Nation Branding and the Cayman Islands

This story originally appeared in the Cayman Compass 14 October 2019.

With the rise of globalisation — where money, influence and people can easily flow anywhere — countries, including the Cayman Islands, are feeling more and more pressure to develop, manage and leverage their image. Every place in the world wants to market its unique identity to nurture a successful tourism industry, command new markets, attract high-calibre professionals and win quality foreign direct investment to facilitate economic growth. As a result of increasing global competition, managing perceptions about countries and places has become of great interest to both governments and corporate organisations, and nation branding has developed into a lucrative business sector.

With our boisterous cousin Jamaica to our southeast and our northern, more complicated neighbour, Cuba, the Cayman Islands is surrounded by nations with rich complex histories and cultures gushing with creativity. What does this mean for the Cayman Islands? How can we stand out while remaining authentic? What exactly does the Cayman Islands represent? How do we define success? Nation branding is one of the most difficult and complex exercises. There are certainly more questions than answers and few examples of countries which have changed their image through marketing campaigns and communications alone.

Taking the lead

In 2018 following Hurricane Maria, dozens of entrepreneurs, made newly wealthy by blockchain and cryptocurrencies, headed en masse to Puerto Rico, proclaiming, “We’re going to make this Crypto Land!” The stylised Crypto Rico branding, directed and dictated by a group of primarily white males from California, was met with concern from the local populace who felt as though this behaviour reeked of crypto-colonialism, not to mention disaster capitalism. After the U.S. territory’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, resigned amid allegations of corruption, mismanagement and mass protests; many projects associated with the disgraced politician dissolved, including brand Crypto Rico.

Puerto Rico’s example illustrates two things. One, Caymanians must take a leading role in defining themselves, otherwise others will define Cayman for their own purposes and/or gain. Secondly, finding alignment among foreign, expatriate, and local perceptions and ideals must be carefully considered by all parties and by both the private sector and governmental entities.

Leveraging assets of substance

The Cayman Islands is fortunate to have a number of existing assets of substance that can be, and arguably are being, leveraged to strengthen brand Cayman. We are in possession of a leading global financial centre, award-winning special economic zones, a growing marine conservation business sector, and a vibrant art scene that is gaining international recognition, just to name a few. There are many opportunities to leverage existing initiatives that are genuinely contributing to Cayman’s community to honestly and successfully brand the Cayman Islands as a progressive, dynamic and caring Island nation.

Reframing what matters

Millennials have become the biggest global generation and are arguably the most powerful consumers — their choices are disrupting global brands across industries. Their rejection of mass market products and thirst for brands that possess solid origin stories that resonate should be noted. In today’s dynamic global reality, metrics for success extend far beyond national prosperity.

People, businesses, and investors are becoming more brand savvy and the focus is increasingly shifting from living richer to living richer lives. Global trends such as mindfulness, conscious consumerism, sustainable practices, inclusive values, and experiences are the new currency. A nation’s polarising politics and reckless lack of tolerance can, and will, negatively influence a country’s perception and significantly degrade its brand strength.

Investing in people

Nation branding is not just about the projects, captivating brand campaigns, selling products and services, or increasing the bottom line, it’s about people. With the paradigm shift to living a rich life, rather than living richly, it becomes more important than ever for country brands to showcase their ability to look after the safety, well-being and happiness of its citizens. Building stronger, more integrated communities where people can reach their full potential should remain at the forefront of a nation’s agenda.

Looking back, moving forward

The Cayman Islands was born of courageous men and women who made a livelihood from the sea and survived on very few resources. No one should take for granted their inventiveness and ability to turn very little into a thriving community which developed into a global financial hub. This culture of inventiveness may just be the mechanism to drive Cayman’s nation-branding strategy for the betterment of our local and global communities. The Cayman Islands has the potential to be a world leader in such sectors as eco tech, artificial intelligence, blockchain technology and renewable energy.

Consciously or not, people are continually developing perceptions about the Cayman Islands that will ultimately affect our nation’s success, or lack thereof. We must go beyond traditional marketing strategies and produce remarkable, highly relevant and transparent ideas, actions, policies and products that not only benefit our three islands but also positively impact our wider, increasingly global, communities. As in all areas of life, actions speak much louder than words… even when nation branding.

This article was inspired by the panel discussion titled “The Perils and Rewards of Nation Branding: A Conversation with Industry Leaders about ‘Brand Cayman’”, which was produced by the Cayman Islands Marketing Association (CIMPA) for the 6th annual marketing conference held 20 September 2019 at the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa. The discussion was led by Jeff Swystun, Agency Lead at Swystun Communications who was joined by Paul Byles founder and Director of FTS; Rosa Harris, Director of Tourism at the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism; Mike Ridley, Head of Growth + Partnerships at the Community; and Katilyn Elphinstone Vice President of Marketing and Public Engagement at Cayman Enterprise City.

By Kaitlyn Elphinstone