Prof. Dr. Keith Dinnie (Associate Professor of Business, Temple University; Japan)

12.03.2011 - Interview conducted by Agnieszka Mystek

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Q1. Recently, you have been focusing particularly on nation branding activities conducted in the Asia-Pacific region and you taught at the Temple University in Japan. What inspired your interest in this region of the world in particular?

One reason is that my wife is Japanese. Another reason is that I wanted to live in that part of the world, just to experience it. Iíve lived in Europe and North Africa before, but never Asia. Japan and South Korea are both very interesting examples of nation branding. They both have very different approaches and generally I just wanted to experience a completely new culture. The food, the drink, the lifestyle, all those reasons. And one benefit of being an English speaker and in higher education now is that you can pretty much chose anywhere in the world you want to work. I wanted to take advantage of that possibility.†

Q2. Is it as important in your opinion for a relatively well-known country such as Japan or the US to work on their national brand as it is for a lesser-known country?

Thatís a very good question. If you look first of all at what actually happens in Italy for example, which is a very well-known and strong brand, but it doesnít actually have a nation branding strategy. Although I was told by some Italian officials that Berlusconi himself is interested in nation branding. But thereís no organization and no strategy. So they seem to have taken the view that the Italian brand is so strong that they donít really need to do much. Now whether that is the right decision or not depends of what you want to achieve through your nation brand. So for example, in terms of tourism, Italy does very well so thereís no crisis there. In terms of exports, itís got a very good reputation in fashion and high-end products, so itís doing well there. But in terms of investments, maybe theyíre satisfied the way things are, but probably not. So in that case, maybe they should invest more in their investment brand. But again it comes back to what I was saying earlier, some people take the view that youíve got to have one brand that covers the whole nation, but the alternative is that you have one tourism brand, one investment brand, one export brand, however many brands you want. So I think in their case, probably they could do with some investment brand promotion. They might disagree, they might agree and they do have an investment agency who are doing their job, but it is not part of a coherence nation branding strategy. The same question can be asked of cities. For example, the city where I come from - Edinburgh, people are asking the same question. Edinburgh is so well-established, so famous and is doing well for tourism. Is there any need to actually spend any money on branding? And there is a lot of disagreement about that. Then happened the financial crisis of 2007-8 and a huge number of jobs were lost in Edinburgh in the finance sector. Thatís really focused people on the need, even though Edinburgh is a famous city with a good image, for branding. But to come back to your original question, yes, it is more urgent for countries that are less developed and less well-known. But unfortunately those are the countries that donít have as much resources to do it. So you have a case where the countries that should be doing it the most, may be not.

Q3. Japan is often thought of as the land of technology and gadgets. Do you think that the 2011 Toyota recall will negatively affect foreign investment in Japan in the near future?

No. That would be my quick answer. But it is an important question given that Toyota is such a symbol of Japan. All this bad news, particularly in the US market, potentially might affect Japan. However, I think that in the case of Toyota and Japan, both brands are so strong and so well-established that even such a bad record or series of accidents or faults is really going to cause much damage. In fact the sales in the US, theyíre still doing fine. But they had a crisis to manage. Possibly a turning point was when the chief executive of Toyota went to the US to the hearing and in person defended his country. And to everyoneís surprise, he actually did very well. That seemed to have reduced some of the hostility in the negative reaction. But in terms of people investing in Japan, no I donít think itís going to cause any damage at all. The barrier to investing in Japan is the Japanese government and the business philosophy, in that they are not particularly welcoming to foreign investment. The goal for well-established domestic companies to some extent is that they want to protect them.

Q4. In Japan, there are almost twice as many outbound Japanese tourists as inbound international tourists. As a nation branding expert, what role do you think that tourists travelling abroad play in creating the national brand of their country?

Potentially they can affect peopleís image of the country they come from. For Japan, itís a strange situation because Japanese tourists are a bit different from tourists from other countries. They generally travel in groups rather than individually or in pairs and they very much keep themselves to themselves. So there is a very limited interaction between them and the people in the countries they go to. Japanese people are generally not good at learning foreign languages, so they rely very much on a tour guide to be their interpreter, which is another barrier to interacting with local people. On the other hand more positively, they tend to be very well behaved and thatís where they are completely different from British tourists. Now there are all different kinds of tourists, but some British tourists particularly in Spain and sometimes in Greece, they behave very badly. They get drunk, they start fights and they donít respect the location in which they are in. And that almost certainly has had a negative impact on peopleís perceptions of us. But for the Japanese there are much more limited effects because they keep to themselves and never cause trouble, but at the same time they donít interact with the locals.

Q5. Japanese art and culture is well-known around the world. While art and culture are often the first things that one thinks of when thinking about a national brand, what would you say are some deeper aspects that need to underlie a national brand?

In general, it is important to get a picture of the culture that is being represented in the national brand. That is expressed through the people, whether just normal people or musicians, writers or film stars. Thatís all culture and thatís got to be part of it. The problem with Japan is that the Japanese government focuses only really on Manga, which they are very good at, and the kind of Hello Kitty, which works really well in Asia but not so well in Europe and some other places. But it completely ignores Japanese art, literature, food, drink and history. All these things are just not being promoted enough, and if they are, sort of half-heartedly and not with enough resources. So I think that that is a big weakness of Japanís national brand, that is depends so much of Toyota and the big corporate brands. So thereís a good powerful image, but itís a little cold technically. Whatís missing is the human dimension.

Thank you so much for your time and enjoy the rest of the conference.