MAPping the Future

Column in INQUIRER

The time to build PH branding is now

written by Mr. JUNIE S. DEL MUNDO - December 5, 2022

In 2018, I made a case for why the Philippines should invest in its nation branding. I said then that we needed one powerful enough to draw in more investors and create a positive impact on the economy and the lives of all Filipinos.


Four years later, in the aftermath of a pandemic and on the precipice of another global recession, that necessity only becomes starker. A solid nation branding not only raises a country’s profile in the international market during the best of times. In times of crisis, it also positions a country better for recovery.


Sadly, we’re far from being in such a position.


How do you brand a country like the Philippines?


While the world has known that it’s indeed more fun in the Philippines, a successful tourism campaign isn’t quite the same as nation branding. Neither is it the grocery list of traits that we tout as distinctly and admirably Filipino: being hospitable, resilient, creative, and family-oriented. Nation branding also isn’t a whitewashing campaign to turn around the country’s reputation into something more positive.


I’ve always maintained that a strong nation branding comprehensively covers and presents a country’s assets—its people, its culture, and its uniqueness—not just in a positive but also an authentic light. Because of the amount of work involved, it can’t be carried out solely by the government, the private sector, or a group of communication consultants. Rather, it demands multi-sectoral cooperation, the investment of time, labor, and money from everyone involved, and a realistic and informed view of the country’s circumstances.


Because at its core, nation branding is about building trust in the international community.


It starts with a central idea as the foundation. This would be the Filipinos’ shared vision of the future that’s based on an understanding of our history and a clear view of our present, including the complicated dynamic between our identity, culture, and society.


Given our country’s current state, this is undoubtedly an uphill battle. Yet as contentious as our political differences are, we’re at least learning more and more how deeply rooted the Philippines’ Gordian knot of issues is. We learn of the perspectives of those whose backgrounds and experiences differ vastly from ours. We’re tired of being praised as “resilient” yet offered no reprieve. Slogans and catchphrases that used to easily catch the public’s imagination ring hollow now with our growing awareness of how systemic socio-economic problems can’t be fixed by individualistic measures.


Non-negotiable tools for nation branding


As painful as it is to face reality, it’s the first step in finding lasting solutions.


Think of it as research — a necessary tool in nation branding. Taking stock of different perspectives rarely yields a clean-cut picture, especially with the Philippines’ long-standing problem of regionalism exacerbated by severe economic inequality. But audits, interviews, and surveys across stakeholders from all levels will always present insights into the values we share underneath our differences and what we envision national progress to be. From there, we can glean and develop a truth-based central idea that would resonate with us Filipinos even as it is intended to connect with the international audience and compel them to experience it firsthand.


This is where communication comes in. Each stakeholder must be willing to engage in constant dialogue to make the development and implementation of nation branding as smooth as possible, especially when circumstances call for quick pivots and adjustments. Effective communication is also essential in presenting our nation branding to the international community, where the right message is crafted with the right tone, accompanied by the right visuals and shared through the right information channels.


We must also be willing to listen to feedback so we can properly measure our nation branding’s impact and adjust accordingly. There must be an effective system in place to keep the exchange of information and ideas clear every step of the way.


Filipinos at the heart of the PH brand


I’ve highlighted the importance of authenticity in nation branding because the last thing we need to do is misrepresent ourselves to the world. And authenticity comes when Filipinos are at the heart of our branding.


Our citizens have been great ambassadors of Filipino culture wherever they may be that we’re now recognized for certain traits and practices. Although reputation doesn’t constitute nation branding, leveraging our cultural strengths by supporting Filipinos both here and abroad can enhance it.


Support means citizens have reliable social services so Filipinos don’t need to seek greener pastures elsewhere, and local industries and communities would no longer suffer from “brain drain”. It means investing in local talent to create products and services that reflect our uniqueness and excellence and offer solutions to local issues. It means taking care of our human capital so Filipino workers earn livable wages, find purpose in their work, and feel valued. It means building on Filipino ingenuity, diligence, and collaborativeness to make international financiers keen on pouring investments into the country.


A strong collaboration between the government and the business sector can deliver on this support, one where transparency, accountability, and efficiency take precedence over bureaucracy.


Finally, to keep all the stakeholders on track, there must be a national branding council of research, communications, and branding professionals to oversee this massive undertaking, guiding everyone involved in the nuances of building trust in the Philippine brand. Have experts do what they do best and teach everyone how to raise standards and consistently meet them.


Defining our nation branding is a tall order because it must represent Filipinos’ minds, hearts, and souls — no more, no less. It’s a worthy endeavor, though, because in the process, we strengthen the country against the next crisis. We make progress more attainable not just for a few individuals but for every Filipino. We make the Philippines a place worthy of investment not just to foreigners but, more importantly, to ourselves.


(The author is Chair of the Tourism Committee for 2023 of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), and Chair and CEO of The EON Group. Feedback at <> and <>.)