N.J., looking to build its brand, should take a lesson from Dubai. Yes, Dubai

By Abe Kasbo, Verasoni Worldwide
New Jersey | Aug 10, 2018 at 1:06 pm
Op-Ed

Shortly after his inauguration, Gov. Phil Murphy suggested to ROI-NJ that he was “head of sales,” and that he was willing to advocate for the state in whatever capacity necessary to attract businesses and opportunities. We salute the idea, whether it’s Murphy or someone he selects. The bigger issue is finding a place to emulate.

We suggest Dubai. New Jersey would do well to examine Dubai’s meteoric rise on the world stage. It is fair to say Dubai was a regional afterthought in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Yet, in as little as 25 years or so, the world now recognizes Dubai as a budding center of commerce, tourism, sports and culture. Dubai’s determined brand rose from dust, literally. Yet, there would have no been investment in the iconic Burj Khalifa or Palm Dubai per se without the resolute brand leadership of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and his team.

Nation branding as a concept is not new; it’s practiced by many countries, including Canada, France, Ireland, Taiwan, New Zealand and even the United States, among others. New Jersey ought to embrace similar strategies to grow its brand. This is no crafty advertising campaign or theater, but consistent and persistent brand diplomacy that spans across platforms showcasing the state’s business and lifestyle chops, driven by policies that are highly accretive to the state’s economy and lifestyle. Impactful brands don’t just happen, they need to be wisely cultivated and cared-for over time. Successful brand outcomes by themselves are actually lagging indicators. Usually, influential brands come to life after a product or service experience, messaging and hype notwithstanding.

New Jersey is at the center of the Northeast, which is the most populous megalopolis in the Western Hemisphere, with over 50 million residents. New Jersey’s proximity to New York City, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Boston coupled with a highly-educated, diverse population and some of the best universities in the nation, places it at the crossroads of America’s Silk Road. Our shorelines are playgrounds for tourists from around the country, while New Jersey’s ports are responsible for a whopping $350 billion or so in trade, second only to the Port of Los Angeles. Also, we have some of the finest restaurants and exceptional health care providers in the world. Yet, high property taxes, unfunded pension obligations and affordable housing are only a few of the challenges that haunt the state’s brand.

A key element that unlocks brand value is found at the intersection of time and experience, with New Jersey as a product. Assuming it continues to innovate and deliver on its promise, New Jersey’s brand will transform positively over time, much like Dubai. In the meantime, the steady drumbeat of brand leadership and diplomacy must continue.

While it’s encouraging to see elected officials working in concert with business leaders to proactively proselytize for Jersey — and, frankly, it’s what the doctor has ordered — New Jersey must continue to amplify an inspirational brand with confidence, while never playing second fiddle to its neighbors near or far.

Ultimately, New Jersey’s reputation will be judged on the quality of life that it can deliver its citizenry and the strength of its business ecosystem. Building brands takes vision, time and commitment. From my vantage, New Jersey’s brand seems to be headed in the right direction. Let’s keep going.

Abe Kasbo is CEO of Verasoni Worldwide, an integrated marketing communications firm in Fairfield. Follow him on Twitter @akasbo.

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