Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Measuring the "Nation Brand"

Any communication/perception management campaign must be measurable. It should be able to map brand growth over a certain time span. As a communications and brand strategy consultant I have used numerous tools to measure & evaluate a branding campaign. Accurate measurements makes a dynamic communication strategy possible.

Now that the government of India is serious about undertaking a branding exercise to project power and spread India's influence how can we measure the success of such a campaign? What can be certain parameters? The following comes to my mind:

1. The most obvious first -- measure the number of times India has been mentioned in the press of target countries. Analyse the messages that has gone through. Track the evolution of messages with a strict year to year timelines.

2. Monitor online conversations about India and identify messages in social media outlets that might be of significance. It can be a NYT blog or the blog of FCO in UK or TamilNet in Sri Lanka, Facebook, Twitter etc. etc. Various tools like Radian6 exists nowadays that can analyse online conversations.

3. In media what are the most common used adjectives used to describe India. What are the names? What are the stereotypes associated with the country the most? For example, the recent 'racist' attacks on Indian students in Australia presents a good opportunity to map India's brand image in that country and track online and mainstream media for conversations about India.

4. Readily quantifiable data can be gathered on the impact on tourism, Indian corporates with international operations, Indian economy, as a result of the branding campaign.

5. One can also measure how the country has performed over the years in the Nation Brands Index. India came 26th in the 2008 survey of Nation Brands. It featured nowhere in the top 20 of brand images in culture, tourism -- the things we keep chest thumping about the most! So, one can imagine the tough task in hand for the Public Diplomacy Division of MEA.

These are some very 'obvious' examples. I am sure there are more. Suggestions are welcome.

-- Madhur

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Cricket, documentaries as medium to build Australia-India ties

Melbourne (PTI) Amid a spate of racial attacks on Indians in Australia, a Sydney-based film expert is coming out with a documentary aimed at improving ties between the two countries and a local cricket body in Victoria is hosting matches to promote harmony

-- Madhur
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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Public Diplomacy & Social Media

How effective is Social Media as an instrument of Public Diplomacy? Much has been made out of the twitters coming out from Iran these days. Does this mean that social media is the new playing field? I doubt it though. f8dzbpx3ny
It can play a big role in developed societies ( Western Europe or North America ) but in developing societies the digital divide is huge. How do you reach out to those who have a limited idea or absolutely no clue about the digital world? Can you twitter away in Afghanistan? In Iran the "twitterers" are few and far between... People who twittered in Iran may not have the influence to mobilise or shape the ones that matter. The lower classes and the poor form the basis of Ahmedinejad's support courtesy his "populism."

In India for example the 700 or so odd millions that do not have access to the internet decides policies by the power of their vote. This recent election is a good example .. so was the last one. The well-off, the middle class, the internet users are apathetic to use thier vote anyway.

As a communications consultant I have found that whenever I was confronted with the problem of communicating in a diverse and class ridden society the radio has always delivered. Social media has its advantage in being "uncontrolled" but its disadvantge lies clearly in being able to target a select group only. It however remains a great tool for planning and organising. Only time will tell how the medium evolves in areas like South Asia, Middle east and Africa, Asia-Pacific etc.

-- Madhur

Branding, re-branding, teleprompting managing Nigeria’s image (II)By Paul I.

The folloing is an interesting article on the need to rebrand Africa and Nigeria in particular. Here's the link to it: http://www.triumphnewspapers.com/bra2662009.html

Here's the article:

Rebranding Africa: Beyond brand devastation
“Branding is the way in which an organization communicates, differentiates, and promotes itself to its audience.” “Re-branding - means taking a product or a service and redefining its purpose, it’s content, and its reality.” “As a journalist and member of the Ghanaian Diaspora, Esther Armah is all too familiar with the portrayal of Africa in the mainstream media. Esther points out that “Africa’s brand was not self-determined; it has been in the hands of an unelected leader, the mainstream media.” She offers her perspectives on Re-branding Africa. “Devastation” has been Africa’s primary media image for decades. This brand has been powerful, persistent, and without penalty for those who maintain it. “It has been destructive for the continent and the Diaspora economically, culturally, spiritually, and emotionally. It has also been cancerous for trade and development. “The media has been the public relations wing of “Brand Devastation” and repetition its tool. A diet of stories featuring the same images of hopelessness and helplessness ensured Western audiences’ loyalty to Brand Devastation.” All these quotes are sourced from The Corporate Council on Africa (CCA). Most people, most companies and nations recognize the importance of image and reputation, real or merely claimed, with a straight-face! That is what diplomacy and public relations mostly about. Selling ice to Eskimos! Who hasn’t heard of pharmaceutical companies making and selling same tablets with same admixtures of compounds and chemical formula hued and with a different name, while charging for its placebo effect efficacy, to treat the ailment which you never knew you had, until you watched your television? A pharmaceutical company invented affliction! Who again, hasn’t heard of ghostwritten medical research opinions concocted by employees of pharmaceutical companies, who are all the while pretending to be acting as if they were real medical science trained, and objective reviewers subject to peer review checks and balances? And who hasn’t heard of Merck’s sponsored magazine in which Merck created the appearance, in the magazine formed by it and paid for by it, while reviewing Merck products and avidly recommending them as pseudo professionals in an independent pharmaceutical oriented magazine?The lives on branding, re-branding, and teleprompting, all aimed at the smooth delivery or presentation of well written speeches, rehearsed, choreographed, orchestrated and synchronized to land like an egg dropped onto velvets an inch close. In today’s world, it is still important to have full and good grasps of the issues; and to have the passion, good writing, and practiced delivery, teleprompt and all. A moving speech is where preparation meets elegant delivery and dramatic believability. Coming across as an accomplished polished speaker takes more than mere efforts of old, it now requires more, it combines dramatic acting with multiple variables of a plethora of factors. Good public speaking therefore is just like marketing or acting, or product placements of today, or public relations, these are never accidental happenstances. These factors are almost always invariable, whether they are geared at promoting an individual person’s interests or marketing a product for a company, and or, promoting a nation’s strategic national interests. Wars are won or lost these days, depending on how they are sold and whether public bought into it, as in Wag The Dog. A prospective employee is hired based on his self-promotion or public relations through his resume and packaging and presentation skills geared at selling self to the interviewer at the interview. Worse than useless products are marketed to gullible public every two seconds of the day! Worse than useless products such as cigarettes are sold every second to satisfy gullible-buyers smokers-consumers! Some Nigerians must believe that Calvin Klein is daily hunkered over a tailoring machine designing and sewing every pair of denim. These Nigerians are splendidly unaware that price of goods is not often related to cost of production, such that a shoe manufacturer may sue a seller, who sells shoes too cheap below manufacturers recommended prices. Having read the published opinions of many Nigerians on the futility of branding or re-branding and creating and promoting Nigeria’s image or reputation, I should be forgiven if I now conclude that some Nigerians come across as if they must believe that cigarettes and other tobacco products have good health benefits? Or that cigarettes or tobacco enhances longevity, hence the wide market for cigarettes and tobacco in America, Nigeria and worldwide? Nothing could be farther from the truth! It was marketed, branded, re-branded, packaged and presented and, sold!Branding is crucial and critical for success. This has always been so, it is even more so in today’s world. The British Pound had sterling qualities, that is a brand, that is a reputation, that brand and reputation was exported through force and sometimes through persuasions and arm-twisting, so that, what in the beginning was a British Pound or Sterling quality which should be limited to England, became a brand, India, Nigeria and America had to accept as colonies of EnglandBBC and VOA are very popular with Nigerians, Africans and others in the so-called so-labeled Third Word, some Nigerians take whatever is heard on BBC and VOA as gospel or Qur’anic truth, meanwhile, BBC and VOA are government owned and operated propaganda tools, they have been so, and remain so. The BBC and VOA brands are brands trusted by Nigerians so much, that some Nigerians rely on BBC/VOA with pride, for breaking national Nigerian news. Multitudes of Nigerians trust BBC/VOA, regardless of the fact that these are mere propaganda tools of the UK and US governments! Brand faith, blind faith as well! And western liberalism and press freedom was put to test recently in the embedment of western journalists in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, President Bush, even against the wishes of Americans and the world. What does being embedded do to freedom of the press? It makes the press freer? Oxymoronic isn’t it? And yet, the American and European government are quick to criticize press ownership by governments of other nations and the gullible public listens inattentively? Flags of nations are brands, and have reputation which are admired or loathed, burned or hoisted proudly, depending whether such flags represent peaceful or pariah brand, the average Palestinian or Iraqi may not necessarily see the American flag as a brand which represents an honest impartial peace broker, just as some Nigerians think our beautiful national flag in all its glory, is meaningless to them. I read Mr. Salisu Suleiman “I am Hungry, Brand Me” and I said aloud, he is right, and yet wrong. Inasmuch as a hungry man is an angry man, is a truism in every Nigerian, I must add however, that, branding is misunderstood by too many Nigerians! Branding and re-branding , properly channelled and pursued, would lead to economic salvation for Nigerians and Nigeria, case in point, is the wildly successful I Love New York campaign, which resulted in boost and boom to tourism, employment and great wealth creation for New York City and eventually, the entire state of New York borrowed the re-branding idea from New York City! Branding should be properly understood as a mission statement. It is a sine qua non for progress. It is essential for a person, an institution or an entity or a nation to has a brand plan or mission statement of objectives. Or just forget everything else! Therefore to say, Nigeria is too broke and too bad to have a brand, is the equivalent of say, Nigeria should not have a national flag, or that Nigeria should file for bankruptcy and cease to exist as a nation. Branding and re-branding Nigeria as such, is the statement and re-statement of purpose and mission statement of our nation, from hereon-out; when and if, such statement of purpose a la mission statement is pursued prodigiously, vigorously and zealously, even the worst pessimists and cynics among Nigerians would have their wildest dream realized. If Nigeria were a corporation, it will be fair to say, it is currently doing abysmally, making no profits, but instead, losing prized assets. True! But, would anyone be right to suggest a company such as this should not have meetings, special meetings, general meetings, strategy sessions and thereafter, a restatement of the corporate purpose, identity and desire to improve brand, product quality, image and reputation? Of course not! Nigeria, does indeed need branding, re-branding and refocus of our national brand, image, reputation in the hot pursuit of our nation’s development and advancement Hey Nigerians! Let us go and market Nigeria to the world, the world is waiting! And not a moment too soon!Source: Gamji.com.

-- Madhur

Friday, June 26, 2009

Brand India

At this moment what are some perceptions about India?
1.'Incredible India' - The successful tourism campaign that highlights the heritage, diversity, culture and colors of India
2. Bollywood - I have bonded instantly with people from Tashkent to Somalia to Vietnam to Australia discussing Bollywood. There is an interest, a curiosity for Bollywood and this definitely helps spread Indian 'influence'
3. Poverty - This is something that cannot be shaken off from India. Slumdog Millionaire has only made it worse ...Not to say that poverty doesn't exist!
4. Good outsourcing industry. India is yet to be recognised as a cutting edge service provider but it's value in cutting cost for business has come to be accepted.
5. Brainy people: Indians are smart. I have heard this from everybody. In the university campuses my friends used to come to me with 'computer problems', math problems even though I was a communications student! They thought I am an Indian so I will figure that out...!!
6. Last but not the least .. largest democracy and a stable polity.

Have I missed anything? I dont think the "emerging power" image is yet to be accepted by the world. Just having nukes won't do. There is scepticism around world capitals on India's rise and a lot depends on how the country will:
  • Manage growth with equitable development
  • Address growing disparity
  • Counter political unrest and insurgency in almost all the states of the country
  • Corruption - Political and administrative

The Public Diplomacy office will have to come up with really unique initiatives consistently to convince the world that India indeed is a rising power capable of tackling world problems rather than getting bogged down by it's own.

-- Madhur

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Public Diplomacy Office in MEA

South Block has finally realised that diplomacy in the information age requires dynamism & fresh ideas. The Ministry of External Affairs launched a public diplomacy office in 2006 to build "Brand India" abroad. Unlike the "Incredible India" campaigns or the track II diplomatic initiatives of the past that focused on cultural understanding and people to people contacts, the public diplomacy division will strive to:

1. Project power in it's sphere of influence & across the world with the immediate aim to secure a permanent seat in UN security council
2. Build a more "nuanced understanding of the government's stance on tricky issues"
3. Maintain the current "perception momentum" of a rising power
4. Build a favorable opinion of India as a "rising power"

It will be really interesting to see how the office strives to achieve this. Recently, no visibile efforts were made in instances where the IPL venue had to be shifted to South Africa owing to the country's perception as an unsafe destination, when the Australian Davis Cup team refused to visit India etc. Also, if one looks at South Asia alone, India's image is really tattered in the eyes of its neighbors. A good idea maybe is to focus on the neighborhood first!

Launching of the office is however a timely step, especially with the media and information revolution in the 21st century. Communications will play a bigger role in international relations in times to come and the battle for "mindshare" will decide many international issues. It will also give some structure and direction to the government in carrying out planned campaigns integrating all the elements of promotion, perception, projection and building influence - be it tourism promotion, cultural influence or power projection. Public Diplomacy communicates directly to the people unlike direct government to government negotiations and hence it's a powerful tool to mould foreign public opinion in one's favour. While the results can be rewarding implementing a successful public diplomacy campaign is really challenging and is a continuous never ending process. It will require dedicated resources, specialised personnel and clear policy. Let's wait and watch how the MEA goes about doing its job.

The Public Diplomacy office will also complement the recent power projection efforts of the Indian establishment. This is most interesting. Indian foreign policy, mostly guided by the Nehruvian vision in the post independence period never adopted power projection as a core policy. The Public Diplomacy office is also stated to be modeled on public diplomacy initiatives of the State Department of United States with the aim to build India's profile globally as a "serious power" with a clear interest in world affairs.

Undoubtedly it reflects fresh thinking and a holistic approach in conducting foreign policy by South Block mandarins and is indeed a welcome development. Only time will tell how much of this thinking will translate into serious and consistent communications campaigns.

See this link http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/1517855.cms
-- Madhur