The role of branding products to increase their value and profitability is given serious import in the commercial world. Building familiarity, trust and loyalty to brands is at the core of every marketing team’s role. But what value is there for producers in branding a whole economic sector or even a whole nation?
According to independent Policy Advisor Simon Anholt, it is “fundamental.” As a pioneer of the idea of nation branding, he now advises governments, civil society and private corporations on reputation, investment promotion and national identity. Talking about the importance of a nation’s image in attracting investment from abroad he says, “Even very serious, practical-minded professional investors are influenced by these so-called ‘soft factors’ to a considerable degree.”
Government and business both share responsibility in the quest for a more commerce-friendly countenance. Charles Arbid, president of the Lebanese Franchise Association, argues that Lebanese industrialists need to develop the concept of branding on an individual and collective level. “We cannot sell anymore in the local market or export if we don’t work on the quality assurance in our products, and this has to be done through branding,” he says.
Government, meanwhile, is involved, both implicitly and explicitly, in promoting the image of Lebanon as a serious industrial player.
Diana Menhem, an economic officer with the United Nations Development Program in Lebanon says, “When you are dealing with the reputation of an entire industry it is very different than dealing with the reputation of a particular product… It is the responsibility of the government and the stakeholders to increase the visibility of the entire sector.”
With this comes an understanding that it only takes one rotten apple to ruin the barrel. That is to say, if the respect and recognition of Lebanese industry is to be developed and maintained, there has to be quality assurance across the board. It is incumbent upon organizations such as Libnor, the Lebanese standards institution, to ensure that the quality standards for Lebanese products are rigidly enforced. “If you have one product that is substandard, the reputation of the entire industry will go down with it,” says Menhem. “It is the responsibility of producers to realize that if they don’t adhere to the quality standards, the reputation of their products will really go down and they won’t be able to export anymore.”
It is not just the reputation of an industry’s products but also the image of the whole country that determine both the allure of Lebanese industry as a viable investment destination and the desirability of its products in the marketplace. Anholt argues that expensive branding strategies are almost always a complete waste of money when it comes to developing a national image. The trends in his survey, the Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index, reveal that the inestimable billions of dollars spent by nations trying to change their global image have absolutely no correlation with the perceptions of ordinary people around the world.
“Grand strategy is infinitely more important than brand strategy: the country needs to know where it’s going in the world and how it’s going to get there,” says Anholt.
Lebanon’s failings in this regard are cause for considerable disquiet for Nassib Ghobril, head of economic research at Byblos Bank, who laments that the economy is subordinate to politics. “The economy has been suffering from the political challenges but [it] is secondary to the political crisis,” he gripes.
While Anholt is dismissive of branding campaigns as tools to enhance a nation’s image, he is emphatic on the importance of political and social stability. With upheavals ripping through the political and social fabric of several nations in the region, and not without significant economic consequence, his advice is particularly pertinent.
“Unstable countries should worry more about becoming more stable and less about how to convince people that they are stable,” Anholt says. “Unequal countries should think about how to create more equality, not how to persuade the world that they are equal.”
Industrialists and government-related agencies, such as IDAL and Libnor, share in the task of increasing visibility, improving standards and building trust in Lebanese products. As for the nation’s lawmakers, perhaps the best way they could support ‘Brand Lebanon’ would be to engage in a little less talk, a lot more action and dedicate themselves to some steady and stable governance.