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Month: November 2015

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.



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.


The city’s voice

Voice of city

The concept of audio branding for destinations is intriguing. But why should places consider using this technique in their brand strategies? Steve Keller of iV Audio Branding introduces us to the emotive power of sound and discusses how it can be used to create lasting identities for places.

Steve, why should destinations use sound in their brand strategies?
Well, what is it that draws us to a place? Our memories are not simply visual. They’re multi sensorial. So when you think about a destination, why limit your branding to a visual logo or a verbal brand claim? Sound is one of the most effective implicit drivers of emotion. If you can capture a unique sonic identity for your destination, you will have added a powerful tool to your branding/marketing toolbox.

What are some examples of destinations that have made good use of sound?
Nashville, New Orleans, Memphis and Austin all have strong ties to music, and they use that connection to appeal to tourism. However, they are not exploring the multiple touch points available to take advantage of those obvious sonic connections.

Consider Vienna, which has effectively created an audio brand woven into its transportation system, which provides a sonic association with the city itself. Art installations, like the ‘sea organ’ in Zadar, Croatia, that incorporate sound, offer opportunities for both attention and promotion.

London used a ‘sound taxi’ that recorded the city sounds around it – buses, horns, and crowds – and then transformed them into ambient sound to music that created a real-time sonic experience for tourists and locals alike.

Destination brands can also use traditional audio branding assets like a sonic logo. Coupling that audio mark with a visual logo for a city offers a way to build recognition through use in broadcast commercials, online videos, digital communication and more.

Atlanta worked with Sixième Son (an audio agency based in Paris, France) to create an audio logo based on the city’s history, heritage and culture.

Some countries and cities conjure up distinct sound associations. Can you give us an example?
If you consider national anthems as ‘brand themes,’ that’s one obvious connection between a place and a specific piece of music. Some iconic landmarks also have a sonic association, with London’s Big Ben as a prime example.

Calls to prayer, chants, or temple bells are examples of ‘sonic signatures’ that speak to spiritual connections to places and cultures. Nature sounds can also be used to effectively communicate sonic associations with a particular place.

For instance, when riding the tram at the Zurich airport in Switzerland, you will hear the sounds of cows, cowbells, Alpine horns and yodelling. Nothing says, “Welcome to Switzerland” more than these iconic sonic associations with the Swiss countryside, and they never fail to bring a smile to the faces of the travellers arriving.

What kind of sounds work best for creating positive associations with places?
I think every place has unique sound/memory associations. To some extent, it’s less about creating them, and more about listening for them. These natural associations are always a good place to start, and are usually found through interviews with local members of the city or community.

You can also ‘sound map’ a city, noting the location of unique soundscapes within the city environment. As you listen, you want to find those unique sound/place pairings that can be ‘owned’ by the destination (i.e. you won’t hear it anywhere else, or at least not quite like you hear it when you’re in a particular location).

Sound maps, sonic installations (often paired with art installations), geo-tagging and beacons can all be used to help visitors and community members take sonic scavenger hunts through the city. While these distinct sonic identifiers can be natural, a destination could also create specific audio assets as part of an audio branding strategy.

An audio logo, as previously mentioned, would be one example of this kind of distinct, flexible, congruent, recognisable and ownable audio asset. Another asset might be a ‘Brand Voice’ – a particular voice or voices used in audio communications. Over time, this ‘voice of the city’ can become a recognisable sonic extension of the destination’s personality.

How would you integrate audio into a wider brand strategy?
Building a successful audio brand takes discipline. You must first uncover your brand’s audio identity. Once you identify, create, and curate its audio assets, you then need to be disciplined in their execution across multiple touch points.

For instance, let’s use the example of the ‘voice of the city’ mentioned earlier. This voice (or voices) should be chosen based on how it reflects the essence of your brand’s personality. Then, look for all the areas where you can consistently use this voice. You might hear it in marketing and branding communications.

Perhaps it’s used in online videos found on the city website. If I call the messaging centre, I might hear it there. When I visit the city, then I might also hear it on my arrival and as I travel throughout the city on trains, buses and in airports. It’s as if the city is speaking to me in a voice that I recognise, that I become connected to, and that feels more like a familiar friend than a strange place.

Add to this the fact that technology is creating new audio touch points all the time, particularly with our mobile devices. Sound is an extremely important part of that experience.

What’s the best way to measure the effect of audio in a place branding strategy?
You can measure at various stages of the process. We can test at the developmental phase, to make sure the audio assets we’re creating and/or procuring are hitting the emotional/rational targets we’ve identified.

We can see how our audio choices are affecting the way we interpret the brand visually. We can explore the free associations that pop up in the mind of a listener when they first heard a sound or a piece of music. These developmental tests help us make sure we’re capturing the true ‘sonic essence’ of the brand.

We can also benchmark to compare the emerging audio identity with other iconic brands. We can examine consensus meaning and cued recall. We can measure likability and familiarity. All these measures then form a baseline. We can run the same tests again, a year later, two years later, three years later – and measure the changes.

Finally, we can optimise, where we might look at how different applications of the audio brand might drive purchase intent (or in the case of a destination, desire to visit), enjoyment, breakthrough, and recall. In attempting to measure benefits and outcomes, you need to define what you want to measure, and how to build the best test design to give the necessary input to make decisions and evaluate progress.

Obviously, time and money are always a consideration, but knowing the right questions to ask is the most important part of any testing initiative. Good testing doesn’t just give you answers. It also helps you identify new questions.

Which place has the best sounds? And which has the worst?
I’m going to be diplomatic here and say that this has a lot to do with my own personal tastes and preferences, rather than attempting to name destination brands that I think are using sound ‘rightly or wrongly.’

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to a number of amazing destinations all around the world, and I have fond sonic memories of them all. That said, I think there is a danger in how the world is becoming increasingly ‘noisy’. We’re losing some of the natural sounds of a place as they are masked by the noise of devices and machines around us. We’re losing the art of mindful listening, and with it the ability to be aware and present in the moment.

This is an important point: audio branding isn’t just about the intentional presence of sound. It’s also about the intentional absence. One of my fondest memories of Helsinki is the wooden Chapel of Silence there. It’s built in the middle of the city, and was designed as a sonic refuge from the hustle and the bustle going on outside its walls.

I think the idea of an ‘intentional use of sound’ is key. The use of sound in destination branding shouldn’t just be a tactic. It should be a strategy. There should be clear reasons for sonic choices, aligned with the brand vision and promise.

In your audio branding work, how do you use sound to change negative perceptions of a place?
Our associations colour our perceptions. Once we pair a stimulus with a particular place or object, the emotional outcome creates a powerful association. These paired associations are difficult, but not impossible, to break.

One way to change perception is to call attention to the paired association, and create another to replace it, or to at least offer a new perspective. The Chapel of Silence offers another experience to the sounds of a busy urban environment, a potentially strong positive association of a calm and comforting destination in a part of the city that may typically be thought of as a place of chaos and business.

The introduction of the sounds of the Swiss countryside into an airport tram actually creates a moment of surprise and enjoyment for weary travellers, suggesting to them that now that they’re entering Zurich, they can relax.

While these examples may not be specifically about changing a negative perception, they do help illustrate how sound connects with us on an implicit level, where emotional associations are most powerful and where they can affect how we interpret the information we’re receiving through our other senses.

Find out more about iV Audio Branding, or follow Steve on Twitter.

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!

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.


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

Talkin’ post-Turkish-election blues

Turkey sunset

Turkey is many things, but predictable it’s not.

The national elections of November 1st 2015 saw Turkey’s ruling AK Party (Justice and Development Party) sweep back into full power. It had been an uncertain few months. In June 2015, when the first round of elections were held, the AKP were unable to gain a majority.

Ordinarily this situation would have produced a coalition government. Determined not to take this route, the party stalled proceedings by refusing to agree to a coalition. Finally the November election was called.

Since the June elections Turkey has been experiencing increased levels of instability and violence. The peace deal with the Kurds has fallen apart, causing the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish armed forces to renew old hostilities.

On top of this, Turkey was shaken by two major suicide bombings, which both struck people taking part in Kurdish-related peace demonstrations. The second and most recent bombing, in the capital Ankara, killed almost 100. It was the worst terrorist attack in Turkey’s history.

Other ominous events followed, building a growing sense of chaos throughout the country. Press freedom became a contentious issue as two anti-government newspapers were forced to become pro-government overnight.

The government placed a ban on any critical media coverage in the run-up to the elections. Interestingly, the government also decided to delay the end of Turkey’s daylight saving time by two weeks, claiming that the change in time risked ‘confusing’ voters on election day.

In recent months, election-related conspiracy theories have been rife in Turkey. But it’s hard to know what to believe. In these situations it’s perhaps best to assume that nothing is black and white.

As always, there will be elements of both truth and untruth in the claims.

Turkey’s image has taken a lot of knocks. Much of the outside world now associates Turkey with a leader seen as increasingly dictatorial. Along with perceptions of danger, this has put some people off. Tourism numbers have dropped, with perceptions of the conflict-hit east affecting travellers’ decisions to visit other parts of the country. Hotel occupancy rates have dropped by double digit amounts, while tourism revenue has fallen by 4.4 per cent in the third quarter, according to official statistics.

These shifts have been widely attributed to security concerns as well as the decline in Russian tourism caused by the rouble’s fall. However, country rankings such as Bloom Consulting’s Digital Country Index, which ranks levels of online search activity concerning countries, show that Turkey is still performing well in tourism-related searches.

A lot can be inferred from these challenges, but the fact is that the AKP are back in firm control at the helm of Turkey. Commentators in the Western media (including a fair number of Turks) have widely and vocally criticised the situation surrounding the elections, with particular focus on the AKP campaign.

Many thought that Selahattin Demirtas, the charismatic and liberal leader of the HDP (People’s Democratic Party) would bring Turkey something of a ‘Trudeau’ moment, helping to set the country on a new course. Indeed, polls had incorrectly suggested that Turkey would end up with a coalition government.

On the bright side, now that the AKP are back, Turkey is likely to move away from the instability wrought by the past few months. After all, it is unlikely that any coalition government, especially in a land as politically polarised as Turkey, could offer the same stability as one party ruling alone.

Hopefully this will go some way towards rejuvenating the country’s tarnished image, restoring tourism and bringing the economy back to its former strength.