Does Turkey’s new “Discover the Potential” Branding Campaign Pass the Marketing 101 Litmus Test?

(co-authored by Behice Ece Ilhan and Raoul V. Kübler)

Turkish leaders recently discovered the power of branding. #Applause. Emphasizing “strong brands make people wait in the long queues for new phones or other products,” Turkey’s top export organization, the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly (TİM), just launched the “Turkey, Discover the Potential” campaign last week. While we applaud this recent attention to the country-of-origin branding, the campaign falls short of satisfying even the very basic marketing and branding principles that most successful campaigns abide by.

The one point we agree on is that communicating Turkish current and emerging strengths is paramount to building the strong global brands that the country needs in this competitive global marketplace. However, we want to remind TIM that just launching a campaign is not enough to build strong brands and designing a new logo is not sufficient to raise awareness and interest and to inspire desire and action. So, in this blog, we put the “Discover the Potential” campaign to the marketing litmus test and seek to illustrate how this campaign does not satisfy even the core Marketing 101 principles.

Right Message for the intended Target Audience? Outstanding campaigns must not only find a novel way to speak about the product (such as e.g. new art designs or strategic approaches), but, first and foremost, they need to connect with their target audience by relying on a meaningful and relevant message. This particular campaign is said to aim at the foreign investors who are seeking opportunities in Turkey. It particularly seeks to upgrade the country’s trade, which has long been dependent majorly on contract manufacturing. Do investors really want to discover things? We highly doubt it. It is not a secret that investors mainly seek for security. Unlike Christopher Columbus, investors do not want to leave a safe harbor to find something unknown. They want to rely on a detailed map that safely guides them trough a rocky and stormy sea. Even, the word “discovery” implies risks.

Further, the word “potential” has very ambiguous connotations as it can mean many things. This promise of potential does not communicate a sustainable competitive advantage over the competitors as having potential might hold or romanticized to be true for any other emerging country in the world and not idiosyncratic to Turkey!

‘Discover the Potential’ sounds like a blind extension of ‘Discover Turkey’, which works well as a tourism campaign. After all, tourists are mostly interested in the unique sights and experiences of a country, not in how valuable its export products are. Yet, investors and business partners have very different priorities. To start with, No one from this segment will camp a night in front of your store to “discover some potential.” #justsaying

Positioning with respect to Competition? Good branding campaigns have a deep and rich understanding of not only of their respective target audience but also of the competitive marketplace. What do foreign investors and potential business partners currently think about Turkish exports (as compared to e.g. Chinese, Korean, Japanese German, French, Russian exports)? What are their perceived issues in dealing with Turkey? Answering such questions requires research, which often reveals that managers should focus not on points of difference (e.g. how Turkish industry differs from US industry) but on points of parity, e.g. how Turkish companies are similar to U.S. companies in the quality of its (ISO-certified) processes and in the entrepreneurial spirit, strong education and long working hours of its employees.

As very basic marketing principles dictate, Turkish industry needs to distinguish itself from its competitors. Its stated advantages need to be rare or unique. They further need to be relevant to the target group. Finally they should not be easy to imitate. Having ‘potential’ does not satisfy any of these points: dozens of other countries can rightfully make this claim. In contrast, Turkey has resources that fulfill all three criteria. The country has for example the world’s best quality-price (value) position in many industries. Visiting Turkish businesses allows foreign business partners to experience this reality. In the words of Saffron CEO Jacob Benbunan, “When you engage with Turkish companies you know you are in good hands, that the quality of the service and the quality of the product that is manufactured in Turkey is world-class.” Exactly. So instead of the current slogan, how about “UnTap Your Value” ?

In addition, aligning with the general sensitivities and sensibilities of the party in power, the campaign strongly emphasizes Turkey’s Ottoman heritage showing modernized Ottoman artworks and its long merchant tradition. The campaign with its word choices and its visual creatives also accentuate this nostalgic empire identity situating Turkey as part of the Orient. This is quite a divergence from the early Republic discourses that insistently claimed that Turkey belongs to the Western civilization. The use of the words like “discover” also strengthens this positioning as the exotic that requires discovery and exploration and somewhat unknown to the rest of the world.

Perpetuating Brand Meaning via Engaging Stories? In today’s marketplace, most of the brands and brand meanings are communicated and perpetuated via engaging and compelling brand stories. Especially brands engaging consumers via stories that enable participation and interaction have been successful in the social media and community driven brandscapes. Some of the Turkish brands like Turkish Airlines and 12 Dev Adam, for example, have used these new branding trends somewhat successfully in their recent campaigns while creating deepening and strengthening relations with their fans and also facilitating virality of these specific brand stories across media. Discover the Potential campaign, on the other hand, lacks a compelling story that would create relationships with and engage the intended target audience. The lack of stories in this campaign and above all lack of strong brand associations loaded onto the logo and the brand would hurt the brand performance over time.

In a nutshell, any branding campaign should clearly communicate to its intended customers how the product/service of interest uniquely creates value and how that value creation cannot be easily matched or imitated by the competitors. This again implies that only by understanding your own strengths, your customer needs and checking whether these two are in line and not matched by your competition, you will be able to set up an outstanding campaign that will make people really line up for your product. We think, on the very tactical level, this campaign would be better off by starting with a clear, actionable and promising verb – something like experience, profit from, or gain – rather than “discover,” which is a poor choice for the reasons we cited above. On the strategy level, we think that there are other possibilities to create a strong country brand. In the brand driven marketplace, a strong brand of a country is also driven by the collection of global brands the country has. So, the financial and intellectual resources used for this campaign might have been better utilized for creating some global Turkish brands, like Mavi, and taking them to the global brand level.

PS:We didn’t even touch the logo of the campaign and its brand hacked versions. Maybe topic for another blog… #tobecontinued


One thought on “Does Turkey’s new “Discover the Potential” Branding Campaign Pass the Marketing 101 Litmus Test?

  1. great point by an executive MBA student: the video shows Turkey is targeting only foreign investors from the Middle East: it focuses on the shared heritage and similarities (including the music). They are also the only ones who might know what ‘Turkish quality’ stands for. Fine, but how many of these M.E. investors have yet to ‘discover the potential’ in Turkey?

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