Chile – The Brand

by Steve McKee

Chile - The BrandThree months ago if you would have asked me to cite the first three things that come to mind about Chile, I would have said something like South America, interesting terrain, and a fearful dictator named Pinochet.

Today ask me to cite the first three things that come to mind about Chile and I’ll say caring people, capable leadership and joy.

Both impressions are, no doubt, incomplete. But both are also true. And they highlight perhaps the most important tenet in branding: you are what you do.

Tourismo Chile spends a lot of time and money on “branding” to attract visitors to its country. But I have to admit that its efforts have fallen flat against me; I can’t remember a single ad or news story about Chile prior to the miners’ saga. That’s understandable, because we all know how far a marketing budget doesn’t go these days.

But even if I had seen Chile’s official branding efforts, they couldn’t have come close to coloring my opinion of the country the way the events that unfolded over the past two months have. They’ve given me an affection for Chile, and an interest in visiting the country and meeting its people, blessing them with my own small investment in their economy. And the intensity of the impressions mean they’ll last for some time in my mind, ready to be called up whenever I hear the country’s name.

It’s crazy, but Chile’s tragedy-turned-triumph will likely have more impact on its tourism economy than all the marketing it has done over the past decade. That’s the power of a strong brand, which Chile has suddenly become.

I suspect the last thing the heroes in Chile had on their mind as they prayerfully and steadfastly drilled towards their trapped brethren was the impact of their efforts on tourism, to say nothing of some esoteric concept called “branding.” They just did what was right with all of their hearts, minds and strength.

That’s not a bad template for any brand.

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Steve McKeeSteve McKee is a BusinessWeek.com columnist, marketing consultant, and author of “When Growth Stalls: How it Happens, Why You’re Stuck, and What To Do About It.” Learn more about him at www.WhenGrowthStalls.com and at http://twitter.com/whengrowthstall.