Monday, March 27, 2017
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MAPping the Future

Getting Philippines’ image on the right track

In business, as in life, image matters. For a country, most especially, it could mean the difference between being a preferred destination or being a perpetual write-off.

In marketing, a brand image is very important. A brand image embodies and conveys the strengths and promises of a product. Marketing executives go to great lengths to create a strong brand image, putting as much attention to brand execution as the brand promise.

Perception challenges

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The same is true with a country. As the world becomes more competitive and increasingly interconnected, a country cannot leave its reputation to chance. It must create and define its own brand, knowing that it could mean a big difference for its people.

Unfortunately, the Philippines lacks a singular, powerful identity as a nation. Outsiders have no single image to connect to their positive experiences of the Philippines.

The country also cannot shake off the perception that it does not have much to offer. At worst, the Philippines is seen as a backward country, where basic necessities have yet to come by. At best, it is a ho-hum destination whose offerings pale in comparison with those of its neighbors.

Realistically, the Philippines has its fair share of shortcomings. There is much that can be done about its infrastructure limitations, for example, to facilitate travel and tourism.

Having said that, one still cannot deny that the strengths of the Philippines are buried under layers of misconceptions.

These perception challenges immediately lessen the country’s chances of being the destination of choice of the investor, the trader or the tourist.

A Manila-based Australian journalist captured its best: “The Philippines is such a great country, yet I can’t convince any of my friends to come over!”

Sadly, the world views the Philippines in a negative light.

To be fair, the government has recognized the problem and has initiated measures to work on the Philippines’ branding. However, these efforts have fallen short of their goals, mainly because of the lack of coherence between messages, resulting in fragmented efforts of different government agencies.

Iconic crafts

In branding a country, one should look at various components, including tourism, trade, foreign policy, investment and culture. The fusion of this creates the country brand.

The effects of a strong country brand are all-encompassing. Branding encourages local and foreign investments. It improves the country’s credibility, stimulating international and regional partnerships. It fosters better performance and stronger competitive spirit. In times of crisis, it can act as a reputational shield.

A positive country brand adds value to local products and services so that they can command greater prices abroad. Similarly, iconic crafts gain preference over premium brands in the markets. Most importantly, people also benefit. Filipinos working overseas can have better pay and demand better working terms and conditions.

A rewarding exercise

To illustrate how country branding works, one can look at the case of Maldives, which has successfully redefined its image through its tagline, “The Sunny Side of Life.”

This branding captured its strengths as a destination and veered attention away from the fact that it is, like the Philippines, a developing country with its fair share of typhoons.

Another example is the island nation Mauritius, which topped the list of Futurebrand’s Top 25 Country Brands for Tourism, through an effective country branding strategy.

Other examples are “Amazing Thailand,” “Incredible India,” and “Malaysia Truly Asia.”

Inspired by the possibilities country branding offers the Philippines, the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) fully supports the Branding the Philippines initiative spearheaded by EON The Stakeholders Relations Firm, which is headed by MAP CSR committee chair Junie del Mundo.

MAP recognizes that the process of branding the country requires the participation of different stakeholders, including the business sector.

Following MAP’s lead, it is hoped that other business organizations would take up the country branding advocacy.

For sure, this will be a long exercise, but a most rewarding one nonetheless. After all, it is not every day that one is able to help shape the creation of the Philippine brand—a brand that reflects the nation’s true identity, as well as its biggest dreams and aspirations.

World’s Top 20 by 2025

In the Council Meeting of the Asian Association of Management Organizations (Aamo) in April, which I attended as president of MAP, Prof. Ryokichi Hirono of the International Management Association of Japan presented a panorama of the world’s top 20 economies by 2025 where the Philippines will be number 19. By 2050, our country may be the 17th top economy worldwide if there will be good governance and no corruption in the country.

I responded that the Philippines can make it to the world’s Top 20 economies in light of the following:

The Philippines is number one in marine biodiversity, sailors and, I like to believe, also in musicians. It ranks first in voice call centers, second in BPOs, second in gold production and has the third-longest coastline in the world.

Also, it ranks fifth in other mineral resources and twelfth in human resources as Filipino expatriates are the preferred employees of kings, queens, sheiks, developers, hoteliers, educators, etc.

The Aamo is composed of management organizations from other countries like India, Australia, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Qatar and Singapore.

The land area of the Philippines is 400 times that of Singapore, 350 times that of Hong Kong, eight times that of Taiwan, and three times that of South Korea. The rest of Asia voted Manila as headquarters of the Asian Development Bank.

Anecdotal research tells me that our country was number two in Asia after Japan from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Sooner than later

My Korean friends told me in 1956, the Philippines was South Korea’s benchmark.

My Vietnamese friends told me most of their bridges were pre-fabricated in the Philippines.

With the appropriate country brand and with zero corruption, the Philippines will certainly fly high and make it to the Top 20 Economies worldwide sooner than later.

Mabuhay Philippines!

(The author is president of the Management Association of the Philippines and principal architect-urban planner/founder of Palafox Associates. Feedback at map@globelines.com.ph. For more details about MAP, visit .)

TAGS: brand image, branding, image, Marketing, Philippines, Tourism
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