EXPO 2017 gives Kazakhstan a chance to promote its brand in the world and improve the perception of many aspects of the country’s development.
EXPO 2017, held this summer in Astana, opens up a lot of opportunities for Kazakhstan: from modernisation of the energy sector to a breakthrough in tourism and from the optimisation of transport infrastructure to the strengthening of international cooperation.
One of the expo’s most important achievements, undoubtedly, will be the promotion of Kazakhstan’s national brand. Unfortunately, today this aspect of the expo is not given much attention; some pundits discussing “expo effects” often dismiss it as “PR” or diminish it to “raising awareness.” Shaping an integral and attractive image of Kazakhstan is perceived as a kind of secondary effect, the benefit of which does not seem obvious, although now in a world where the quality and nature of goods and services are less connected with the place of their origin, it is not so much the competition of products that comes to the fore, but the competition of reputations.
Nation branding – the importance of the trend
The importance of national branding in the modern world cannot be understated, because it is not just about recognition or positive feedback. It is about building an integral and recognisable reputation of Kazakhstan, designed to become the basis for the nation’s attractiveness to potential investors and tourists, as well as its political and cultural influence.
In the modern world – with its information openness, dynamism and the importance of mutual relations – the value of properly-built national branding is growing every year. As one of the world’s leading authorities in national branding, Simon Anholt notes that nowadays the perception of a country has no less significance for its global reputation than assets or real achievements. Realising this, practically all the leading countries of the world include work on the formation and promotion of the national brand to the priorities of their foreign policy.
Today, there are several major ratings of national brands in the world. One of them is the Anholt-GfK National Brand Index, where in 2016 Kazakhstan was included among the selected six states of Central and Eastern Europe. It is the only state in Central Asia and the only post-Soviet state, except Russia, included in the ranking.
The value of EXPO 2017 for national branding
Kazakhstan has been an independent state for only 25 years. As a consequence, worldwide recognition of its culture and history is still relatively weak. If many states’ national branding efforts can rely on the images they have been promoting for centuries, Kazakhstan has to do much more extensive work. In addition to presenting the history and the key foundations of the country’s development to the world, Kazakhstan must actively shape modern events that can form the desired image. In these conditions, holding an expo is really akin to a jackpot.
World and international expos are a recognised platform for the presentation of countries. The exhibitions in Shanghai and Milan have notably enhanced the cultural and innovative attractiveness of those countries and cities.
The value of the expo is that the proposed images and perspectives of the host country are transmitted directly to viewers. Taking into account modern technologies, such demonstrations are actively appealing to the imagination and emotions of the audience. And this is very important. Any foreign policy measures, if they do not work with feelings and images, will lose to the bright impressions formed during an event such as expo.
EXPO 2017 for the Kazakhstan brand
For expo visitors, Kazakhstan offers an image of an open, friendly country aimed at innovation, the development of green technologies and the preservation of its unique nature. The situation is that for many, Kazakhstan is now the country whose brand is strongly connected to the expo.
In this regard, we can note that Kazakhstan’s temporary visual brand today is the trefoil logo of EXPO 2017. This symbol also advertised the Kazakh pavilion at EXPO 2015 in Milan.
The fact that it reveals Kazakhstan itself not as completely as we would like is less important, because the associations that are related to it during the expo are of greater importance. Now, we are focusing on such strengths of Kazakhstan’s brand as an orientation towards development and innovation, a wealth of traditions and uniqueness of culture, an open and peaceful foreign policy and the development of tourism.
In the above-mentioned Anholt-GfK Index, they are evaluated based on a study of the perception of six key areas: export, government, culture, human capital, tourism and attractiveness for investment and immigration. Obviously, expo has serious potential to “pull up” Kazakhstan’s positions, at least in such spheres as tourism, culture and people. If you use the potential of the exhibition in the best possible way, then interaction with entrepreneurs will provide an opportunity to disclose Kazakhstan’s investment opportunities and show its attractiveness for other foreign specialists.
Astana – a platform of world national branding
This summer, Astana has become a platform of world national branding. The fact that the current exhibition is among the record holders by the number of participants, having hosted 115 countries, means the success of the work done by the country’s diplomats and the importance of the presence at the expo for the development of many states. Quite a significant number of pavilions are aimed not so much at presenting the achievements of countries in the field of energy, but rather in demonstrating those images that the country would like to broadcast to foreign tourists. This is perfectly normal, as the exhibition of national brands is just as important at the expo as the presentation of thematic exhibits.
The advantage of Kazakhstan is that for all countries, the ability to broadcast images is limited by the place and time; in other words, the territory of the pavilion and the national day. For Kazakhstan, these three months are an opportunity for continuous work with the audience.
Moreover, it is important not to lose sight of the actively-ongoing process to promote the image of Astana: not only for foreign tourists, but also for the residents of Kazakhstan. It is no secret that for many, especially the residents of the old capital of Almaty, the image of the young capital was rich in stereotypes that people did not aspire to part with. Now, Astana shows itself from a new angle, in parallel strengthening the human capital of its inhabitants by becoming accustomed to the most relevant trends in the sphere of green technologies in the urban environment.
Strengthening ties and political capital
Promotion of the brands of countries, carried out in the framework of public diplomacy, is increasingly based in the modern world on cooperation and not on propaganda. This is not only cooperation between countries, but also interaction with international, regional, commercial and non-governmental structures. Kazakhstan, as part of the preparations for the expo, has made very serious progress in this direction.
Kazakhstan is constantly increasing its foreign policy activity, both regionally and globally. Working in the UN Security Council, being involved in peacemaking activities and strengthening contributions to the work of a number of international organisations increases the political capital of Kazakhstan, but the low awareness of Kazakhstan in many countries complicates the promotion of many projects and initiatives.
The situation today means it is not enough if the initiatives and programmes are sound and relevant. The party promoting it should have sufficient authority and an appropriate reputation to advocate and advance them. The work done by Kazakhstan to attract participants and organise the expo undoubtedly strengthened these resources.
Information in the world is becoming more accessible; therefore, fakes or empty “image materials” practically do not give a real effect. The connections and impressions of living people, easily transferred in the information space, come to the fore. It is very important to promote real projects and most importantly, projects backed by real impressions. Holding the expo is one of such projects.
The author is independent political analyst.