In our time, when everything is becoming a brand because nothing else seems to work at all, it's hard to be safe from the topic of personal branding. If you don't position yourself as a brand, you won't find a job, customers or partners, and if things go badly, you won't even get out of the door.
Anyone who founds a company, looks for investors, does marketing - on their own or on behalf of others - needs a brand and the story to go with it anyway; or at least what is considered to be a brand.
Brands provide orientation, stories help us to explain the world and life to ourselves. At least, what we think it is.
So what could be more obvious than for countries to give themselves a brand and create a story to go with it? Nation branding is the magic word that regularly makes the hearts of many beat faster. Especially the hearts of many advisors, because there, above the heart, usually lies the wallet. Sometimes the wallet is also in the back of the trousers, which explains why business that is driven by the idea of profit usually goes to the same place and is therefore for the ass, as they say in the suburbs.
A head start through branding.
Only when a country becomes a brand, it is said, is it attractive enough as a business location, as an exporter of Made in..., as a magnet for the best minds. And in tourism anyway. A head start through branding.
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with that. But there is also nothing right about it.
Good experiences with nation branding are rare. Most of the time, the result is not much more than a rather expensive tourism logo, or advertising campaigns that dress up clichés with local colour in a more or less original way and provide them with the corresponding advertising print. As an extra, there are sometimes a few media reports about the strange occurrences during the awarding of the contract.
This brings to mind the title of a book by Steven Pressfield, which reads: "Nobody wants to read your shit."
In Austria, the time has come once again. A new attempt is to be made, because Austria really has to become a brand, positioned in such a sustainable way that it will still work the day after tomorrow. Today, the country is known for the Sound of Music, Lipizzaner horses, mountain idylls and the Opera Ball, but in our innovation-loving, digitally transferred times, that is naturally too little. If this remains the case, there is a danger that not only half of the Salzkammergut will be copied in China, but the whole of China will be copied in the Salzkammergut, which no one who is not Chinese or who runs a bed and breakfast in the Salzkammergut can approve of.
What's for breakfast?
The song of praise of the Austrian homeland of the most talented of great daughters and sons can only be heard in the first stanza of the official national anthem - apart from the equally popular and well-worn clichés - although the unofficial one is "I am from Austria". However, Waterloo & Robinson's epic "This is my little world" comes more easily from the lips of many, which should not be forgotten when thinking about nation branding. - Or, as the Austrian-born Peter Drucker so aptly put it: "Culture eats strategy for breakfast."
This guiding principle applies to you and your brand, to every company and every nation: the cultural context is the biggest hurdle for renewal and at the same time its best, perhaps even its only chance.
This is precisely why, for us Story Insiders, nation branding is a great illustration of what story is all about, whether it's personal branding or developing the brand and its story for an entire nation.
What lives earlier is dead later.
In essence, it is about a value with which a group of people identifies, which they share, for which they stand up and fight, by which they define themselves. A common longing, a common hope. That's what drives companies and organisations, that's what starts and sustains revolutions. "We have hope. Rebellions are built on hope," says Jyn Erso in Star Wars: Rogue One.
The principle of hope underlies everything.
If it is true that hope dies last, however, not much is gained by this. This is where "hope lives first" comes in.
Ernst Bloch writes in his work, the title of which has long since mutated into a winged word: "Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? What do we expect? What awaits us? Many only feel confused. The ground is shaking, they do not know why and from what. This state of theirs is fear, if it becomes more definite, it is fear.
Once a man went out to learn to fear. This was easier and closer in the time that has just passed, and this art was horribly mastered. But now, counting the originators of fear, a feeling more in keeping with us is due.
The important thing is to learn to hope. His work does not renounce, it is in love with success instead of failure".
Drive instead of propulsion.
The challenge is, among other things, that a story has to be a driving force for one's own actions and at the same time needs to be differentiated from others. The common opponent or antagonistic force must be identified. With nations, this is not only difficult, but also dangerous, because it quickly smacks of dull nationalism and arrogance. Nest heat and drive heat are two different sources of energy.
Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité is still the motto of the French Republic. What could be made of it? What does it mean in a contemporary interpretation to the outside world? And above all, in the cultural context, internally (see Pierre Drugé)? Not an easy undertaking, to my taste.
If we take a look at the USA, we can see an excellent example of a nation brand story that works, even though it is no longer true: "The land of opportunity.
I don't mean this as an ironic allusion to The Orange One in the White House, but rather as the perfect propellant for the attitude to life of an entire nation with irrepressible magnetic force towards the outside world. (For the sake of trying, let's disregard the fact that it is possible to critically note that the USA was pulled out of the blood pool of a genocide with the help of racism and slavery).
Yes you can!
Those who set out for America after discovering that it was not India often had nothing more than the clothes on their backs, the one proverbial dollar in their pockets, and above all the hope in their hearts that there, across the ocean, was the promised land where a better future was possible than here. That fortune is waiting to be forged there, gold wants to be found and the dirty plates are piling up with which anyone can wash themselves up to become a millionaire. Anyone who believes in himself can make it, thanks to his tireless efforts. Amen.
This is a story that works inside and out! For pupils, students, athletes, families, companies, organisations, scientists, technicians, doctors and farmers.
We settle a land, subdue it in what we hope is the best sense, cultivate it and transform this land into the promised land. We as God's representatives on earth. Holy Cow! What a story:
Yes, this is Story!
And this story can be told again and again in different variations:
"We choose to go to the moon!"
"Yes we can!"
"If you can make it there you can make it anywhere - it's up to you, Baby!"
It is called "The American Dream" and not "The American Twelve-Point Plan on 140 Power Point Slides" for good reason.
That is nation branding. That is story sharing.
Rebellions are built on hope. Nations too.
And companies too - indeed, all of life is built on hope. In principle, nation branding works no differently than personal branding.
Is there hope for Austria?
What could this hope, this common longing, for a brand Austria look like?
The term "bridge builder" comes up again and again in this context. In the current EU Presidency as well as in "Building bridges", the motto of the Eurovision Song Contest 2015 in Vienna. Where could the common longing, the shared hope lie in this? Apart from the hope that on the other side of the bridge there is a highly reputed talk therapist waiting for the incumbent Minister of the Interior ...
But how about, on the other hand, recognising the people in the country as the bearers of the message, similar to the USA, and shoving their creativity as the most valuable treasure into the piggyback cone?
Great things were and are happening here. Almost 200 companies operate as hidden champions - world market leaders that hardly anyone knows about. Top scientists and top start-ups cause a sensation internationally. Mozart and Falco, Viktor Frankl and Peter Drucker, Ingeborg Bachmann and Elfriede Jelinek, Thomas Bernhard and Thomas Brezina, Billy Wilder and Michael Haneke, Red Bull and Red Bull Salzburg, Sound ofMusic included. Mozartgoogle, so to speak.
But what if by innovation one could mean more than technology, but social innovation that springs from the continent at the centre? Wouldn't that at the same time be a boost for everything that requires education and training and ultimately nourishes the self-worth of every single person in the country?
Is there hope for Europe?
What then could a hope for Europe look like? For a Europe that is more than pro or contra Brussels and protected external borders? Is there a common longing for Our Europe? Continent Branding - Europe as a desirable counter longing to China, Russia and the USA ...
Let us listen once again to Ernst Bloch: "Man still lives everywhere in prehistory, indeed everything and everything still stands before the creation of the world, as a right one. The real genesis is not at the beginning but at the end, and it only begins when society and existence become radical, that is, when they take hold of themselves at the root. The root of history, however, is man who works, creates, transforms and overtakes realities. When he has grasped himself and established his own without alienation and alienation in real democracy, then something arises in the world that shines into everyone's childhood and in which no one has yet been: home."
Storysharers step forward!
Our fragile times need stories, storytellers and even more: story sharers. Stories are like countries and people, they only come alive in the we.
The ability to tell stories has been programmed into us humans by evolution. Let's use this ability to create hope, shared hope! This makes us stronger than we would be alone.
That makes every country a promised land, as it is meant to be. And it doesn't matter whether this country has a government, or a management, or a board of directors. Or whether this country has only one inhabitant, who is you yourself.
Stories respectfully engage us in conversation with our audience when the story is relevant to both. That's how it's done today, beyond advertising.
And that is why my grandmother, old Story Dudette, wrote to good Friedrich Schiller in the margin of his manuscript of the "Ode to Joy" with a delicate stroke the wise words: "No Story. No Glory."