Davor Bruketa, Creative Director of Bruketa&Žinić OM, writes about the process of branding a nation and gives one of the possible visions on how to position Croatia in the European and global context for Jutarnji list
In life, it is very useful when as many people as possible recognize you as a person who is good at something, a person with a useful skill or a good character. In order to become well known for something, it is important to focus on one area and to attempt to become the best you can in that area. Of course, one cannot become an expert overnight, but it is important that you make it clear to others what your focus is, what you are working on, and what you want to become the best in. If this is simultaneously something that is useful for others and something that your environment recognizes as a realistic ambition, you will first receive small opportunities from your immediate environment, which, if well used, will open the door to new and greater opportunities.
The same is true for brands, companies and countries…
What makes Croatia recognizable? Is this enough? What can we focus on? What is our ambition that our environment will recognize as realistic and give us a chance? Will the recognisability we want to build contribute to the quality of life of all citizens in our country, regardless of what they do and which part of the country they live in? How can this be accomplished?
What makes Croatia recognisable?
According to recent surveys, Croatia is still poorly recognizable in the global context. When it is recognized, there are three primary associations: a country with a beautiful sea (nature), a country with relative success in football (sport), and a country ravaged by war in the 1990s.
Is this enough?
This is not bad, as the first two are positive associations, and many countries would be happy with that. Thanks to the fact that some consider we have a beautiful sea, Croatia has solid annual revenues, and is visited by a large number of guests who leave behind a lot of money. That is a solid start. When many people want to come into contact with you, you then have the opportunity to tell, show and prove things that might further increase your revenues.
However, the fact that someone recognizes Croatia as a country with a beautiful sea does not help our electronics industry much, nor contribute to the exports of our train and tram carriages, the exports of our food products, inland tourism, health care tourism, or exports of creative industries; in a word, everything that is the produce of the work we do as people who live by this beautiful sea.
Furthermore, there are many other countries with beautiful seas. If someone offers me a beautiful sea at a more favourable price or with added value, I will easily change my mind as to where to spend my vacation. The main association for our country is not unique. We are not, therefore, irreplaceable.
Germany, on the other hand, is considered to be a country inhabited by hard-working, precise and technically educated people. This perception helps people around the world have an a priori positive attitude towards an entire range of German products and services. Such a perception even helps when the product or service does not meet the expected level of quality, we are inclined to be less critical.
Croatia too, of course, needs an association that would help our businesses. Take the example of two tram carriages: “This tram was manufactured in a country with hard-working, precise and technically competent people” (Germany) or “This tram was manufactured in a country with a beautiful sea” (Croatia). What are the citizens of, for example, a Polish city, to think? Did the mayor buy the best possible tram if he bought them in Germany, or if he bought them in Croatia? The mayor is very interested in ensuring the people think well of him. Or when that same tram gets stuck because the city is covered in snow. If the tram was purchased in Germany, the snow will be to blame, and if it is purchased in Croatia, the tram will be.
The most significant association tied to Croatia has nothing to do with its citizens and their accomplishments. Namely, the Croatian sea is beautiful without us.
What to focus on?
The associations tied to a certain country are most often a consequence of numerous circumstances, various historical events, the activities of its citizens, their mentality, the social consensus and the strength of the leaders that can gather the citizens around a certain idea.
We have been lucky to come out of our historical confusions as a country with “a beautiful sea”. That is much less than Germany, France or Italy have. But much more than many less fortunate communities.
In addition to a beautiful sea, over the past twenty years, thanks to efforts by designer Boris Ljubičić and through sports communication channels, we have succeeded in building visual recognisability of our community with a beautiful sea by building the visual recognisability of our community: the red (and sometimes blue) checkers are the unique visual identity of Croatia. This was not accomplished by any of the other countries that emerged in the 1990s.
How to expand a group of associations?
When a planned approach is taken to that task, it is important to understand that expanding this group of associations is only possible through the organic expansion of the existing associations, taking into consideration the mentality, knowledge, historical context, culture and customs of a community. It is necessary to select associations that are natural, and positively build onto the existing state. If we want Croatia to become globally known for precision and hard-working people, we will be faced with the problem that these associations are too far off from the existing group of associations. Simply put, no one will believe us. It is necessary to find something that both the internal and external public will perceive as positive, but realistically founded on the existing principles.
What could that be?
The association “Croatia is a country with a beautiful, pristine sea” could be expanded to say that “Croatia is a country with beautiful, pristine nature”. And truly it is. Croatia has numerous nature parks and protected areas both along the coast and inland, all the way to Slavonia, in various climatic zones, far from (rare) industry.
Alright: “Croatia is a country with beautiful, pristine nature”, but how can this association be expanded further? If Croatia is a country with beautiful, pristine nature, does that mean that healthy food could be produced here? And indeed, for years there has been much talk of the vast lands untouched for the past twenty years that are suitable for organic food production. Croatia today does not have a large share of organic food production in total food production. However, there is the spatial potential, knowledge and people who believe that locally grown foods are healthy. This association could be a good foundation for building market brands in the area of healthy food, in which Croatia could get involved in the global trend of opposing genetically modified ingredients. This is one of the chances of building global Croatian brands.
“Croatia – a beautiful country with pristine nature and ambitions to become a global leader in organic food production”. With such a group of associations we have already significantly strengthened the uniqueness in positioning Croatia. However, we can do better still. Today it is perfectly clear that a country without serious industrial production and a high degree of energy dependence is unlikely to enter into the club of the most successful nations. But what kind of industry should a country known for its natural beauty and ambitions to become a global leader in the production of organic food have? Isn’t that contradictory?
No. Croatia has a tradition of electrical engineering, shipbuilding and an electric vehicle industry, such as trams and trains. Our ambition to become leaders in the production of healthy food could be expanded to all other industries that support sustainable development. Croatia already manufactures electric automobiles, wind turbines (new jobs for shipyards), hydroelectric plants, electric trams and trains. We will likely not be global leaders in technical excellence, but we can certainly emphasize our ambition to become global leaders in ecology, sustainable development and accompanying industries.
This is a global niche. Why? Developed countries have large and diverse economies. These are massive ships and changing course is difficult. Undeveloped countries lack the knowledge and consensus on a development vision. We are somewhere in between: small enough to be able to change quickly, undeveloped enough that we haven’t destroyed our landscape, but developed enough to have the fundamental knowledge upon which to build our further development. In a word, we have an opportunity.
If we were to emphasize an ambition to be the global leaders in the development of an ecologically acceptable society, this would help numerous other sectors of our economy. For example, Croatian tourism could aim to become the global leader in ecological tourism. This would vertically integrate the entire economy. The production of organic foods would have a fundamental sales channel in Croatian tourism, which would be a fundamental promotional channel for Croatian organic food brands. Guests would have the opportunity to try Croatian organic brands and see where they are produced, and they would be able to recognize them on the store shelves in Germany. This could be a possible way for Croatia to uniquely reposition itself from “a place where you can see nice nature” to “eco-tourism”. How many countries are positioned like this today? Very few. Certainly much fewer than those who have said “we have beautiful nature”.
We have the natural resources to offer organic food and ecological tourism, we have the natural potential and knowledge to develop renewable energy sources. Even though our country is well known for its beautiful sea, today it is manufacturing electric automobiles, one of which is the world’s fastest. Once we create such a perception, we would no longer be selling “trams” but “ecologically acceptable public transport solutions.”
What is the plan?
This is, of course, just one of the possible visions for Croatia’s development, for its global positioning and the group of desirable associations that will open new doors for Croatian businesses. It is necessary to initiate the process that begins with a public debate on the direction of our development and what we should become known for in the world. There are certainly many people in Croatia thinking about this topic and who could offer several alternative directions. We should choose the path that will help the largest possible number of economic sectors. The ideas should be tested in all sectors. Based on the general strategy selected, it is then necessary to develop sub-strategies by sector: tourism, industry, agriculture, energy, culture. Allegedly, the national tourism strategy is currently being drafted. It is unlikely that this strategy will take the interests of all others into consideration, since a common denominator has not yet been defined for all sectors. Until now, such a strategy has not taken the interests of the entire tourism sector into consideration, and has virtually completely ignored continental tourism, as it has not yet found a sufficiently specific common denominator with coastal tourism.
An integral part of every strategy is its communication segment. We mustn’t be timid, we must know how to express our ambitions. But this should be a gradual process. Were we to immediately shout that we want to be the global leaders in sustainable development, ecology and technologies that support sustainable development, it is unlikely that many people would believe we are up to the task. But, at this phase, if we were to state that we want to become the European leaders in the production of organic food, eco-tourism and renewable energy sources, this would already raise the bar quite high.
In any case, on 1 July 2013, the Croatian representatives will have about 5 seconds of global media attention to say what Croatia is. It would be great if those 5 seconds were not wasted on formal words, but that this expanded sentence be the essence of a national strategy that the majority of citizens can understand and believe, and which is based on our true possibilities, and supported by a plan that can be implemented and that the outside world can perceive as positive, attractive and possible.
We are not losers, but we need to agree on what we are.