March 29, 2020

Nation branding – a communication opportunity

By H.E. Ambassador Nicolas Bideau, head of Presence Switzerland.

At Expo 2020, which will be held in Dubai from October 2020 to April 2021, the Swiss pavilion will take centre stage, promoting Switzerland’s traditional image as well as its innovative strengths. 

In recent decades, countries have become aware of the value of their image and have put strategies in place to shape, alter or strengthen their reputation. Communication wonks call this ‘nation branding’ and Switzerland is by no means exempt. 

World expos have therefore become essential communication platforms. Participating countries can provide an emotive experience for visitors and present themselves in surprising ways. Such exhibitions provide an ideal platform for discovery and dialogue.

Participation in such an event sends a strong signal to the international community and confirms a country’s interest in working with other nations to find solutions to global challenges, to strengthen trade and to create new partnerships.  And, Switzerland was one of the first countries to announce its participation in Expo 2020. 

Countries are now increasingly subject to scrutiny from the media, NGOs and the public, and are judged and compared on the basis of their economic prowess, political stability, sense of international responsibility and cultural interest. For this reason, world expos are important communication opportunities.

World expos enjoy a high profile in the media and among the public, both internationally and locally. In terms of nation branding, they are effective in reaching a wide audience, both directly and indirectly, via new and traditional media channels. 

The national pavilion will provide the Swiss government with an attractive platform to showcase its priority themes in international communication: business, science, education, the environment and culture. It will cast the country as innovative, competitive and responsible, while at the same time highlighting its deep-rooted traditions.

In order to maximise a country’s pull factor, nation branding experts capitalise on the perceptions of their country and its symbols to promote the brand image.  Switzerland’s most important brand identity drivers are the products it exports. The ‘Swiss made’ label is viewed by many consumers to be a guarantee of quality, whether in the machine industry, the agri-food sector or the luxury goods sector. The challenge for communicators is how best to use this perception to get the message across. Chocolate, for example, is one thing people spontaneously associate with Switzerland and can be used as a communication lever to explain how without Swiss innovation chocolate would not even exist. 

Switzerland enjoys a positive and stable image abroad and is regarded as an important player in the global economy. However, this positive image cannot last forever without constant attention: we have to maintain the high quality of the offer and invest in presenting it in a positive light. Using communication to best leverage your assets is a challenge for all countries. That is the secret of nation branding – capitalizing on your country’s known strengths to generate positivity towards it.

These communication dynamics are at the forefront of world expos. Each country presents itself through a national pavilion, and while general perceptions of a country play a crucial role in drawing the crowds, once inside the pavilion, visitors expect a memorable experience. Providing that experience is the only way to ensure a long-term impact on the perception of visitors.

As a founding member of the Bureau International des Expositions, Switzerland has taken part in most world expos. Over the years, the Swiss pavilion has gradually established itself as an attractive brand, often drawing some of the biggest crowds and gaining much media coverage. Regular surveys among visitors confirm that the pavilions leave a positive impression of Switzerland. 

At Expo 2020 in Dubai, Switzerland aims to present itself as a country of innovation which remains true to its traditions. The pavilion has therefore been modelled on a journey, travelling through Switzerland the hub of innovation and Switzerland the land of bucolic splendour. Along the way, visitors will discover Switzerland’s values, its strengths in terms of education, research, innovation and business, but also the qualities and savoir-faire specific to Switzerland that give it the ability to provide answers to the challenges of the future. Expo 2020 is an important communication opportunity in the region. 

See you in Dubai in October 2020!

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