Japan, Switzerland, Germany. What do these three have in common aside from the ability to make an exquisite timepiece?
They are some of the most powerful nation brands in the world.
A nation brand is just like any other brand. By defining a set of values, culture and history, nations are able to shape perception and foster loyalty similar to the way Apple is able to create a legion of devoted followers. By building a distinctive brand, countries open themselves to a limitless array of advantages, such as attracting foreign investment or garnering political support. For a couple great examples look no further than Dubai and Singapore whom have benefited from this technique for communicating their core values.
So, how does one go about building a strong nation brand? The answer is there are many ways. Investment in social institutions such as education and healthcare are great choices that generate long-term value. Hosting global events such as the Olympics and the World Cup improves infrastructure and generates positive public perception when executed properly. But instead of how to build a strong nation brand, the question really should be: What is the best way to build a strong nation brand experience?
Quite possibly, the most visible way to build a nation brand is to give the world an incredible and distinctive airline experience.
Why an airline? Because airlines are one of the most permanent and ubiquitous expressions of a nation. And with that, a direct reflection of a nation’s sophistication, sensibilities and soul. On any given day, there are hundreds of aircraft in a foreign country representing their home nation. Additionally, for most people an airline is the first and last direct experience they have with a country. Whether it’s checking-in or having an inflight meal, every touch point in the aerial experience is a chance for cultural and emotional interaction and is understood to reflect a country’s values. An airline that stands for the same values as the nation is a powerful tool in shaping the world’s perception of a country.
The strongest visual opportunity to distinguish an airline is aircraft livery. The graphic design across the body of an airplane is essentially a mobile reflection of culture. Instead of merely stating a name, livery should be an opportunity to showcase unique culture and design. Italy is home to many of the best designers in the world. Alitalia should be a canvas for world beating Italian design.
Too many airports put so much effort into delivering on functional objectives that they forget about the human experience. Our work with Virgin taught us the importance of designing the entire experience around the customer, from arriving at the airport to flying in the aircraft. By making the Virgin Clubhouse a destination to enhance the total travel experience, we gave passengers a reason to choose Virgin and look forward to flying again. This also gave Virgin an enormous competitive advantage in a crowded and highly competitive business category.
History has shown that success in economics, politics and diplomacy have been the hallmark of great nations. However our world is changing quickly and nations need to understand they also have to build successful “nation brands”. The world’s best brands foster loyal emissaries and build irrational loyalty by creating exceptional human experiences anchored by innovative products and services. By creating a distinct and relevant airline experience, nations distinguish themselves from everyone else and lay the foundation for future greatness.