“Bangladesh Brand”: Exploring potentials


MAKLUKA JINIA and DR. ERSHAD ALI elucidate on the importance of branding the nation.

The word “brand” is widely used but unequally understood. Its meaning ranges from source country to consumer’s perception about a product. In today’s world, consumer perception gets more currency.

If we put it simply, a brand is defined as a name, term, sign, symbol, design, or a combination of all these elements that is intended to identify the goods or services of a seller and differentiate them from competitors.

According to marketing guru Philip Kotler, “Brand image is the set of beliefs consumers

hold about a particular brand.” Simon Anholt, pioneer of nation branding, argues that brand is intangible because it has brand value as outlined in his book Brand New Justice. The brand value lies in the trust of a brand name for quality and reliability, a form of guarantee for its reputation, a promise the brand delivers and the service it provides to the consumers.

An increasing importance of the symbolic value of products has led marketers and, consequently, policy makers of countries to leverage their products with distinctive characteristics of the country of origin. Here comes the concept of ‘place branding’.

Dr Heather Skinner provides a comprehensive definition of place branding: “a place’s promotional activities, contextualised in the domain of marketing communications, marking the place with a distinct identity in the minds of the various target groups targeted by the incorporated place, from an inside-out approach, assuring the place’s multiple stakeholders, in partnership, manage and communicate the place’s brand identity to a wider world as they wished it to be presented.”

The idea of nation branding is an extended form of ‘place branding’. Nation branding focuses on the nation as a whole — its people, culture and heritage, products and exports, investment, climate, tourism and so on.

According to Professor Dinnie there are five objectives for nation branding. Nation brands itself to (1) stimulate export growth, (2) increase inbound tourism for tourism receipts, (3) attract foreign investment into the nation, (4) enhance political influence internationally, and (5) manage negative stereotypes. All of these play a role to the brand identity and brand image.

Country brand strength is a nation’s ultimate intangible asset that helps to stand out regionally and globally, and to realise future ambitions beyond its geographic size, financial performance or levels of awareness. When a product, service or corporation is identified with a strong country brand, it has a better chance of premium pricing, longevity and preference in emerging markets. On the other hand, a poor country brand leads to poor differentiation, ambiguous meaning and low recall in the minds of people who travel, consume and do business beyond the border.

“Malaysia: Truly Asia,” “Dubai: The Jewel in the Desert,” “Uniquely Singapore,” “Incredible India,” “Amazing Thailand,” “Sri Lanka: The Pearl of the Indian Ocean” are some of the slogans and symbols used by respective countries according to their current business need.

Let us look at a few examples of nation branding around the world.

Singapore is often treated as the best example of nation branding which has turned itself from a resource-poor country to a global hub of tourism, business and shipping. In 2008, the Nation Brand Index (NBI) ranked Singapore 24th with a score of 53.7. It capitalised on its important strategic location between Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean, and able leadership of late President Lee Kuan Yew. In his brilliant memoir From Third World to First: the Singapore, Lee wrote about Singapore’s effort to build Singapore since its independence in 1965 from Malaysia.

The government has created ‘Go-The-Extra-Mile-for-Services (GEMS)’ campaign to attract service sector investments as well as work force. In terms of tourism, Singapore recognised the lack of natural beauty, replaces the lack of it with manmade beauty like a clean, and beautify skyline. The most important thing to make this difference happen is long-term planning and consistent maintenance. For example, tourists do not see the constant maintenance of these buildings, roads and the green environment. It takes time and patience to build, and whatever was done in the past, has now become part of the country’s brand image. Singapore is a successful example of Anholt’s theory of building provenance for the nation.

Indian government created “Incredible India” campaign in 2002 that has approached increasing tourism, investment and export earning. The pilot of the campaign, Aamir Khan, a popular Bollywood actor who has also global attractiveness, has been going around the world highlighting the rich and vibrant culture and heritage of India. The politicians, economists, bureaucrats, policy-makers, industrialists and even the media are jumping on to the bandwagon.

State of the Bangladesh brand
Bangladesh has made significant strides since its birth. Kissinger’s “bottomless basket” has now an economy whose GDP size is close to US$ 100 billion, which is larger than half of all Africa’s 54 states taken together. Seven million expatriates have gone from Bangladesh’s poor villages have sent to the country roughly US$ 11 billion in foreign remittance last year. Bangladesh RMG exporters are the second highest supplier of garment product to the most competent market of the US and Europe.

Over the years, Bangladesh has become the ‘export power house’. “Made in Bangladesh” labels are now commonplace in American and European stores. For global brands like Wal Mart or Tommy Hilfiger, Bangladesh has been a hot spot, especially as wages have risen in China. McKinsey, the consulting giant, has called Bangladesh the “next China” and predicted that Bangladeshi garment exports, now about $18 billion a year, could triple by 2020.

Bangladesh in her Sixth Five Year Plan underscores the importance of exports for creating Today, Bangladeshis with more than two times the population is close to self-sufficiency in food production and famine that Kissinger had feared, is a matter of the past. Bangladesh has today achieved the best preparedness against natural calamities like cyclones and floods that has made the world acknowledge the country’s resilience and its abilities. In fact, when an international conference was held in Japan after the tsunami, Bangladesh was invited as a special guest to talk in the conference because of its successes in dealing with natural calamities although the country was not affected by tsunami. In Dr. Yunus’ winning the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, all these major developments of Bangladesh have found projection before the world.

Despite our remarkable achievement, Bangladesh is yet to get a respectable position in global branding measurements. In 2010’s Country Brand Index prepared by BBC World News and Future Brand, Bangladesh is placed at 102, below Rwanda and Sierra Leone where Bangladeshi Peace Mission has been playing significant contribution to keep stability. In the South Asian context, India and Nepal stood at 23 and 59 position respectively. This clearly shows that we are not tapping our achievement to portray ourselves.

Unfinished works 
It must be considered that there are around 195 nations in the world; all are aggressively competing for the attention of investors, tourists and citizens. It is like trying to chat up in a crowded restaurant. Therefore, a well-planned nation branding strategy is the first thing to do.

The brand strategists must consider two key objectives:

First, making our citizens attached to the brand. This is closely linked with our perception about our country. Therefore, our brand should be unique to our perception. Perception comes from the reality a citizen is living with. There is also the task of improving people’s life standard so that a citizen really feels proud of his or her country.

Second, the brand strategist should concentrate on branding the country beyond the border. Its success depends on how far they can reduce the gap between a native’s perception and a foreigner’s perception about the country.

Considering these two objectives, the National Brand Index (NBI) focuses on six categories: People, Governance, Exports, Tourism, Culture and Heritage, Investment and Immigration.

A brief presentation of these indices is given below:

Bangladesh has been enjoying demographic dividend for the last few years, and this dividend will continue at least two decades more. Population aged 60 years and above is likely to exceed the population aged below 15 years in 2046. Demographic dividend results in economic return: Labour supply, savings and human capital.

In Bangladesh, high rate of population movement induces rapid urban growth. Our urban growth rate is 3.5% per annum. This high rate of population movement and resulting pace of urbanisation could be regarded as a driving force of modernisation and centre of economic growth and development.

Bangladesh continues to make efforts to improve core governance systems in areas such as public procurement, financial management, fiscal reporting and watchdog institutions.

To improve public financial management, the Government of Bangladesh has taken a comprehensive Public Financial Management Action Plan. With a population of 140 million, Bangladesh has only 1.4 million registered income taxpayers and 300,000 businesses registered for value-added tax, with total tax revenue amounting to just 7.4% of GDP. The government approved a strategic development plan aimed at a full-fledged tax administration modernisation project, fostering taxpayer service and ensuring uniform and equal treatment of businesses. The government is also putting effort to build capacity of Board of Investment and Export Processing Zone Authority to reduce administrative barriers in attracting foreign investment.

Over the years, Bangladesh has become the ‘export power house’. “Made in Bangladesh” labels are now commonplace in American and European stores. For global brands like Wal Mart or Tommy Hilfiger, Bangladesh has been a hot spot, especially as wages have risen in China. McKinsey, the consulting giant, has called Bangladesh the “next China” and predicted that Bangladeshi garment exports, now about $18 billion a year, could triple by 2020.

Bangladesh in her Sixth Five Year Plan underscores the importance of exports for creating dynamism in the manufacturing sector and for the provision of high productivity and high-income jobs.

In recent times, Bangladesh’s tourism sector has come with real fervour to capitalise on the blessings of immense natural beauty. For thousands of years, people from Europe to China feel attraction for the exotic cultural legacy of this country.

We have rich archeological sites. Buddhist sites and monuments are very significant, including Paharpur, the single largest Buddhist Monastery south of the Himalayas, Mahasthangarh the oldest archaeological site, Mainamati the seat of lost dynasties (Buddhist) etc. UNESCO has declared Paharpur as a World Heritage Site.

In the capital city Dhaka, we have we have some outstanding monuments like Lalbagh Fort, Sonargaon, Ahsan Manjil, Husseni Dalan,the Satgambuz mosque and the Dhakeshwari Temple.

Bangladesh is a combination of verdant forests, riverine countryside, and long stretches of sun-bathed beaches, fearsome wilds, meandering rivers and venerable shrines. Bordering the mighty Bay of Bengal stands this magical tapestry in green with all the glory of its past and the splendid colours of its natural present. The world’s longest unbroken beach (120km) of Cox’s Bazar is situated on a clean stretch comprising of miles of sands. Top of the list on any tourist’s wildlife itinerary is a visit to the Sundarbans (world’s single largest mangrove forest) to catch a rare glimpse of the Royal Bengal Tiger, in its natural habitat. Spread over 6,000sq km this riverine delta is criss-crossed by a network of rivers and creeks.

Culture and heritage
We should highlight our culture and heritage, Ekushey February has got worldwide recognition as the International Mother Language Day. Days such as that and Pahela Baishakh could display our rich and varied culture and heritage.

While branding, we can focus on our food culture. Cuisine can be a powerful agent for reshaping public perception. We should be strategic in using a network of restaurants and hotels and, thereby, promote tourism.

Industrial Policy 2010 has announced a large number of incentives to encourage Investment. Government has announced 32 Thrust Sectors for which special incentives will be made available. The government will also provide venture capital support to E-O industries under Thrust sector.

In order to provide infrastructure facilities government has established SEZ, Industrial Park, High Tech Parks and Private EPZ. Economic Zone can be set up by local or foreign entrepreneurs, organisations or institutions on a PPP basis.

To reduce power shortage, the government invites the private sector power generation companies (IPP, ISP) according to the private sector power generation policy of Bangladesh. Special incentive has been announced for using Biomass, Solar and Windmill based power.

The government has also introduced tax holidays for developed and underdeveloped areas.

Bangladesh’s FDI has increased significantly over the years. This can be attributed to our improved investment policy.

Flow of remittances in Bangladesh is around six times higher than it was a decade ago. During the fiscal year 1998-99, it was $1.7 billion while it increased to $12.17 billion during 2011-12. This growth helps policymakers face the pressure on the balance of payments. In 2012, Bangladesh has earned positive balance of payment.

Two more issues are here which can play a crucial role in portraying our country better.

Strengthening Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

“Our Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a wing called the External Publicity Division that has been given in the most non-professional and ad hoc manner, the task for image building.” Our neighbour India has establishments like the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and the External Publicity Division for official image building of India under the External Affairs Ministry. As Ambassador Serajul Islam has pointed out, “These establishments have authority and resources to undertake the image building of India whose budget is perhaps more than what we spend for our Foreign Ministry!”

Role of non-resident Bangladeshis: 
In 2011, on Colombian Pride Day, Colombian-Americans handed out over 100,000 Colombian roses to very grateful and yet, indeed, surprised New Yorkers. Millions of Americans were reached with a simple message: “Flowers make you smile, flowers brighten your day, and flowers come from Colombia.” The programme proved to be a great success, and got huge media coverage in American presses as well international presses. Non-resident Bangladeshis (NRB) represent our country. The government should take them on board so that on the one hand, they show interest to do business in Bangladesh, and on the other hand, they can attract more foreign investors in our country. According to the government’s recent policy, NRBs will enjoy special benefits in investing in capital markets and maintaining foreign currency deposits. Bangladesh should go for a wide campaign to attract our NBRs to these facilities.

Our strategists should make detailed plans based on extensive research on each of the NBI indices, develop performances and create a bouquet of achievement to present to the world. We should keep in mind that branding is not traditional advertising, lobbying with overseas investors and beautifying the cities with billboards sporting idealistic slogans. This is a grand strategy because, as the saying goes, a nation brand is as if a proverbial supertanker takes five miles to slow down and ten miles to change the course.


Makluka Jinia for a private bank in Bangladesh. 
Dr. Ershad Ali is Director of the Centre for Research in International Education, Auckland Institute of Studies St Helens, New Zealand.
Volume 7 | Issue 01 | January 2013 |


About Ehsan Abdullah

An aware citizen..

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