Building ‘Brand Sri Lanka’: Expo 2012


After having worked for the private sector in some of the best multinationals in the country, when I decided to serve the country in the public sector, many warned me on the inefficiency of the Government agencies of Sri Lanka.
But having worked on a full time basis for three years in the Government and even today sitting on many Government director boards, my take is that the middle management of the public sector far exceeds the talent of the private sector; to be specific, on the areas of depth and quality of thinking. The logic is simple as each of them is either first or second class batch tops of a Government university.

Another insight is that provided that the leadership is right, the motivation levels that can be elucidated can also be very strong. I have seen people working on Saturdays and even on Sundays if the need arises, with enthusiasm and positive attitude. May be the area that needs to worked on is business savviness, which is quite understandable.

Trade gap
Given that many private sector companies are taking part in Expo 2012, the insights that I shared above may have been experienced. From the feedback that I have personally received, it is in sync, which is good for brand Sri Lanka.
Now the challenge is how Sri Lanka bridges the trade gap of eight billion dollars plus that has created serious issues for the country. Whilst it is easy for one to comment that by moving to a flexible exchange rate exports can be made to spruce up, the reality is that if an industry is import dependent or the energy consumption is high, then the positive shine from the new monitory policy does not take form.
On a separate note, if all dynamics work well for an exporter and the market expansion takes place, the challenge of finding people to be employed comes into play. This means that a more holistic approach to driving exports will be required for Sri Lanka in the long-term.

Brand SL
If one Googles Sri Lanka, the fact of the matter is that Sri Lanka would emerge for the Geneva debacle and the fallout. We can internally debate if the score was 15 or 23, but the real damage was to brand Sri Lanka based on the model by Simon Anholt.
The brand was dented on the Governance front as per Anholt’s model and now we have to rebuild the image. In that perspective, Expo 2012 is timely given that the model very clearly details the nation branding pivots.

Expo 2012 and brand building
Whilst internally Expo 2012 can be interesting, the challenge is that we must use the event to get into the international media for positive stories.
One such story is that all city hotels are being oversold due to foreign guests. This can be spun to global media so that the Geneva fallout has no impact on those who have an appetite for business and economic growth. We must use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Four Squares in this light.
We must drive up personal endorsements by celebrity visitors who are coming in. This includes key speakers at the symposium as well as the key buyers.
The private sector must meet the international media and explain their product range to the global audience and explain the proposition on the total value chain.
The SME sector of the north east must be given an opportunity to be spotlighted so that it hits the countries where the Diaspora is strong, namely, Canada, Australia, US, UK, France and Germany. On this premise making it to the websites of the Diaspora is key and it will be positive story that cannot be spun.
We must showcase apparel under the first ethical sourcing destination banner and tea under the first ozone friendly tea positioning. As it is the private sector which will be under the umbrella, the rub off to global consumers naturally happens.
New category branding like Ceylon Cinnamon and Ceylon Handloom are interesting product categories that can be launched to the global market place on the new positioning. Cinnamon in particular will get media in Central and South America, which makes this strategy important for Sri Lanka.
The Paradise Peace Collection brand by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce must be launched with strong media as it stems to peace and reconciliation, which are buzz words as at now for Sri Lanka.
The products that come under the Indian and Pakistan FTA must be showcased separately so that we tell the world that Sri Lanka can play hub status for South Asia that no other country can do in this part of the world. This is a very important strategy for future brand Sri Lanka.
The Tourism Ministry must use the event to create awareness of the treasures of Sri Lanka, leopards, whales, Sigiriya, Arugam Bay, blowhole, Kandy Perahera and Polonnaruwa. This will add to the brand building model of Anholt.
The general public must be interviewed and hosted on YouTube and Facebook so that we drive in people power into brand Sri Lanka. This is very important given the Geneva fallout.

Nation branding
Whilst we can be upbeat on Expo 2012, the fact of the matter is that for nation branding to happen, there must be sustenance of a campaign if we are register in a consumer’s mind. If we take the US Grammy Awards, Rio Carnival in Brazil, F1 races in Monaco, bull fighting in Spain or for that matter the Dhalkar Rally, these are events that have taken place on the global spotlight for years, which is why the event adds to brand building of the country.
Sri Lanka needs to now identify an event and start making a mark globally so that we get into the global template and eventually into the mind of a consumer. Whether the Galle Literary Festival, surfing in Arugam Bay or the Kandy Perahera can come to this stature is the question we need to ask. This is not an issue of pride but a battle of the mind to position brand Sri Lanka. Science says that positioning demands certain systemic procedures to be followed. We have to follow them.

Let’s accept this. Currently ‘Brand Sri Lanka’ is tainted and we as a nation must work hard to do justice to the people who sacrificed their lives by building ‘Brand Sri Lanka’. Simon Anholt says that a combination of tourism, exports, governance, people, culture and investment are the pivots on which this tent can be erected. For this we need a strong ministry to coordinate matters. What Sri Lanka now needs is a high-powered Brand Board so that a single message is shared globally and not semantics like ‘Google should be boycotted’.

(The author is an award-winning marketer and business personality who has served Sri Lanka in different capacities in the private sector, in the Government during the war between 2007 and 2009 and also in the post-war economic agenda of the country. He is an alumnus of PIM, University of Sri Jayewardenepura and Harvard University, Boston. The thoughts are strictly his personal views.)

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