How Saudi Arabia is building a new national brand

Arab News, January 13th, 2018

  January 13th, 2018

How Saudi Arabia is building a new national brand


Recent decisions in Saudi Arabia with regard to good governance and tax reforms, women’s rights and new opportunities for its people, as well as the continued efforts of the Saudi government to tackle international terrorism, have been positively received both domestically and internationally and have significantly contributed to the Saudi national brand image, indicating that more positive changes are on the horizon.

The Saudi government is signalling to its citizens and to the world that the Saudi national brand of the 21st century will include many more possibilities than in previous centuries. In general, world democracies and their people have reacted immensely positively to these changes, which will surely bring considerable long-term benefits to Saudi citizens and the Saudi state. It is therefore important that this improvement in the Saudi national brand will continue to be further developed, and more initiatives and programs presented, in order to bring lasting, long-term sustainable benefits.

The emergence and development in recent years of the concept of nation branding, as a result of the process of globalization and the digital revolution, has presented countries with an efficient instrument to use in order to improve their image abroad and thus promote trade, tourism and direct investment. 

In the past few decades, the growing importance of nation branding has become a crucial element for countries worldwide interested in expanding their economic, scientific and trading capabilities globally. Indeed, every state seeking to sustainably improve tourism, international trade and foreign investment, and the availability of international credit in general, can benefit greatly from a positive national reputation, and therefore the success of the state is very much dependent on the success of the state’s national brand. In contrast, a negative reputation of the national brand can hinder large numbers of tourists and discourage favorable trade conditions and foreign investment, as well as engendering unwillingness from other countries to cooperate in academic and scientific affairs.

In the globalized world of the 21st century, a country’s international image is crucial for developing trade, tourism and investment.
Mark C. Donfried

The aim of nation branding is to build, manage and improve a country’s image. Nation branding is designed to make a nation politically, economically and culturally more competitive in the world. In addition to those three key goals, nation branding can also increase currency stability; help restore international credibility and investor confidence; reverse international ratings downgrades; increase international political influence; and stimulate stronger international partnerships and enhance nation building by nourishing confidence, pride, harmony, ambition and national identity. 

This can be done, for example, through tourism campaigns and placing symbolic value on export products and services in order to encourage foreign direct investment, trade, tourism and political alliances. These popular exports and tourist attractions become key features each country is known for, allowing for each nation to hone in on its strengths and portray them in a positive light.

Nation branding programs and initiatives are usually cost effective, as normally they consist of activities such as research, publications, conferences, exhibitions, fairs, academic and scientific exchange, youth programs and beyond. These programs, compared to other budgets of a state, such as defense, are only a fraction of the cost and therefore the return on investment is high. Furthermore, the positive influence of these programs and initiatives can be seen additionally in many aspects of states’ internal and external affairs, ranging from state security, innovation and development to the improvement of its’ citizens standard of living.

At the same time, issues such as intercultural understanding, sustainable development, poverty and inequalities, youth advancement, women’s rights, global peace and environmental responsibility are becoming increasingly significant topics within the global community; concurrently these global challenges dominate the agendas of global governance organizations and governments. Successful future state nation branding programs therefore must be established and based on or connected to the actual state support for the community to solve and ease its major challenges.

Such a strategy will create and bring crucial and significant benefits and opportunities for Saudi Arabia in the 21st century.

 Mark C. Donfried is director general of the  Institute for Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin.