Marketing: Selling Scotland by the pound: North of the border, the tourist board plans an all-product national brand. But can a nation really be sold like chocolate?

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The Independent Online
AT STIRLING Castlethis Tuesday, the Scottish Tourist Board will unveil a new symbol and slogan aimed at attracting more visitors to Scotland. The move is unremarkable seen in isolation. What makes it exceptional is that it is the first step in a grander strategy; the latest example in the growing genre of 'national brands'.

The programme, 'Scotland the Brand', is the brainchild of Derek Reid, chief executive of the Scottish Tourist Board, appointed in March. The former managing director of Cadbury-Schweppes' food side, Mr Reid was instrumental in the management buy-out of Cadbury-Typhoo to create Premier Brands in 1986.

The new tourism brand - a naturalistic logo and a phrase to sum up Scotland's attractions - aims to combat the fall in visitor numbers from other parts of the UK.

Consumer research showed that people appreciated three things about Scotland above all - its natural environment, its built environment, and its people. 'This formed a set of characteristics in line with looking at Scotland as a product or as a brand, like a bar of chocolate,' Mr Reid says.

Tourism accounts for 5 per cent of Scotland's GDP and provides 7 per cent of its jobs. The new strategy acknowledges the industry for the first time as a serious commercial enterprise, Mr Reid says. 'In many ways, it is Scotland's biggest industry.'

But it is more than just tourism promotion. Mr Reid is also in discussions with Scottish Enterprise, the regional development agency, about extending the brand to cover trade and investment as well.

The fact that many of Scotland's products, from Aberdeen Angus beef to peaty whiskies to heather-shade textiles, relate to the distinctive natural environment that attracts tourists, argues for this extension of the brand. 'The product markets feed off the tourism market and vice versa,' says David Taylor, director of Scottish Trade International.

National brands are designed to remind you of the country of origin of a product, just as the corporate branding reminds you who made it. It is significant that they tend to avoid the national flag as an emblem. And just as corporate identity is increasingly aimed at providing employees with a sense of belonging to their companies, as much as for customers and other outsiders, so national brands must have meaning for the nationals concerned as well as appeal to foreign customers.

This requirement poses a particular dilemma for the Scots, because some of its most familiar cultural icons, from tartan to the Gaelic bard Ossian, are less anciently Scottish than people realise.

National branding is a logical development in a climate of increasing international trade and falling tariffs. In the past, such exercises have been directed mainly at the domestic market. The 'I'm backing Britain' and 'Advance Australia' campaigns encouraged residents of the two countries to buy more home-produced goods. The new idea of national branding is meant to appeal to companies seeking to win export orders.

New Zealand is perhaps furthest down this path. The New Zealand Tourism Board and Tradenz, the trade development board, have adopted the indigenous silver fern as a national brand. Discussions are under way with such organisations as the Apple and Pear Board and the Wine Guild to persuade them to adopt the symbol.

The idea is receiving a mixed response. Some companies have happily adopted the fern, but in some markets it runs up against existing brands, such as the rosette that has long identified New Zealand lamb in Britain.

Another problem is that people want their own versions of the fern. The New Zealand trade and tourism boards cannot exercise complete control over the companies adopting their symbol.

The fern is now used by various New Zealand sports teams, across a wide range of tourism services and manufactured goods. The problem is that in each case, the ferns are slightly different, making the 'national brand' overall probably less effective than a corporate identity displayed on a range of products from a single company.

'Scotland the Brand' may run into similar problems. Scotland's hi-tech manufacturers and financial service industries are unlikely to adopt a naturalistic symbol. Whiskies and other products already carry so much Scottish baggage - tartan borders, pictures of lochs - that their problem is to try to look more different from each other. An official Scottish brand hardly helps.

At root, the differences between nations are rather more subtle and meaningful than those between brands of chocolate. The value of a national brand depends upon its authenticity. Countries wishing to adopt one might do well to recognise that they are cultures foremost and businesses second.

(Photograph omitted)