ultimate marketing challenge
soul isn't easy to define, but Dipak Jain knew he would have
to identify Thailand's unique essence if he was going to tackle
the really tough job: branding the country
If branding a conventional
product proves challenging, imagine the complexity of branding
an entire nation.
and multifaceted, with people, products and politics that
may or may not embody the desired "brand values," nations
could pose the ultimate marketing challenge.
is precisely the test Kellogg School Dean Dipak
C. Jain undertook in 2002 when he agreed to help develop
a brand image for Thailand.
Jain spent 18 months
at the request of Thai officials shaping a marketable identity
for Thai products and services. Aided by students and faculty
at the Kellogg School and Thailand's Sasin Graduate Institute
of Business Administration at Chulalongkorn University, Jain
fused the many strengths and perceptions of Thailand into
a distinct, competitive brand.
be the Detroit of Asia, because it is a center for the continent's
automotive industry," says Jain, whose expertise involves
marketing research and new products and services.
"It could be the
Geneva of the East, because of all the health organizations
located there. There are many options for marketing Thailand.
The question is, what is the competitive edge?"
In the global economy,
"place marketing" has become an important practice, particularly
for developing nations. Places compete for investors, tourists
and new businesses, and each locale must offer the marketplace
a unique or superior quality.
The pressure to
stand out has become particularly intense in the huge Asian
market, which is affluent and growing. Asia accounts for 60
percent of the world's population and a quarter of the planet's
exports and GDP. At the same time, the region faces competition
from Central and South America, which have also become attractive
investment destinations. The places that will attract the
most visitors, investors and businesses will be those with
a strong brand and a strategic marketing plan.
As in product marketing,
the first step in marketing a place is to develop a robust
and attractive positioning and image. With a nation, however,
that can be an enormous, complex task.
are built by all the messages that form a service," says Tim
Calkins, Kellogg clinical associate professor of marketing
and co-editor with Kellogg Professor Alice
Tybout of the recently published Kellogg on Branding.
case of a country, it's what the national policies are, what
the leaders say, who they visit, what they say when they're
there. It's also reflected in things like the country's transportation
system and where the money is invested. You may think of these
as policy decisions, but they're really branding decisions.
"Products are easier,
because there's usually a product manager who's calling the
shots. Countries are much trickier because there are so many
constituents and so many ways to get the message out."
Crucial to the
success of those efforts is the buy-in of government and business
leaders. That support was apparent from the earliest stages
of the Thailand branding project, in late 2001.
political party had just assumed power, and a number of top
administrators had Kellogg ties. Deputy Premier and Finance
Minister Somkid Jatusripitak '84, for example, holds a PhD
in marketing from the Kellogg School, as does one of his advisers,
Suvit Maecincee '96. Maecincee and Jain have also authored
several marketing texts together, including Marking Moves
Kotler, the S.C. Johnson & Son Distinguished Professor
of International Marketing.
The new government
was keen to leverage the country's strengths, particularly
in its tourism, food and fashion industries. A previously
commissioned marketing study had drawn a public outcry due
to its multimillion-dollar price tag. Jain, who has taught
at Sasin since the late 1980s, suggested the two business
schools work together to develop the Thai brand.
is one of the Kellogg contributions to Thailand," Jain says.
"It grows out of the partnership we have had since 1982."
a marketing consultant to Thailand, Dean Dipak
C. Jain, center, meets regularly with the country's
senior officials. Here, from left, are Prime Minister
Thaksin Shinawatra, Finance Minister Somkid Jatusripitak
'84, Jain, and Vice Minister Suvit Maecincee '96
Under Jain's supervision,
about a dozen Sasin students, six Kellogg students and several
Sasin professors teamed to survey 1,000 Kellogg alumni on
their perceptions of Thailand.
After three months,
the team emerged with a sense of the country's brand essence:
the warmth, caring and hospitality of the Thai people. These
qualities, Jain says, can be leveraged into a national brand
identity. They embody "Thai-ness," a term Jain hastens to
"This is not a
word used in the Western world as it is used in the East,"
Jain says. "In Asia, there is a sense of 'India-ness,' for
example, or "Chinese-ness.' It refers to the nation's core
cultural values. In Thailand, that means a sense of respect
and care. The spa experience in Thailand, for example, is
different from the spa experience anywhere else in the world.
So are the trekking and dining experiences. The way they treat
you and respect you is unparalleled."
Even last December's
tsunami, which devastated some of the country's tourist areas,
created opportunities to reinforce this identity.
"The way the Thai
people treated the guests after the tsunami was remarkable,"
said Jain, who himself narrowly escaped the deadly wave while
vacationing with his family at a beach resort. He noted that
the government made special efforts to assist tourists affected
by the disaster, while Thai Airways scheduled extra flights
to help evacuate visitors and ferry relief supplies to hard-hit
"I was there, and
I tell you: The 'Thai-ness' was very apparent," Jain says.
"The people readily demonstrated their caring nature."
element of the Thai brand is the nation's rich and varied
"Many places are
known mainly for just one thing: Hawaii and its beaches, for
example," Jain says.
"But in Thailand,
there's so much going on that you are always engaged. There's
the cultural heritage, with the Buddhist religion and the
many temples. There are many sites of historical interest.
There is the natural beauty of the nation and the environment.
There are activities such as trekking and snorkeling. And
of course, there are beautiful beaches as well."
opens up new avenues for marketing Thailand to both vacationers
and businesspeople, Jain says.
of the study have been published in the Sasin Journal of
Management and presented to governmental and tourism officials
in Thailand. Jain, meanwhile, continues to counsel Thai officials
on the best ways to leverage the country's strengths.
Maecincee has said
that Thai government is particularly interested in helping
small- and medium-sized business brand their products.
"We have the hospitality
and the service-minded culture, so what else can we do to
increase added value?" Maecincee said. "What segments of the
biotech and agro-tech sectors, for example, should we be focused
on? In information technology, should we focus on graphic
design due to our artistic skills?"
The branding study's
results are just the beginning, he has suggested. "We will
tackle these questions from the national image down to the
of branding a country in a disciplined way is relatively recent,
says Tybout, the Harold T. Martin Professor of Marketing and
chair of the Kellogg
One example of
successful national branding is South Africa, she says. The
country's new theme is "South Africa: Alive with Possibility,"
evoking not only the rapid changes in South African society
but also the new business and investment opportunities. "It
was intended to promote a new image for the country after
the fall of apartheid, and it's been enormously successful,"
she explains, is to find a common thread that transcends the
diversity inherent in national populations.
"Often you do have
to go to a fairly abstract concept, such as 'freedom' or 'opportunity,'"
she says. "It must be very broad and not controversial, a
big tent that many can live in. And it must resonate with
the people for it to have credibility."
actively shape that image, since, as Tybout notes, the global
marketplace will create one for them anyway.
"Even if you aren't
consciously working to brand a country," she says, "it will
still be a brand. You can ask all around the world, for example,
what it means to be French and you'll get fairly consistent
answers. Regardless of how the French went about doing it,
they've built a strong, clear brand."
Thailand is capable
of doing the same, Jain says.
has a unique hospitality culture which can be built upon,"
he says. "Just as important, it has the willingness to put
into place a strategic marketing plan. A strong brand will
help ensure that Thailand becomes one of the top places in
Asia to visit, invest and do business."