Country branding is becoming ever more important, and the opportunity to profile a nation doesn’t come much better than the World Cup. AAB Chairman Allan Biggar looks at how the real winners of the tournament were the smaller participating countries which look forward to far greater returns than those reaped by other larger early departing World Cup nations such as France or England.

If you were in London on the afternoon of Wednesday 23 June, you could have been forgiven that England was playing Slovenia in the World Cup final. Traffic came to a halt, offices emptied out. Only the hardened were not watching the match.

It was a curious event for AAB, not least because a number of the team were lucky enough to be invited to join the Slovenian Ambassador and the tiny Slovenian community in London to watch the match at the residence in Pimlico.

Expectations were high that the tiny central European country positioned where the Alps meets the Adriatic could be the tournament’s giant killers, repeating its win against Algeria. Much of London’s media was also there, reporting the mood among this focus group but also waiting to capture the moment, in the event that Slovenia won. But it didn’t. With a 1-0 result to England, spirits were understandably dampened and with the cruel news that the US scored against Algeria in the last 30 seconds of its match, Slovenia’s moment of glory was snatched, the world cup dream shattered and the hopes of a small nation dashed.

If the distraught among the Slovenians in London is anything to go by I imagine the entire nation went into mourning. For them the World Cup was much more than a series of football matches. It was about getting recognised and seen on the world stage and being able to play with the big boys. National pride is often bound inextricably in the sports of a country; that’s even more acute for a small country in a universal sporting event such as the World Cup.

Slovenia’s journey was an extraordinary story of David and Goliath, with a shock win against Russia in the qualifiers to get to South Africa and their reward was World Cup recognition; a platform affording them, and a handful of other little known countries such as Paraguay, Coté d’Ivoire, Honduras and Slovakia (NB a different country entirely!), profile which they could never buy. It is their once-in-a-generation entrée to being seen when they are otherwise invisible unless associated with war or disaster (or a megalomaniac dictatorship in the case of North Korea). Country branding doesn’t come much better than the World Cup.

This opportunity is rare and I suspect most countries, would not have had the resources or budget to effectively leverage the occasion. I know that was the view of the Slovenians. That said, they had unprecedented coverage and the intangible advantages are enormous and sure to be long lasting.

Had England convincingly won its first two matches of the tournament, there would have been considerably less interest in that match against England. However, our team desperately needed to beat Slovenia and as a result the entire nation’s eyes turned to the match and to these two teams.

The benefit for Slovenia is that a whole swathe of the UK population that would never have heard of it before (let’s not forget, the UK is still the fifth largest economy in the world), now has. They saw blanket coverage on television of its stunning landscape, its culture, food and wine; it truly was country branding and marketing that money alone could not buy. And they can surely expect a boost to their visitor numbers from the UK, and other benefits.

A couple of weeks later, I read an article in the Financial Times about how sponsors of the World Cup were feeling smug at their return on investment. My comment back to the FT is that they may well feel well pleased, but there was another group of brands which have enjoyed far greater returns on their investment than the likes of Visa and Coca-Cola. That’s the group of small, low profile nations that have enjoyed global visibility and country branding that money alone cannot buy. They are set to see increased tourist numbers and ancillary forms of inward investment, ensuring far greater returns than those reaped by other larger World Cup nations such as France or England. Read both the article and my published letter to the FT: Global visibility that money can't buy

So, my sympathy to the Slovenians — but both their national team and their economy has a lot more to look forward to than can be said of the same in England!

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