Trade liberalization and economic integration are inevitable and they will become a way of life. In fact, the Asean Economic Community (AEC), of which the Philippines is a part, is set to become a reality by 2015.
The AEC envisions a single market and production base characterized by free flow of goods, services, investments, capital and skilled labor. It aims to build on the collective strength of the Asean, which boasts of a total consumer base of over 600 million and a GDP of over $1.13 trillion. The Asean brand will be our banner, its collective strength magnified by the distinct offerings of each individual nation under its umbrella.
Although this is obviously a promising proposition for the Asean members, it also portends some very real risks for the Philippines. With the playing field now flat, the Philippines, our country, will be competing even more fiercely with the country branding campaigns of other members of the Asean, and can easily get drowned out by a strong Asean branding campaign. Just as AEC emphasizes the strong suits of each country, so does it stress the generic nature of these countries’ offerings, including that of the Philippines.
If you think about it, those endless swathes of beaches, handicrafts and exotic delight that we are so proud of and which are part of our marketing campaigns, are in fact Asean generica.
Certainly, we do not want the Philippine country brand to get lost in a sea of strong country brands.
Just last week, while watching CNN, I saw the “Invest in Remarkable Indonesia”—a very well-executed campaign, and a permutation of its omnibus “Remarkable Indonesia” ad. Thailand has also released a new campaign titled “Thailand at the crossroads of Asean.” “Malaysia, Truly Asia” still resonates strongly in people’s mind, as the nation pushes the unique selling theme of biodiversity.
Even the emergent nations have strong country branding initiatives, backed up by real changes on the ground. Shedding all vestiges of its turbulent past, Cambodia’s ongoing tourism campaign highlights the uniqueness of the kingdom, which complements its very progressive trade and investment policies. Not to be outdone, Myanmar’s new leadership is riding on the tails of its democratic changes to bring in foreign investment. Singapore, of course, has positioned itself as the knowledge, trade and cultural hub of the region and it continues to live up to this identity with very well-coordinated marketing and trade promotions efforts.
Where, then, does this leave the Philippines? Although we have started the tourism “It’s more fun in the Philippines” campaign, I dare say it is not enough to take us to where we want to be. As we integrate ourselves into the regional economy, our country brand should be designed holistically so that it reflects the competitive strengths of the Philippines in its entirety, and shine the spotlight on the unique combination of strengths that make the Philippine country brand one of a kind.
For us, then, the goal is clear: we need to ensure the strength of the Philippine country brand. Now, more than ever, we have to ask ourselves the hard questions: How can we remain competitive and make our products and services stand out in a market characterized by free flow of goods, services, labor, capital, and investment? What advantages do we have that we can maximize? And where do we start?
If I may offer a humble opinion, I believe it is high time to convene a Philippine National Branding Council.
In my view, the proposed branding council should be tasked to develop the country’s brand platform; design a road map for promoting and strengthening country brand and reputation; execute country branding road map and specific programs; and monitor and evaluate country branding programs. As the AEC takes shape, the Philippine National Branding Council will also take the role of ensuring that our country brand stands strong. When the Asean Branding Council is established, the council will simply guide us to align our branding initiatives with that of the region.
Beyond these, the Philippine National Branding Council ensures that we hold true to the promise of the Philippine country brand—a promise that we can embrace and fulfill, both as a country and as an important part of the Asean.
Recognizing the impact of free trade and trade blocs on the Philippines, the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) will discuss regional integration at its next CEO Conference.
Needless to say, we cannot afford to delay actions on these developments given that AEC is here, and that countries in the Asean are already aggressively positioning themselves as the destination of choice of both investors and tourists.
We need to find ways to bring attention to our many strengths, and show the world that our country brand can deliver more than just fun.
With contributions from Alma Rita Jimenez
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