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  • Greg Elliott

Delivering on Nation Branding: Costa Rica from One Visitor's Perspective.

Male and Female Light Switches

I generally have a very narrow list of topic areas that I discuss. Sometimes it's my 2 cents on a recent logo redesign, and sometimes I talk about branding considerations that face growing organizations. This post is somewhat of a hybrid, but from a much more personal perspective.

Recently my wife and I celebrated our 20th anniversary. Quite an accomplishment, we thought, so we wanted to do something special – something new, something exciting, and something out of our comfort zone. We decided that a vacation was long overdue. However, we were total novices when it comes to planning extravagant trips. Even our honeymoon 20 years ago was just a long weekend in Minneapolis…in January. So how would we discover the place that was right for us?

Anyone who has undertaken this type of journey knows there are numerous sources to get your information on great destination travel. Most of us have some idea where we’d like to go, but we still often ask friends and family for advice, and eventually move onto travel websites like,, and inevitably For us, Costa Rica sounded like the perfect spot. But we only knew the surface-level stuff. What was the country really like? Without realizing it, we were the ideal target audience for some country that had taken the step to brand themselves. That’s right, governments are taking a page out of the corporate communications playbook and hiring public relations firms and branding agencies that specialize in nation branding..

Place Branding: It’s About the Experience

While nation branding means applying corporate branding techniques to countries with a wide range of objectives (investment, trade, influence, etc.), the term is often used interchangeably with “place branding” or "destination branding". But those terms are more specifically used when focusing on tourism. No matter the name, it’s no surprise that countries care about the image they project. Delivering on your promise is no different (arguably more important) than a traditional product or service brand. And nations have become far more cognizant of the value of their brand as an asset. Yet countries are realizing some of the same challenges of corporate brands: Does the country need a unifying logo and slogan? What are the most effective means of reaching internal and external stakeholders? And how can distinct sectors (government, nonprofits, and businesses) collaborate to make sure their messages are on-brand?

Costa Rica is one of these countries that has recently launched a new nation branding campaign: Esencial Costa Rica (Essential Costa Rica), which centers on a complete image of the country – from its people who proudly preserve their environment and happily enjoy a high quality of life (Pura Vida!), to a modern world of technology, trade, and commerce - all set in a premier ecotourism destination. The new brand replaces the previous “Costa Rica: No Artificial Ingredients” trademark that heavily (and successfully) promoted the country as an ecotourism and adventure travel destination.

This new country brand, well positioned and managed, will allow us to express a consistent and articulate central idea of the country, differentiating it from its competitors. This is the key to enhance attracting foreign direct investment, promoting exports and tourism.


Esencial Costa Rica

Costa Rica Tech


Costa Rica Culture


Essential Coast Rica Tradeshow

Arenal Volcano


Furthermore, in a recent study by international consulting firms Bloom Consulting and Place Matters, the value of the Costa Rica brand moved up twelve positions in tourism and five in commerce and investment, in the world's Country Brand Ranking 2017-2018, making it the brand with the greatest growth throughout the Americas.

The Costa Rican brand is highly attractive for both tourism and business, when compared to the Latin American competitors included in the study. In addition, it is not only a good reputation, but the perception about the country shows a trend of sustained improvement in the last 36 months. Likewise, the country enjoys an extremely positive brand value that gives credence to the positioning work done.


A Great Brand Needs Great Brand Ambassadors

Now, I don’t recall actually seeing the new logo or tagline when we visited, but frankly, nation branding wasn’t on my mind while I was trying to enjoy the country. And I was probably subliminally influenced more by the previous campaign, focusing on ecotourism, in choosing Costa Rica for our trip. According to FutureBrand’s 2013-14 Latin American Country Brand Index, Costa Rica occupies three “number one” positions that clearly mark consistency with its vision: It was first in “Natural Beauty”, first to be “Environmentally Friendly“, and first in “Hotels and Resorts”.

But Costa Rica surpassed our expectations. We knew we would discover beautiful rainforests with unmatched biodiversity. We were confident we would see beautiful beaches and breathtaking sunsets. But in preparing for our trip, we were uncertain about things like access to technology (Wi-Fi and GPS, specifically) outside of the major cities and tourist areas; we were cautious about the traveling conditions on a trip that would take us across country; and we wondered if our very limited knowledge of the Spanish language would be burdensome. Aside from the commonality of unmarked (and occasional unpaved) roads, we had no trouble navigating the country. And when any challenge arose, the Costa Rican people (Ticos) were there to help…even if they spoke no English. The new brand was exemplified through the pride in country and innate commitment to the environmental showed by the people we encountered at each stop on our stay. But it also showed in the modern conveniences, ease in currency exchange, and yes, even the traffic slowdown of an active workforce heading into San Jose on a Monday morning.

Heliconias Nature Lodge

Arenal Mundo Aventura

La Fortuna Town

Bahia del Sol Resort

However, without question, it was the people - the brand ambassadors - that fulfilled the brand promise of Esencial Costa Rica. Whether it was Oscar and his team at Heliconias Nature Lodge (highly recommended!) providing us with a 5-star experience while also highlighting some more local (i.e. less touristy) Costa Rican culture; or Mary at Soda Viquez in La Fortuna, introducing us to authentic Costa Rican food for half the price of the more popular “American-friendly” restaurants; or Stephanie at Mundo Aventura encouraging and instilling confidence in my wife as we navigated a steep slippery trail down the side of a mountain to a beautiful waterfall – all the time worrying if she spoke English well enough for us (she was incredible). The people we met were as memorable as the adventures we experienced. We felt welcomed, safe, and thankful for the wonderfully kind Ticos. Through them, I think we were finally able to understand what Costa Rica was all about, and more fully enjoy the nation. What more could you ask from your brand ambassadors?

*Photos © copyright Heliconias Nature Lodge, Arenal Mundo Aventura, CINDE, and Greg Elliott

#Branding #PlaceBranding #CostaRica #NationBranding

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