Home Diplomatic Pouch “Branding” cities, “branding” nations…

“Branding” cities, “branding” nations…

Eelco H. Dykstra. Photography by Tom Manning, South Africa.

“A Thought and a Smile…”

After a few years of mission-critical assignments elsewhere, Eelco H. Dykstra resumes his acclaimed column “A Thought and a Smile…”.

P.S. His first column, “Branding Cities, Branding Nations,” is also a call to action. Members of the diplomatic community interested in further exploring the topic of ‘branding’ can contact Eelco, as he is planning a series of articles on this topic.

By Eelco H. Dykstra

The word “branding” in Dutch means “the surf”… the coming and going of waves and breakers at beaches and other shorelines. A lot of dynamics, sounds, smells, a lot of things happening at the same time.

The word “branding” in English has been described as “creating a distinct identity that sets one apart from others in the minds of target audiences as well as the general population”. A lot of dynamics, sounds, images, a lot of things happening at the same time.

  • Public entities engage in “branding”.
  • Private companies do it.
  • Cities do it.
  • Nations do it.
  • We all do it.

Decades ago, The Hague decided to brand itself as an “international city”. The ambitions were high: becoming the third “United Nations” city – after New York and Geneva. And so it branded itself as a city of peace, justice and safety [= stad van vrede, recht en veiligheid]. After a decision was made to drop the  ‘safety’ aspect, the branding of The Hague was and still is as “The International City of Peace and Justice’”  

It worked. With the Carnegie Foundation’s Peace Palace as starting point, The Hague attracted UN and EU agencies such as the International Criminal Court (ICC), the International Court of Justice (ICJ), a range of UN Tribunals, OPCW and Eurojust, to name but a few.  You all know what the impact this branding has been: diplomats in The Hague became busier and busier  – and more and more expats moved to The Hague. 

So you may ask: what about Embassies?

Well, they are deeply engaged in ‘branding’ too. First, diplomats need to think about what it is that sets their country apart from others. Then they think about their audience. Who are we addressing? Specific professional target audiences? Or the general population?

These kind of questions, along with the actual messaging, are key to successful branding. When it comes to the ‘messaging’ itself,  successful branding has been described as being in need of 5 C’s: Clarity, Consistency, Content, Connection, and Confidence.   

During my international years, I’ve seen many examples of ‘branding’ attempts by embassies. Some successful, others not so. Particularly in global hubs like Washington DC, it is part of the daily workload for embassy staff to figure out how best to connect with the eyes, ears, hearts and brains of local counterparts and media outlets.

And is there  competition between embassies in Washington DC? Oh yes, you bet there is – and thus getting the branding right is of paramount importance…

Along with the 5 C’s, the use of strong and attractive visuals is highly recommended. From logos and websites to interactive games and podcasts, they all  help. And don’t forget the tone, also hugely  important. Remember this saying? “C’est le ton qui fait la musique” (it is the tone that makes the music).

In closing, I will share an example of smart ‘branding’ I picked up when working in  Washington DC.  Staff at the Royal Netherlands Embassy used the following ‘mantra’ to introduce and describe the Netherlands to America and to Americans:

The Netherlands: the same population as Florida, the same size as Maryland and the same GDP as New York”.


Clarity. Consistency. Content. Connection. Confidence.

And their logo? An orange tulip…    

About the author:

Eelco H. Dykstra. Photography by Tom Manning

Once dubbed a ‘Global Nomad’ in East Africa, Eelco H. Dykstra is a seasoned international crisis and emergency expert. As a true ‘Prac-Ademic’, he blends – also in his column “A Thought and a Smile” – his innate optimism with knowledge from his practical experience and rigorous fact-finding. 

Aside from being founder/chair of the Daily Impact Emergency Management (DIEM) network and a visiting professor in South Africa, he initiated the ’20/20 Vision’ program for the dual purpose of strengthening value-based resilience and overcoming the obstacles that stand in the way of implementing lessons (to  be) learned. Eelco has been a correspondent, written multiple books and articles and continues to work extensively with media, government, business, NGO’s and community-based initiatives. In short, Eelco is a transdisciplinary and trans-cultural multi-tasker – just like diplomats are.

Among his hobbies are cooking and playing the cello – see picture, taken by Tom Manning, during an impromptu performance with the Soweto Youth Orchestra.

Eelco H. Dykstra Professor (visiting), Adaptation and Resilience, University of South-Africa, UNISA. Chair, ’20/20 Vision’ Program: How do we go from ‘Risk’ to ‘Resilience”? Founder, Daily Impact Emergency Management (DIEM) Network 
www.diem.nu  www.20outof20.vision


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