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Asteroids and stars

Ambitious asteroid mining dreams

Luxembourg's asteroid mining dreams

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is famous for its banking. It’s also famous for being tiny. That’s about it.

But that might change soon, as Luxembourg unveils its ambitions for the budding industry of asteroid mining. Yes, you read that correctly, asteroid mining. Here at Placesbrands, we’d never even heard of this kind of work until now.

Apparently, there is a whole lot of mineral wealth inside those random pieces of rock that orbit our solar system. Mining them could enable us to access greater amounts of important resources without damaging the Earth’s existing landscape.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Luxembourg’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy Étienne Schneider said: “Our aim is to open access to a wealth of previously unexplored mineral resources on lifeless rocks hurling through space, without damaging natural habitats.”

“We will support the long-term economic development of new, innovative activities in the space and satellite industries as a key high-tech sector for Luxembourg.”

The tiny state rarely attracts media attention. But now it plans to invest significant amounts of money in new research and innovation to develop its capabilities in asteroid mining. According to Vice News, Luxembourg will also spend time creating a legal framework to be used by companies that want to conduct business activities ‘beyond the confines of the planet’. That phrase itself is rather thrilling, isn’t it?

Luxembourg might seem an unusual contender for this kind of ambitious venture. But despite its small population and surface area, what the general public may not know is that the country hosts two major commercial satellite companies. It’s the real deal; the expertise is already present. But until now, it hasn’t been communicated widely.

This announcement could herald the beginning of a whole new era. If Luxembourg continues to promote its strategy in this area, the little duchy could soon find itself becoming synonymous with asteroid mining and pioneering the idea of doing business outside the very confines of Earth itself.  Having a unique selling point is a great benefit in building a strong national identity. What could be more unique than this?

When building a reputation there’s no substitute for actually doing the thing you want to become known for. This applies not just to places, but also to people and companies. If Luxembourg keeps doing what it’s doing; and doing it well, its national reputation will soon grow and change.

Weaving the space exploration theme into some compelling stories wouldn’t hurt either. Fortunately, outer space has always captured our imaginations, so it should be an easy goal to achieve.

US flag

Chalk and cheese

US flag

While the world shudders at the hatefulness displayed by US presidential candidate Donald Trump, newly elected Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has been personally welcoming Syrian refugees at the airport. What a contrast between two neighbouring countries!

For months now, Trump has been ramping up his negative rhetoric against refugees and immigrants. First it was Mexicans, now it’s Muslims. After the San Bernadino shootings, Trump announced that all Muslims should be banned from entering America.

This was unsurprising given his track record. Days earlier, Trump had suggested that Muslims living in America should be forced to add their personal details to a central database. This move, reminiscent of Hitler’s early policies towards Jews in Germany, horrified much of the world. However, there remained those who were not horrified, who actually supported Trump’s policies.

His latest comments on Muslims have attracted widespread condemnation, even from unlikely candidates such as David Cameron and Boris Johnson. The latter said he ‘won’t visit New York because Trump might be there.’ But despite global condemnation, Trump remains popular among aspects of American society that fear the ‘Other’ and admire Trump for ‘speaking his mind’.

Journalist Barbara Walters recently interviewed Trump. Here’s a short sample:
Walters: “Are you a bigot?”
Trump: “Not at all. Probably the least of anyone you’ve ever met.”
Walters: “Because…?”
Trump: “Because I’m not. I’ve got common sense. I’m a smart person.”

Trump’s comments have alienated some of his Muslim business associates in the Gulf, notably the boss of Landmark shopping malls, who announced that his company would remove Trump branded products from its stores across the Middle East. The residents of Istanbul’s posh development Trump Towers aren’t too happy either.

One Istanbul resident, Melek Toprak, told the New York Times recently: “I feel ashamed to live in a building associated with such a vile man.”

In contrast, Canada has emerged as a do-gooder. Since Trudeau was elected, he has made a swathe of policy changes and announcements, deciding to withdraw from airstrikes on Syria, and allowing 25,000 Syrian refugees to enter Canada. These moves are reinstating Canada’s old image as a benevolent and inclusive nation.

Arguably, Trudeau’s actions are pulling Canada’s reputation back from the brink, undoing much of the damage caused by his predecessor Stephen Harper.

Canada currently ranks 12th overall on the Good Country Index, a ranking of countries that do the most good for the world as a whole. The US, in contrast, stands at 21st place. This is based on data from last year, so it will be interesting to see how the results change in next year’s edition of the ranking.

Simon Anholt, creator of the Good Country Index, commented via Twitter: “I’m greatly relieved that [Canada] is reengaging with the world.”

But while Canada continues to spread goodwill and reestablish itself in the global order, America’s political climate is bubbling with vitriol. Islamophobia and discrimination have risen significantly. This bodes badly for America’s reputation, already set against a backdrop of institutionalised racism and growing perceptions of a violent ‘frontier’ society. This is the country where school shootings happen regularly.

Many Americans (and indeed, the world) hope and pray that Hillary Clinton will secure the premiership next year. If that doesn’t happen, it’s possible that Donald Trump could end up as president. The consequences of that are indeed worrying.

America’s worsening reputation could be the least of anyone’s concerns. The risk of the world’s most powerful nation becoming an intolerant, far-right state, led by a man whose comments have drawn comparisons to Hitler, is far more frightening.

the rock

Revamping the Rock

the rock

Andrew Stevens writes for Placesbrands with this in-depth report on Brand Gibraltar, examining the Rock’s approach to tourism, inward investment, and everything in between.

“You can get married in Gibraltar near Spain” – ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’, The Beatles

Here are Gibraltar’s key brand assets:
• High growth economy – 10% per annum
• Strategic location – access to EU and Africa
• Strong heritage and culture offer for visitors
• Government focus on four pillars: finance, shipping, tourism and e-gaming
• Links with UK – legal system and regulatory regimes

As well as the on-going dispute with Spain over its sovereignty, with some hard to shift perceptions of it being both a colonial relic and tax haven, Gibraltar’s leaders are well aware of the task the territory faces in promoting its brand externally.

The Government works at different levels to counter these perceptions (often including paid advertorials in the UK press) and also develop tourism and inward investment growth. It consistently describes itself as a reliable and safe place to do business, visit and work, and one which pays its own way rather than relying on any subsidies from the UK (running a budget surplus of £65m in 2014).

Gibraltar has used reforms of corporate taxation as actions aimed at securing what it has referred to as a “decade-long reputational shift from a tax haven to an internationally tax-compliant, small onshore EU finance centre.” This now sees a “low tax, not no tax” offer, with a new corporate rate of 10% introduced in 2011.

Part of the thinking here is that being selective about the quality of business sought generates security and reputational worth. As one business leader put it: “We’re not about mass business. Gibraltar is about actually adding value and bringing quality business in.”

Ministers are also keen to play up Gibraltar’s status as part of the European Union and the regulatory compliance and market access the jurisdiction offers, which was readily apparent in discussions with the Deputy Chief Minister Joseph Garcia during my recent visit.

Gibraltar’s financial services minister Gilbert Licudi has said: “Our reputation, robust regulation, access to the single European market, low – not zero – tax and attractive lifestyle are a powerful combination to bring new business to Gibraltar.”

Having tied this reputational shift to a package of political and regulatory reforms since taking office in 2011, the government is acutely aware of the need to communicate its offer globally while respecting the delicate balance of doing so in step with the UK (which retains responsibility for foreign affairs), but at the same time advancing its own distinct brand values and identity as set out by its elected government (the current Chief Minister Fabian Picardo routinely describes it as “British Gibraltar”).

It has identified not only the all-important BRICS markets (especially Hong Kong) as natural targets but also other territories closer to home, both physically and linguistically through a focus on relations with the Commonwealth and the US. The government is active in the political structures of the Commonwealth of Nations, such as the Commonwealth Ministers’ Forum and Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (as well as participating in the Commonwealth Games).

In the U.S. the government has appointed a long term resident of New York as its official representative, while even Miss Gibraltar has been enlisted to front the marketing of the territory at a number of international trade events.

The government also envisages the establishment of an international legal studies centre in Gibraltar, which can play a global role in analysing and informing decolonisation debates in international forums, not only contributing to global dialogue and stability but also furthering its own ambitions for self-determination.

The volume of shipping through the Straits of Gibraltar, 71,000 vessels each year, has seen its port develop niche industries aimed at servicing the needs of not only ships needing EU-compliant heavy fuel but also repairs, crew change facilities and hull cleaning. It can also offer owners a British common law legal system, which makes it attracting for registering ships. As one leading financier put it, Gibraltar offers “an Anglo-Saxon working environment and a Latin lifestyle.”

Case study: Toyota Gibraltar
Toyota Gibraltar Stockholdings (TGS) has grown from humble origins as the family-run Bassadone Motors car dealership (set up in 1927) into a global hub for the delivery and specialist servicing of Toyota’s humanitarian relief vehicles.

Acting as official supplier to the UN, UNICEF, WHO, JICA and several global NGOs active in humanitarian and relief efforts, the company uses its base on Gibraltar to dispatch and service the familiar white vehicles to wherever they are needed around the world, as well as offering specialist training to enable drivers to maintain and protect their vehicles in the field.

The company employs staff of 12 nationalities to enable it to be understood and trusted in these markets, with 600 vehicles (Land Cruiser, Hilux, Hiace and Prado models) in stock at any time available for deployment at short notice – in the 2014 Ebola crisis 32 Hiluxes were shipped from the port of Gibraltar via the Royal Navy to Sierra Leone.

Turnarounds from orders within 24 hours are possible, such as rapid deployment of two modified vehicles to the Nepal earthquake via Madrid Airport (ordered at 10.30 and airborne by 23.30).

These workshops can modify Toyota vehicles to serve a number of different humanitarian roles, for instance ambulances or mortuary vans (which are resprayed from white to black).

Having grown the business since Toyota’s decision to divest itself of direct sales of humanitarian vehicles in the 1980s, TGS consider that Gibraltar’s strategic location adjacent to Africa and the Mediterranean, but with access to Spain’s airports, is a core reason for its leading position in this specialist market.

E-gaming is another rapidly growing sector, now responsible for 20% of its GDP since its emergence 20 years ago following leading British companies such as BetVictor moving their operations from the UK to the territory (now the second largest employer after the government and the sector as a whole employs 13% of workers, many commuting from Spain).

“In Asia now, it’s seen as a mark of approval that you operate out of Gibraltar. We are well-regulated and people recognise that fact,” said BetVictor chairman Victor Chandler.

As well as Gibraltar’s security in regulatory vigilance (against scams and rogue companies) and data networks, the territory has a global competitive advantage for its resident industry expertise and spin-off businesses in secure payments processing and intellectual property (which is tax-free on royalties), which has since spawned a new start-up tech sector growing in size.

Ultimately it isn’t bankers, seafarers or gamblers who will generate the word of mouth necessary for Gibraltar to acquire a more brand awareness in the minds of the global public, but visitors to the Rock.

Here the authorities are seeking to refresh the offer a little to increase volume by reaching out to new global markets, not least on account of the centrality of websites in reaching and informing audiences.

The government also eyes new air links to more parts of the UK as being integral in driving up visitor numbers to promote it as an accessible destination, especially against fierce European competition.

Congestion and movement of visitors is an issue for a territory so closely hemmed in (2.5 miles by one mile at the widest point), with the government looking to invest more in enabling visitors to access all the territory has to offer.

Rather than just wartime tunnels and the famous ape colony, Gibraltar’s tourism minister Neil Costa was set the brief to revamp the brand when he was elected as part of the new reform-minded government.

He says that widening the number of annual events, such as the new jazz and literary festivals, will enable it to sharpen the visitor offer, while cruise calls and day visits are also on an upward trend.

***

References:

The Guardian: Gibraltar – The Report

Andrew Stevens is Chief Researcher of the London office for the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations, which recently visited Gibraltar to study the economic and political affairs of the territory.

www.jlgc.org.uk/en
@jlgclondon

Finland emoji

Finland’s ’emoji diplomacy’

Finland emoji

Finland made headlines this week with its release of 30 country-branding emojis, in an unique and typically quirky twist on regular promotion efforts.

Said to reflect aspects of the Finnish national character, the list includes a sauna emoji, a Nokia ‘brick phone’ emoji, and the ‘headbanger’ emoji, which is the particular favourite of Petra Theman, Finland’s Director of Public Diplomacy.

Placesbrands struggled (figuratively) through the hordes of journalists surrounding Petra to do a quick interview.

What gave you the idea to make emojis?
“The boring answer is that it relates to our Finland webpage. It was a team effort. We’ve always had this end-of-year calendar and this year we wanted to do something out of the box, related to social media, maybe talk to the younger public a little more.

The emojis idea came up because we have some great emoji designers in Finland. We liked that the emojis convey things of importance for our brand, e.g. digitalisation and being ahead of things in the digital world. They also show quirkiness as one of the Finnish characteristics. We thought the emojis reflected this very well.”

What’s your favourite out of the 30?
“The headbanger! It’s very useful for saying ‘Rock-on!’ over a text message and it appeals to a certain genre that already loves Finland. We’ve gained a reputation as the heavy rock capital of the world. It represents our attitude. We have plenty of well known rock bands with millions of fans all over the world. It’s a music form that we love.”

From a Finnish perspective, what are Finland’s most important national characteristics?
“That’s a tough question because we don’t want to go into stereotypes too much. You always have to think about the younger generation who see and experience the world so differently.

Mainly I think that if you look at statistics and rankings there are a couple of things that stand out. One is our sense of equality, of wanting to do things fairly for everyone. That’s something I find very characteristic of Finns.

The other is a certain honesty, sometimes ‘rude’ honesty until the breaking point. Here’s an example. A lot of research was done into honesty in various places. If you throw out 15 wallets, how many will come back to the owner? Finland often wins this kind of thing.

Also the Finnish handshake is something that’s for real. So equality and honesty are most important, along with this quirkiness, which is often found in the younger Finnish character. Quirky and a little bit crazy.

A while ago Newsweek did a ranking [perhaps it was this one] that stated the happiest people in the world live in Finland. Finns thought ‘this really can’t be true’ and so they went through the research material in detail and discovered that Newsweek had miscalculated the whole thing!

The Finns found there was an tiny error and that Switzerland actually won, not Finland. To have Finns being the ones doing this is hilarious and shows typical quirkiness.”

And finally, what’s next for Finland in terms of brand strategy?

“We’re all looking towards 2017, which will be Finland’s 100th birthday. We’re emphasising four themes in our brand strategy, which are:

1. Education policy
2. Pureness and cleantech
3. Functionality of government and country
4. Wellness and healthcare issues.

We’d like to see more acknowledgement of the quality of our higher education, as well as our primary education.

Cleantech reflects the problem solving attitude, which is part of our history and approach. We’re the engineer nation. Jokes between the Nordic countries often say that Sweden is the marketer and Finland is the engineer.

We have the mindset for it, which is good for cleantech and similar issues. It’s a fairly well known mindset about Finns.”

***

Keep an eye on the This is Finland website for the full emoji set, due out on December 1st.

In the meantime, rock on!

Country winner

Global popularity contest

Country winner

The Digital Country Index is a country brand ranking with a difference.

Whereas most rankings rely either on survey data or a collection of indicators from third party sources, this one draws together almost one billion keywords used across online searches globally. The resulting data is classified into five dimensions deemed most relevant to the overall strength of a national brand: Tourism, Talent, Inward Investment, Exports, and National Prominence.

Countries that rank near the top in any of these categories demonstrate that the world is interested in them. Those near the bottom show the exact opposite; that they are of little consequence in global affairs. Some countries and territories produced no search data at all.

Online searches, in particular Google, have become the go-to reaction to anything that triggers our curiosity. For many people the act of searching for a country starts from this curiosity, perhaps about something they read in the news or hear in conversation. When we search online we are remarkably candid about the terms we type in. That means the terms used are most revealing of people’s true opinions about countries.

“The act of searching for a specific country is a clear indicator of how interesting that country is,” said José Torres, CEO of Bloom Consulting, nation branding specialists and creators of the Digital Country Index.

Critics say that country brand rankings simply perpetuate stereotypes. They point out that the big players always win, leaving little opportunity for smaller ones to be acknowledged. Those people may well be disappointed to hear which country is the overall winner of the Digital Country Index. But we can’t escape reality. Some countries are simply more prominent than others. The question should really be: how can the others leverage their unique strengths to make themselves stand out?

So, let’s dig into the Digital Country Index 2015.

Overall, there’s a predictable outcome. Right at the top of the pile, ranked top despite numerous reputation-related challenges, is the United States. The country didn’t score highly in the Good Country Index, nor did it top Futurebrand’s 2014 Country Brand Rankings. That honour went to Japan. But undeniably, the world is searching online most frequently for the United States.

In the Tourism dimension of the Digital Country Index, Spain ranked top overall, followed by Italy in second place. Turkey, despite ongoing problems with politics and security, still ranked top in the Tourism sub-category ‘Visits’, although Bloom Consulting informed me that most of the search terms were collected during the earlier part of the year. The next Index could potentially produce a very different result for Turkey, reflecting concerns in the latter part of 2015.

There are some surprises in the rest of the results. Singapore, sometimes accused of dullness, in fact ranks top out of 180 countries for ‘Leisure and Entertainment’ related searches within the Tourism dimension.

China is top overall for Inward Investment, followed by the USA. Other BRICs hog the top five, with India in third place and Brazil in fourth.

For Talent, meaning the inflows of foreign workers and students, the USA ranks first, followed by Canada, Australia, Germany and the UK. Germany’s performance here could reflect its recent decision to offer free higher education in all its universities.

For National Prominence, the USA is predictably top, followed by Australia, Japan, Germany and Canada. In the National Prominence sub-categories, an interesting result stands out under Governance. Uruguay ranks in fifth place, beating both Germany and the UK. This could be due to Uruguay’s well-publicised and unusually humble former president José Mujica.

In the Society sub-dimension, Singapore ranks top, while the USA leads in both the Sports and Culture sub-dimensions.

Unsurprisingly, ‘world’s workshop’ China ranks top overall for Exports. The USA tops the sub-dimension for ‘Flagship Companies’, but China comes top in the remaining three: ‘Made In’, ‘Export From’, and ‘Goods’. However, this still does not show whether country-of-origin goods from China are associated with high quality. Recent negative comments in reaction to China’s unveiling of its first domestically produced passenger jet would suggest that they are not. Another interesting result is found in the Flagship Companies dimension, where Colombia ranks third, ahead of both Germany and China.

Bloom Consulting created the Index using a proprietary tool (Digital Demand D2) to collect global keyword data from a range of search engines. This big data was then filtered according to keywords searched, nationality (country of origin), and time of year (month). Data was collected in nine languages.

Understanding what motivates people’s initial interest in a country can help governments make better strategic decisions. This data can be constantly monitored for changes over time and in response to specific triggers, such as significant policy changes, economic shifts, terrorist attacks, or international accolades.

“Governments need to start monitoring their digital country reputation in the same way that they monitor it in the real world. Whatever happens in the real world also happens in the digital world… and will stay there forever,” added Torres.

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Find out more about the Digital Country Index, and other country brand rankings, at Bloom Consulting’s website.