Public Diplomacy and Branding, Part III: A Pair of Aces?

In a couple of recent postings I have tried to elaborate the notion of a nation brand, to identify some of the salient issues surrounding the relationship between public diplomacy and branding, and to illuminate the more subtle distinctions. In this entry, I would like to drill down further into each of these, and several related issues.

Branding guru Simon Anholt has developed a hexagonal model that sets out the principal elements of a nation’s brand, including tourism, exports, policies, investment and immigration, culture and heritage, and people. This has become the industry standard. While Simon and I concur on many points,  we do not agree on everything covered in the continuing debate. For instance, as far back as 2006, he wrote me to say “I dispute… your contention that branding is fundamentally a monologue. The best brand theory – and the best brand practice – today sees brand as the common purpose or shared vision that unites businesses with their staff, suppliers and customers, and so is in every sense parallel to (e.g. the British Council’s insistence on) the mutuality of public and cultural diplomacy. A brand is also … as much an invitation to complain as it is a promise of quality, so even in that rather literal sense it must always be about two-way communication… Brand is very much more than ‘image’ and the communication, management or promotion of image. Brand strategy is almost synonymous with corporate strategy, and at least in theory, there is a parallel notion in nation branding. Most firms these days would describe their brand as their relationship with their market and their other stakeholders.”

My response? Let one hundred flowers bloom.

But when it comes time to pick the bouquet, it seems worth remembering that if branding is about selling dreams, public diplomacy is about sharing them.

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