

Examples of businesspeople who encourage city branding are rarely found in Russia because the branding process requires tight cooperation between competitors, and a feeling of stability; while today, businesses hardly perceive themselves as a community and just try to survive. It’s every company for itself. Several places in Russia have movers and shakers that invest time and money into destination branding just for the love of the city. These people often work bottom-up and start by engaging locals into discussions on what makes their hometown unique and what should be done to highlight it.

This is a slow process as people often appear skeptical and reluctant. If you start a topic at a city forum and tell people you are writing a city guide, the first response will probably be, “You do this rubbish out of boredom – better start a family or, if you won’t, then write about poverty and drinking issues”. However, persistent attempts have proven successful in some regions – yet even there, measures are isolated and mainly driven by the efforts of individuals.

As a result, most destinations in this huge country are still largely unknown outside their immediate vicinities, and cannot benefit from the immense potential many of them have. 

Kostroma is an ancient Russian town included in Russia’s Golden Ring, a tourist route first introduced in the 1960s. Back in Soviet times, Kostroma attracted numerous visitors as internal tourism was the only option available for USSR citizens.

The city had no need to attract people in any special way, and the infrastructure was limited and low-quality. Still, when the Iron Curtain came down, people discovered places such as Turkey and Egypt that had better facilities, warmer climates, exotic sightseeing and even lower prices due to market competition.

Russia’s Golden Ring towns developed a reputation of being outdated, overpriced, comfortless ruins only suitable for low-income seniors. Meanwhile, SMB started to develop as the economy turned to capitalism, and little yet comfortable hotels and restaurants opened in Kostroma, transforming the place into a nice surprise for visitors.

Local farmers tried to capitalise on the Soviet-time fame of local cheeses and beef, and even discovered marble meat in Kostroma-bred cows. Russian Orthodox Church supported restoration of the old churches and turned local monasteries into blossoming gardens.

As a result of the recent economic recession and following the events of the Arab Spring, some Russians turned back to internal tourism and were happy to find proper infrastructure in Kostroma. Nowadays, the tourist traffic in the town is slowly growing year on year. But still, the town faces a number of problems.

The previous Governor of the Kostroma Region was a typical attention-seeker who initiated film festivals and Faberge exhibitions in Kostroma but left the economy exhausted and aggravated many problems. Branding-wise, he introduced a logo and a slogan that were lame and obviously imitated those of Putin’s party the Governor tried to please.

The current Governor now tries to make up for all the problems at once and chooses to restrict any culture-oriented costs. Thus, the town had hardly any celebrations planned for the Romanov Dynasty 400th Jubilee in 2013, an event that Kostroma played an important role in, and that could bring IMMENSE tourist traffic to the town. This swinging approach does absolutely no good to a town that is very rich in historical heritage.

It is clear that Kostroma lacks the necessary vision of the city brand. It also lacks local support, as the Governors’ policy is so misleading and the visitors do not directly influence the lives of many local people. The city’s businesses struggle all on their own but receive no support from the community or authorities.

This spotty, sketchy approach is well illustrated by public transport stops in the city centre that feature posters divided in 16 squares called ‘Our Touristic Brands’. The ‘brands’ are pictures of different sights in Kostroma and region, chosen with no logic or order. Some of those have good coverage and access while others are neglected.

Here are several suggestions for proper Kostroma branding.

1. Kostroma’s roads perfectly match the famous saying, Russia has two problems, roads and fools. To encourage individual tourism, motorways, railroads, and region-wide helicopter routes must be optimised, developed, and well cared for. The region is pretty big (about a Switzerland and a half) and covered in thick undisturbed forests where little beautiful towns are scattered, some of them about 900 years old. All the towns (that the region can also benefit a lot from) need to be easily accessed from Kostroma and surrounding regions despite the swampy soils and tight freeze-thaw conditions. Kostroma stands on the Volga, and water tourism infrastructure should be seen as a priority.

2. The government should not merely rely on SMB but should support it by maintaining stability within the region and initiating new tourism projects while keeping an eye on monopolies arising. This would bring more logic to tourism evolving throughout the region.

3. A balance should be kept between old and new, local and global, public and commercial. Today, we see projects to transform unique 18th century shopping arcades into ultramodern malls, which include total restructuring of the place and destruction of most of the actual buildings. This is unacceptable and frightening. Instead, we should make good use of the old constructions, but only together with archaeologists and historians. The town’s cosy, relaxed, 19th century atmosphere should be preserved by all means.

4. A committee should be formed to work out a long-term strategy for the town branding, featuring all stakeholders, e.g. government, local community (bloggers and other opinion leaders), hospitality, museum professionals, environmentalists, and industry. Tourism is not the only thing that can interest visitors. Kostroma has the largest college-per-person ratio in Russia, a strong cultural background, and industrial legacy/potential.

5. A customer-oriented approach should be encouraged in the hospitality industry as well in the whole of city management. The system of public transport is leftover from Soviet times and is not efficient enough today, meaning many hotels, sights, and museums are tricky to reach. Hotels, however warm in greeting guests, do not have free-of-charge town maps and are not proactive in offering extra services like excursions, shops, or places to eat. Best practices and international standards should be promoted, and training sessions should be held. The town should be as comfortable and inspirational for both citizens and visitors as possible.

6. Awareness of Kostroma should be promoted in Russia and internationally, using a tight-knit vision, SMART goals, and clearly defined identity. Kostroma is a town that Russia should be proud of!

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By Oksana Klyuchinskaya