Citizens of every country are brands in their own right, sometimes enjoying different personas as residents and overseas travellers, depending on the most prevalent behaviour patterns. Such perceptions are actually vital in not just forming a sociological view of a nation but also a perspective on its business-worthiness and overall inclusiveness. Which is exactly why modern nations, including India, must invest in a Citizen Branding strategy, a guideline for best practices in every global interaction irrespective of Geography.
We are all too familiar with the stereotypes from every topography, often a source of much conversation and debate. The Japanese and Koreans are very diligent and sincere tourists, an extension of their famed national character while the Chinese are noisier, a frantic nature equally correlated with overall perceptions. The Germans and most Europeans are deeply sincere in their travel as they are in their business dealings, an adherence to the guide book as concerted as the loyalty to the rulebook. Usually an extension of core national characteristics, the citizen is a potent brand representative, not just a superficial ambassador, a part of which extends even to visiting heads of state. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s concerted attempt to wear flamboyant Indian attire, including the rest of family, is designed carefully to symbolise the heterogeneous character of Canada, in sharp contrast to the dogmatic orthodox strains of Donald Trump’s USA. When Nehru was the Indian leader, he wore suits to Western state visits, a statement of allegiance, while modern leaders, including PM Modi, deeply passionate about our autonomous identity, insist on ethnic designer wear.
The challenge of the day is a much-overdue Citizen Branding strategy for the deeply-diversified Indian who can be divided on the lines of business personality, societal perception and tourist projection. Having worked very closely with Indian corporations enjoying diversified global operations, we have the potential to create our truly formidable business identity, as effective as but different from global peers–rooted in the highest values of education and research, a disciplined yet flexible work orientation, friendly but firm, driven by integrity of knowledge and a unique disarming quality of seamless integration. To this if we were to add relentless ambition and a genuine vision of being scalable world-beaters, our business persona is well on the way to becoming a genuine force. Much credit is certainly due to the immigrant, especially expatriate, workforce gracing the highest corridors of international corporate stardom, valuable benchmarks for entire corporations to aim higher.
Where the branding pitch gets complicated is the sphere of tourist projection and societal perception. Unlike most other nations, it is not possible to fix a single persona for the Indian tourist, as diversified as the nation itself though certain data points can be revealing. International airlines consider a certain section of our citizens to be nightmarish customers, driven by a definite lack of grace and affection for excess alcohol. A flight to India can easily be recognised in many global airports by the chaotic queues, a common ailment of even the most seasoned traveller. Equally significantly, the discerning Indian is a mainstream global tourist, much respected for both purchasing power as well as cultural affinity. Within the nation, he is considered to be a friendly and inclusive individual when educated and not-so when not, the multiple India story playing out in full strength.
Just like every other national initiative, including Manufacturing and Cleanliness, it is time for a #SmartIndian Movement, aiming to give our citizens a distinctive and appealing brand personality, without taking away the uniqueness. A code of conduct for doing business and when dealing with foreigners, both inside and outside the country, as an important milestone towards a scalable national identity. The key muscles of this persona being mild-mannered in dealings, polite and civil in conversations, inquisitive, tech-savvy, progressive yet rooted and ethically ambitious. While such a structured grouping may seem ridiculous at the outset, just as people align themselves to corporate cultures and military statutes we may well see Indians align themselves to such National Values. A new-age version of how the entire nation was strung to the Satyagraha movement or united when it comes to sport. It will be taught in schools and colleges, built in to corporate codes of conduct, imbibed through mandatory certification prior to passport issuance and any structured business dealings. At an advanced stage, it may also be possible to connect good conduct to CIBIL ratings, the SmartIndian ID card designed like a driving licence to have points inscribed.
We need to urgently build the credentials of the Indian as a Global Brand, a step like #SmartIndian as important as Make in India or SwachBharat in building the nation of tomorrow. If implemented with relentless persuasion, the perceptions about us may well improve dramatically, adding vital legs to an already formidable proposition. When a code of honesty is also inscribed, that would surely be the perfect icing.
(Shivaji Dasgupta is the Founder of INEXGRO Brand Advisory and can be reached at: email@example.com)
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