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Needed: a nation brand mindset

October 2013

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It is time to move beyond discussions of productivity and red tape to what industries will define as our shared prosperity

We apologise – we have been very quiet about the need for Australia to pursue an intelligent and cohesive exercise in defining its brand. Early in 2012 we wrote an article for this esteemed publication decreeing that we believed Australia was lacking a coherent game plan for its future. A game plan that puts sectorial self interest aside and adopts a nationwide mindset as to how we should forge our future together.

We were advocating that the nation’s major stakeholders come together and adopt a nation branding mindset. True branding, not in the sense of logo or a strap line, but where all key stakeholders within Australia engage in structured conversations about our future. Representatives from industry, Government, NGOs, the arts, education, health, agriculture, media and other relevant sectors, along with members of the wider community need to participate in deep, factual and informed dialogue around the desired pathways for building Australia’s future prosperity.

The sad news is nothing has changed. We have just been through an election campaign that had our new Liberal Government promise a future built on the rather glib sound-bite of promising to “build a stronger economy, end the carbon tax, stop the boats, end the mining tax and build the roads for the future”. Forgetting how one may feel about the lot of asylum seekers or the plight of the environment, what we still do not know is what Australia will base its economic and social prosperity on into the future.

The upside is that during the course of 2013 there have been the stirrings of an appetite for a conversation about our future. The previous Labor Government reflected on our role in Asia with the Asian Century White Paper. The Business Council of Australia at the end of July released an Action Plan for Enduring Prosperity. BCA President Tony Shepherd at the time of paper’s launch rightly stated that “with increasing global competition, the construction phase of the resources boom slowing, an ageing population, and technology causing huge change in how business and society works, now is the time to start a national debate about the kind of country we want and how we get there”.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants has also joined the conversation with their own paper on developing a plan for Australia’s economic prosperity. However, what is missing from all of these contributions is a process for identifying what will define Australia into the future. Yes, increasing productivity and reducing red tape are important endeavours, but what are going to be the industries and services that we are going champion to become world leaders?

When we wrote about this very same need last year, we referenced the definitive work that Finland had undertaken defining its future around the concept of brand. The process that Finland undertook was inspiring – so much so that we subsequently packed our bags and headed to Helsinki to see what we could learn that would be relevant to Australia.

The Finns’ level of generosity and willingness to share was nothing short of uplifting. We gained access to a fantastic cross-section of the Finland Nation brand committee, from Government Ministers and bureaucrats through to academics and industry leaders. We learnt a lot, but what was most instructive is that any serious nation branding exercise needs the active engagement and commitment from Government.

When we returned to Australia mid-last year, our view was the Gillard Government was very unlikely to win another term (even with the resurrection of Rudd) and as such it would be futile to begin agitating for a serious Nation branding project.

But there is no better time than now to begin such a project. We have a new Government, with a delightfully vague mandate. It has a full term in which to embark on something transformational. As mentioned above, there are sectors of the business community already up for the conversation. What is a required is a process to engage them, along with a wider cross section of the community. 

Some of the questions that need to be addressed in a nation branding exercise are:

·         Who are we and what do we have to offer? What does Australia stand for internationally, what characteristics define our culture, what strengths can we leverage?

·         How do we define our prosperity today and into the future? What currently drives our prosperity economically and socially – how is it trending?

·         What does the world need (today and into the future) that we can play a meaningful role in delivering?

·         Matching need against capability, where do our greatest opportunities reside (fact driven)?

·         What do we wish to own as a nation brand (essence and value proposition) and what actions will we undertake to deliver on it (how will we define success, what sectors will we invest in, how will we measure our progress)?

Far too much conversation about our future is in generalisations. We need to become far more discerning, decisive and committed to a number of very specific actions. For example, if a nation branding project decreed that we should become the food bowl to Asia – how will we do it, what time frame, what resources will we commit and who will be responsible? Ultimately, whatever the agreed game plan, it requires our new Government to assume shared accountability with industry for delivering on it.

Wouldn’t it make for an interesting election campaign in three years’ time if the government of the day was significantly assessed against how it had delivered on an agreed nation brand plan?

Peter Singline and David Ansett are co-founders and directors of Truly Deeply, a Melbourne based brand strategy and design consultancy.





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