How do you Market a Country? Notes from the SUP Marketing Tribe Meeting

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This summary was written by Morgan Friedman of the Startup Chile Marketing Tribe who is one of the founders of Gift Pinpoint.

Focused on wrestling with and solving the major marketing questions of our time, the philosophically-minded Startup Chile Marketing Tribe convened on the evening of August 6th, 2013 for a night philosophical inquiry, with practical ends, into the nature of marketing, with a heavy dose (perhaps too heavy!) of the practical nuts and bolts of converting the philosophy into action: for what is the point of inquiry if it doesn’t result in action?

Of the various issues we covered, which range from the role of marketing in education to some of the sleazy techniques that the top-rate gaming companies use (and that we can adopt for ourselves!) – deep marketing secrets of former employers and partners revealed, that can never be spoken of publicly here – one issue was of particularly poignant interest: how can countries best market themselves? This issue is worth examining in some detail, for one of the raison d’etre of Startup Chile, alongside promoting innovation and entrepreneurialism in Chile, is to promote Chile’s image as a haven for entrepreneurs. An image that, quite fortunately, maps quite strongly to the underlying reality!

An effective technique for understanding a problem is the deductive method of starting with a particular, and working its way out. So one case we examined in detail is that of Germany. Germany suffered a very severe marketing crisis approximately 70 years ago; a marketing error that, tragically, mapped very closely to reality as well. (My great-grandparents are probably rolling in the ashes they were burned into, as they read this.) In these decades since, Germany has not been struggling to improve its image, but without much success (although its reality has improved by many magnitudes of order!). Today we associate Germany with… techno music?

So, one question for the evening is, if we were Germany’s Direct of Marketing today, what would we do? It’s an interesting question: we’re path dependent, we are handed these situations, these histories, and we need to make the best of it: a marketing director can’t rewrite history.

The solution, it seems, comes from the marketing insight that: it is hard to convince anyone of something complex and subtle; so the entire art is to take something complex and subtle and reduce it to something very simple and enjoyable! This is how companies differentiate themselves in crowded markets: Budweiser is cheap; Amstel imported; PBR hipster. Volvos are safe; Rolls Royces are luxurious; Toyotas are a value buy.

Germany, it seems, needs to choose a value—and focus their national marketing efforts on it. One recommended value for Germany to focus their marketing on is… precision. Germany is already strongly associated with the image of precision; and, although precision does have its downside, that is overwhelmingly outweighed by its positive side.

Now, this is a fascinating contrast, as we observed last night, with the marketing of Chile. Chile, it seems, has a very clear vision on how it wants to market itself to the world: growth-friendly. Dozens of Chileans keep on reminding me, “Did you know Chile has more free trade agreements than any other country?”. You hear over and over, “Corfo is investing its profits from the Copper tax in expanding the economy out of commodities, a deeply far-sighted policy.” You hear over and over, “Chile has more and deeper rule of law than any other country in Latin America; Chileans overwhelmingly trust the police, unlike any other country in Latin America – and rule of law is one of the key requisites for growth.” And Startup Chile itself promotes the economic growth of Chile; through the RVA and other initiatives, the spreading of the value of entrepreneurialism; and of course, it spreads the image from Silicon Valley to Tel Aviv of Chile as a growing economy.

Chile, it seems to us, is making many wise decisions regarding the economy; but also, a wise decision regarding the marketing: it has chosen one specific and clear marketing angle and is focusing on it. This is a great lesson that Germany, and many other countries, could learn from. Chile for the win.