Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Place marketing – where does the Islamic world stand?
Article Type: Article review From: Journal of Islamic Marketing, Volume 1, Issue 1
Kotler, P., Gertner, D. (2002), “Country as brand, product, and beyond: a place marketing and brand management perspective”, Journal of Brand Management, Vol. 9 Nos. 4/5, pp. 249-61
The Article Review Editor strongly believes that articles selected for review in this journal should provide readers with some ideas to carry out further investigations into some important research areas that can be applied to the Islamic world to fill a gap in knowledge. Although the paper above by Kotler and Gertner is not a recent one, it has been chosen hoping to motivate researchers to investigate this under researched topic in the Islamic world.
Marketers of some Islamic countries have successfully marketed the whole country or at least some of their cities and gained excellent reputation for being a preferred tourists’ destination. The UAE, Dubai in particular, is a clear example of how some countries built a sound reputation for being a preferred tourists’ destination. Other Islamic countries, however, seem to spend a lot on “place” advertising but, unfortunately, their efforts seem to be of no avail when compared with the success story of Dubai.
It is hoped that this article review will work as an eye opener and lead to further investigations to answer some important questions such as why the Sultanate of Oman is not doing as well as the neighbouring UAE when it comes to place marketing despite its natural beauty, safety, and political stability. Can some beautiful but previously troubled Islamic countries succeed in repositioning themselves as safe havens for tourists and investors? Why Islamic countries are not matching Taiwan, for example, in attracting offshore productions?
Kotler and Gertner divided their paper into three main headings as follows: countries as brands and products, the impact of country names on attitudes toward products, and marketing countries and managing their brands. The paper also deals with different tasks of country brand management under the following subsections: managing the image, attracting tourists, and attracting factories and companies.
Countries as brands and products
The paper reminds readers of the fact that brands have social and emotional values to users. They have personalities and speak for the user. Users do not mind paying premiums for their treasured or socially valued brands.
According to Kotler and Gertner, beyond serving as brand names, countries can be products as well. Country names amount to brands and help consumers evaluate products and make purchasing decisions. For example, products bearing a “made in Germany”, “made in Switzerland” or “made in Japan” label are commonly regarded as high quality, due to the reputation of these countries as top world manufacturers and exporters.
Consumers will position brands in their heads with or without the help of marketers. Kotler and Gertner argue that even when a country does not consciously manage its name as a brand, people still have images of countries that can be activated by simply voicing the name. These images, according to the authors, are long lasting and difficult to change and are likely to influence people’s decisions related to purchasing, investing, changing residence and travelling.
What gives a country a certain image? Kotler and Gertner answer this question by suggesting that a country’s image stems from many factors such as the country’s geography, history, proclamations, art, famous citizens and other features. The authors emphasise the roles played by the entertainment industry and the media in shaping people’s perceptions of places, particularly those viewed negatively.
Since the country’s image is shaped by the factors listed above, does this mean that all people will have the same image of the same country? Kotler and Gertner stated that different persons and groups are likely to hold different stereotypes of nations since the mental phenomenon is inherently subjective. According to the authors, most country images are in fact stereotypes, extreme simplifications of the reality that are not necessarily accurate.
The impact of country names on attitudes toward products
In many countries, product labelling is mandatory where marketers are required, by law, to disclose the product’s place of origin. In their paper, Kotler and Gertner stated that country of origin has become an integral part of the repertory of extrinsic cues to product evaluations, along with price, brand name, packaging and seller, as opposed to the study of the role of intrinsic qualities of the product such as materials, design, style, workmanship, colour and smell. Backed by research findings, Kotler and Gertner argue that consumers pervasively use country of origin information as an indicator of quality.
Even when the product’s brand name is strong, the place of production does play a part. Sony is given as an example of how people can think less of Sony when it is produced in a country of low esteem.
The paper also highlights the work of various researchers in emphasising the impact of ethnocentrism and animosity and how they can affect attitudes toward products. An example of animosity, sited in the paper, is that of Australian and New Zealand consumers boycotting French products in protest at nuclear tests in the South Pacific.
Marketing countries and managing their brands
In an ever-increasing global competition, there are more reasons, according to Kotler and Gertner, why nations must manage and control their branding. The authors advise that in order to attract tourists, factories, companies and talented people and to find markets for their exports, countries should adopt strategic marketing management tools and conscious branding. The enhancement of a country’s position in the global market-place is the concern of strategic place marketing.
Strategic place marketing requires a careful understanding of the country’s internal and external environmental forces that may affect the country’s marketability. Therefore, SWOT analysis must be carried out in order to determine where the country stands in terms of its strengths and weaknesses and opportunities and threats.
Managing the image
According to Kotler and Gertner, assessing a brand’s image and how it compares to its competitors’ image is a vital step in designing the country’s marketing strategy. A country’s brand’s image can even be tarnished by a novel or a movie and it may take many years and large-scale international campaigns to change the perceptions of people and build a positive image.
Confronting a negative image, as noted by Kotler and Gertner, can be a strenuous challenge since brand managers have no control over environmental factors that may keep tourists and investors away, such as natural disasters, political turmoil and economic downturn.
A clear warning is given by the authors against trying to fix the country’s image without fixing the problems that gave rise to it. It was argued that in order to improve a country’s image, it may be easier to create new positive associations than try to refute old ones.
The authors argue that the desired image must be close to reality, believable, simple, appealing and distinctive. They also suggest several tools that brand managers may use to promote the country’s image. Among the suggested tools are slogans, visual images or symbols and events and deeds.
Kotler and Gertner started this subsection by emphasising the importance of tourism and how the tourism market can be segmented in many ways. If a country lacks natural attractions the authors recommend that in this case the country needs to undertake investment marketing in order to build attractions or to promote events that will attract tourists. The country also has to invest in building a sound infrastructure, safety, and services.
The importance of research is also highlighted in this paper as the authors recommend that tourist managers must carry out research to understand the values tourists seek as users, as buyers, and as payers. Another task for the tourist managers is to carefully analyse the competitive environment since consumers today have literally thousands of destinations to choose from.
The authors end this subsection by accentuating that a country cannot expect the income generated from tourism to remedy all of its problems. It is, in fact, the other way around, and the country may first need to solve its problems in order to attract tourists and generate the sought after tourism income.
Attracting factories and companies
One of the most important facets of place marketing, according to Kotler and Gertner, deals with countries’ efforts to attract new factories and business investments. These are expected to have an impact on the whole countries’ economies as jobs will be created.
The authors note that due to the remarkable improvements in telecommunication and transportation services worldwide, global companies are searching for new locations that might bring down their costs. Country marketers, therefore, must understand how companies make their site selection. The authors also argue that countries must define the industries they wish to build and plan sites to appeal to these specific industries from the very beginning.
In their conclusion section, the authors emphasise the importance of country images and recommend that countries must embark on more conscious country branding. The authors provide a strategic management approach of five steps that should assist countries’ marketers. Each of these steps, in the reviewer’s opinion, can trigger researchers in the Islamic world to carry our further investigations that would be applicable to the Islamic countries.