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How to sell a country: the booming business of nation branding

By Samanth Subramanian

07 Jan 2021 · 23 min read

Lipetsk is already on the map: right there, on page 23 of the Collins World Atlas, a region of 1.2 million people, dead south from Moscow and not far from the border with Ukraine. But it’s not really on the map: it doesn’t feature in the slim mental atlas most of us carry in our heads; no one we know takes holidays there, and it doesn’t appear in our newspapers. Even in Russia, people may fail to place it. In September, when Natasha Grand was passing through Moscow on her way back from Lipetsk, she told a Russian acquaintance where she’d been. “I don’t even know where Lipetsk is”, he replied, only partly in jest. Some Russians confuse it with Vitebsk, which is in Belarus.

This is why Natasha Grand was going to Lipetsk, though: to define its brand, to mould its image, to put it on the metaphorical map. Natasha and her husband, Alex, are the founders of a London firm called Institute for Identity (Instid for short), which works with the governments of cities, regions and nations. Instid develops strategies to brand places, and although a part of this involves burnishing tourism – coining a tagline, say, or producing a suite of logos for travel literature –the Grands are after deeper rewards. They believe they can fix upon, and excavate, a place’s very identity – or at least an identity, something that can guide a government in figuring out how to rise in the esteem of its neighbours, how to allocate its resources, how best to compose the face it presents to the world.

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