Bangladesh on top of mind
Every country is a brand by itself. A unique brand. Every country has its own positioning within the global outlook for a reason that is unique to that country. Whatever a nation does, whatever happens, planned or unplanned, a brand image is bound to form.
Every country has a unique culture and tradition that tells something to the rest of the world about them. Why do you think many of us consider migrating to countries such as Canada or Australia? Why does Scandinavia seem so peaceful to us? What have these countries done? It’s because they have successfully established such an image through their policies, investments, and their implementation.
Consider Switzerland. The country is known for its watches, among other things. How are Japan and Germany known? Both these countries are known for their engineering ingenuity.
Certain countries are better known for their natural beauty and archeological significance. There is an interesting forest in the Egyptian desert but it’s the pyramids that we think of whenever someone mentions the country. Same goes for Nepal and the Himalayas, for example.
Branding a country or a nation has always been something of a process, conscious or inadvertent, in which a distinct brand positioning can be beamed into the minds of its own citizens, international stakeholders, and “customers” across the world. And in order to become a brand, both internally and externally, a country is required to invest resources in rolling out a multitude of activities.
Bangladesh these days is better known for its rapid economic growth. But what else can be recalled among the global population if we were to run a brand equity survey? Its hospitable people? Our war for independence? Our legacy of poverty? Our readymade garment sector? Hilsa? A country of natural disasters? Political violence? The horrendous metropolitan traffic?
Can Bangladeshis boast about their country’s natural beauty? The Sundarbans, maybe. We still have some 300 Royal Bengal Tigers. The hill tracts still have some true pristine beauty left. Most of Bangladesh’s rivers and canals are dying — 20 years down the line, our rivers may become history.
Our capital city lost its beauty a long time ago and there is no turning back — Dhaka’s environmental integrity is always in the news these days, but never for any good reason. However, there are still many cities in the country which have the potential to truly shine. Khulna and Rajshahi, for example. While nowhere near as agrarian as these cities used to be, they still offer a sense of green serenity that our megacities relinquished decades ago.
What exactly is the global consensus on Bangladesh?
We’re still not sure. Bangladesh is many things to many people. We don’t have a brand equity survey for the country. In fact, it seems it doesn’t matter to us. Let the global audience think what they want to think, seems to be the prevailing attitude.
But is that fair to the people who have been working hard and have faced all kinds of calamities over the last half-a-century to bring our country to where it is at? They carry a green passport overseas and they want to feel important, but in reality that is not the case.
Many Bangladeshis have recently been watching a series of videos created by a YouTuber named Leroy Kenton. This man, and his team, has been broadcasting Bangladesh very positively — right from our war of independence to our resilience and our successes. I am not sure why Kenton started this project or if we commissioned him to do these videos, but it feels great to know such amazing, positive facts about my own country that I didn’t know about.
How do we want our country to look like to a global audience? Well there’s obviously no point in trying to answer this question through the perspective of our politicians. This really needs to be answered by the common folk: The main assets of this country. We have not asked them how they want Bangladesh portrayed abroad. We have not sought ideas from them.
At this point, we may consider running, with honesty, a brand equity survey for Bangladesh. We may gather the data from our missions overseas — without favour or fervour. The survey could lead us to know about our current positioning. It is then we may arrive at the point of taking a strategic call. What to do next? What portrayal does Bangladesh need in the outside world? How do we go about it?
Look at our national unity through the lens of our language. We earned our independence through a bloody war for linguistic emancipation. By now, if we had worked strategically and organized our activities with integrity, Bangladesh should have become the literary and linguistic capital of the world. Yes, we succeeded in making February 21 the International Mother Language Day. However, the brand aura of such an auspicious day is yet to be seen.
We may need to understand that a brand is not achieved by simply observing a day, or creating a thousand videos, or delivering a hundred speeches, or earning a million likes on social media. It is in what we believe, what we do, how we do it, and whether we are making a positive difference. Our core beliefs determine our country’s brand.
Imagine Bangladesh is a sustainable, non-bureaucratic “company” that seeks a holistic existence. Going forward, how would we plan out the next few years of our company? This is the question that, I believe, lies at the heart of our branding problem.
First published in Dhaka Tribune on 22 January 2022.