While a country cannot fully control how it is perceived, if it does not try to shape its own image, it cedes control to others who may not present it in as flattering a way, says Nicholas John Cull, director of the University of Southern California’s masters program in public diplomacy. Cull recently spoke on the topic of nation branding at an EHU Public Conversation in Vilnius.
“The importance of nation branding is undeniable. We have profound emotional attachments to places; we associate certain locations with specific emotions. These associations emerge when we make consumer decisions. Emotional connections are also attached to politics and culture – a wide range of elements,” says Cull. “The question is not if you can afford to do this, but if you can afford not to.”
During the Public Conversation, Cull outlined basic principles for creating a successful brand: global relevance, local buy-in, and continuity of a story.
When telling their stories, countries must emphasize that which might be interesting and relevant to the rest of the world, not only to themselves. The statements that countries make in their branding efforts must also be true and supported by the local population, who are all, in a sense, agents for the brand. If these elements are not in place, branding efforts can backfire.
When asked about the case of Belarus, Cull suggested that through people-to-people contact, the Belarusian people might be able to counteract the nation’s political image to some extent. For Lithuania, Cull suggested considering the image of a “green country”, given the growing global importance of environmental sustainability, or the image of a “good team player”.
While in Vilnius, Cull also met with journalists and government officials responsible for developing and promoting Lithuania’s nation brand.
In addition to leading the world’s first graduate degree program in public diplomacy, Cull edits the journal Place Branding and Public Diplomacy. His advice on issues of public diplomacy and media is sought by foreign ministries and diplomatic academies around the world. Cull is currently president of the International Association for Media and History.
EHU Public Conversations are generously supported by Novotel Vilnius Centre.