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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.

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.

See more posts by this author

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.

Turkey to join the great Trans-Europe walk

Via Francigena Way Turkey
Hiking on the Via Francigena Way (photo: Kate Clow)

Recent months have been difficult for Turkey.

How has the country brand been affected?

Turkey is still reeling from damage suffered after a string of unfortunate incidents.  Since summer 2015 there has been growing unrest in Turkey’s east, combined with increasing security concerns and an unfolding diplomatic crisis with Russia. These events have had an unsurprising effect on perceptions of Turkey, causing tourism numbers to drop significantly.

Tourism is one of the biggest drivers of country brand.

Although tourism suffers when perceptions of a country are bad, it is possible to use a good strategy to reconfigure country brand perceptions and regain losses.

Fortunately, package holidays are not the only kind of arrangement that brings inbound tourism to Turkey. Turkey’s best strategy in the current climate is likely to involve diversifying its tourism offering to appeal more strongly to more adventurous and independent types of visitors.

As far as being adventurous goes, walking from England all the way to Turkey via the Balkans may be one of the most exciting journeys that anyone could hope for!

Turkey’s tourism credentials are set to receive an extra boost from its plans to join the Via Francigena Cultural Route. Once Turkey gets connected to this trans-Europe walking network, it will open up many possibilities for new kinds of tourism.

Placesbrands spoke to Kate Clow, head of the Culture Routes Society of Turkey, and Hüseyin Eryurt, head of PR, about the project.

Pb: Where did the idea for this project come from?
KC, HE: The Lycian Way route was established in 1999 as the first walking trail in Turkey. In 2012 the Culture Routes Society of Turkey was formed to run everything more efficiently. We have close relations with the European Institute of Cultural Routes, which is important because they set the standards for all cultural routes in the EU. Turkey has been approved to join this agreement and will sign it very soon.

In 2014 we decided to work together with the Via Francigena route, on a plan to join it to Turkey using the Via Egnatia. The latter is the original Roman road to Constantinople and passes through Albania, Macedonia and northern Greece.

Historical Patara, situated along Turkey's Lycian Way (photo: Kate Clow)
Historical Patara, situated along Turkey’s Lycian Way (photo: Kate Clow)

In Turkey, we plan to link three existing routes together into one longer route, rather than starting from scratch. The St Paul route has a strong Christian history, while the Lycian Way is very historical in general, and the Evliya Celebi route is more Islamic. (Evliya Celebi was a famous Ottoman traveller, who described many of the villages he visited in colourful detail).

Alternative and sustainable tourism is important because it can be aimed at a wide variety of tourists, including those from the Arab world as well as Europeans.

What are the key project milestones over the coming year?
The Culture Routes Society is working with three different Turkish municipalities along the route. Each of these areas will plan the route through their territory, improving accommodations, making masterplans, and holding exhibitions. One of them will host a group of Italian visitors along the route.

Another very important goal is to present the Tourism and Culture Ministry with alternative methods of providing a legal framework for the routes, to protect and preserve them by providing stability and maintenance, including forestry, dams, damaged roads, mining, and so on. This will hopefully be easier now as the ministry have already approached us to discuss the issue.

The timing of the project is good in that sense, because it is necessary now, to raise the issue even more. During the project we will present the ministry with a case study for laying the foundations for extending the Via Francigena right the way through Turkey. January 2017 will be the closing conference of the project.

What’s your opinion on the current situation of Turkish tourism?
Our members dealing with sustainable tourism have not been quite so badly affected [as package tours] because they are catering for more adventurous individuals and they put more effort into finding new markets. But in general, we’re seeing a big fall off in visitor numbers. We plan to meet the government soon to discuss how to secure this area of the market on a fairly low budget. We don’t have the resources to get this message across as much as we’d like to. So we do it through our member travel agencies, and they keep their customers on side as much as they can.

Sustainable tourism will be a growing sector in the long-term, that’s for sure.

How will the Via Francigena route be marketed?
Mainly by using social media and via our partner travel agencies. There will also be joint marketing efforts with Italy, at the festivals, and by bringing Italian students over to blog about the routes in Turkey as part of this project. We’re keen to develop strong connections with Italy.

Some areas get better promotion efforts than others, for example Via Francigena has been promoted in Italy via a series of summer festivals in various towns along the route. Promotion efforts have also included a marathon, music events, and so on. It’s an extensive programme.

What’s the value of cultural routes for improving country brand?
Europe approaches its long distance walking routes in a very different way to the rest of the world. Only in Europe do routes have a solid cultural basis. They may be based on historical themes or perhaps the routes of a particular traveller. One key advantage is to preserve the local culture and use that as a marketing hook to attract people interested in cultural themes.

Turkey tourism country brand
Turkish villagers along the Cultural Route (photo: Kate Clow)

Another big advantage is the participation of local people along the route. The Lycian Way is a great example. Tourists walking this route enjoy interacting with the locals and experiencing the culture as it is today.

This type of tourism is quite different from mass tourism, where people stay in big hotels without learning anything or giving money directly to the local people.

Unlike mass tourism, cultural routes generate alternative income for villagers. In fact, we’ve seen the villagers sometimes get up in the middle of the night and adjust the route markers to make sure the route goes through their door, or their part of the village!!

Find out more about the work of the Culture Routes Society Turkey on Facebook, or at the official website


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A world that could have been

Global reputations of places
photo credit: 3 in the globe via photopin (license)

Some places have bad reputations and most tourists avoid them. Although these places can be menacing, they can also be compelling. Even more so when you remember how they used to be.

Perhaps war zones or rugged areas where rebel groups lurk, nations with unfriendly governments, or otherwise unstable locations where conflict has recently ended.

But the places are intriguing because they weren’t always like that. Once upon a time every place had its heyday. Did the outside world perceive these places differently during times of peace and prosperity?

Take Syria and Iraq, now unrecognisable shadows of their former selves, cursed with reputations for war and suffering. Long ago, Baghdad was one of the most magnificent cities in the Islamic world, where the heart of an Empire beat during the golden age of Islam. In those days, Baghdad was known for its scholars, its philosophers, and its innovators.

The Syrian cities of Damascus, Aleppo and Homs are some of the world’s most ancient, where civilisation itself may have begun. Their present suffering is painful to observe.

Somalia, whose capital city Mogadishu was once the pre-eminent city in the Horn of Africa, making a fortune from its role as a major trading port with the Arabian Peninsula and India. For a long time, Somali Muslims and Ethiopian Christians lived peacefully side by side.

During the Middle Ages, Somalia became a prosperous trading nation where Islam gained power and flourished. In the 1940s, Somalia was an Italian colony home to over 22,000 Italians. The standard of living was one of the highest in the region, partly thanks to a well-developed manufacturing industry.

Somalia later passed into the hands of the British, and finally gained its independence in 1960. But a military coup in 1969 and subsequent establishment of a communist state heralded the beginning of Somalia’s slow descent into chaos and failed statehood.

Afghanistan: known in the 1950s and 60s as a progressive nation where innovation was encouraged, where women’s equality was enshrined in law, and where young people went to university to pursue their dreams. All were free to do so unhindered by religious and political fanaticism.

During the final years of the Afghanistan invasion, British Defence Secretary Liam Fox referred to Afghanistan as ‘a broken 13th century country.’ He was totally wrong.

But unfortunately, Fox’s view reflects common perceptions of Afghanistan and its inhabitants, who are often believed to be ungovernable barbarians living in a chaotic land. This dangerously inaccurate view informs much of Western foreign policy towards Afghanistan and countries like it.

In 2010, Afghan-American university president Mohammad Qayoumi, who left Afghanistan in the 1960s, is determined to educate the world about the country he knows and loves, as it used to be.

Qayoumi put together a compelling photo essay, ‘Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan’, full of images of an unrecognisable nation.  The photos of William Podlich reflect Qayoumi’s original theme, this time showing Afghanistan from the perspective of an American family living there in the 60s.

Examining both collections is an uplifting and thought-provoking experience, yet at the same time melancholy. The images show female university students in Kabul wearing skirts without headscarves, studying science alongside their male peers, socialising at cinemas and coffee shops, and shopping at record stores stacked with the latest Afghan and international hits.

Podlich’s pictures show Americans interacting normally with Afghans on the street in a relaxed manner, even one where Podlich’s wife is wearing a sleeveless Western dress.

According to Qayoumi, 1960s Afghanistan had an efficient and organised government, a vibrant economy, and a strong tradition of law and order. Institutions such as the national airline, Ariana Afghan Airlines, were reliable and well regarded internationally. Overall, Afghanistan had a decent reputation.

In fact, Afghanistan of the 1960s had many of the ingredients for success. Its people had every reason to expect a bright future during these halcyon days.

How tragic it is, to see the state of these nations today after decades of war, communism, and religious extremism have taken their toll. These are the most common driving factors of civilisational retrograde and they have caused immense destruction.

There are no excuses or justifications. The wasted potential is immense, both for the countries and for their people. Innovation, freedom of speech, modernity, fair governance, justice, all summed up into a strong, clearly communicated nation image, are necessary for any civilisation wishing to thrive in the 21st century.

Any force that tries to deny them that opportunity is not a force for good. Let us hope that one day these battered civilisations will rise up again on the global playing field of a new century.

“Who knows?” said Qayoumi in a 2010 interview with NPR. “Maybe in 20 years from today, we can look at a very different Afghanistan, where we can look at the pictures of today — and see that same kind of stark contrast that we can see now with the pictures of the 1950s and ’60s.”

As an old Afghan saying goes: “A stream that has seen water before will see water in the future also.”

Perhaps by showing the world a different side of these much-maligned nations, we can help to lay the groundwork for their eventual rebirth and regaining of lost reputations.