Newswise — Chulalongkorn University held the 23rd Chula the Impact forum under the theme “Rethinking Soft Power with Place Branding” on April 22, 2024, at Chulalongkorn Auditorium. The event welcomed Prof. Dr. Magdalena Florek, a world-renowned place branding expert from the International Place Branding Association, to share her knowledge and exchange her ideas and perspectives with Asst. Prof. Dr. Ake Pattaratanakun, Chief Brand Officer and Head of the Marketing Department, Chulalongkorn Business School, Chulalongkorn University, and Assoc. Prof. Dr. Viriya Taecharungroj, lecturer at the Marketing Section, Business Administration Division, Mahidol University International College, both of whom Thailand’s branding experts. The aim of the forum was to raise awareness of and create new knowledge on place branding, which plays a significant role in driving Thailand’s soft power agenda to the fullest. The event was moderated by Dr. Weerapong Prasongchean, special lecturer at General Education Center, Chulalongkorn University, with an opening speech by Prof. Dr. Wilert Puriwat, Dean of Chulalongkorn Business School.  


                        Professor Dr. Wilert Puriwat, Acting President of Chulalongkorn University
                                                                  Professor Dr. Wilert Puriwat
                                                       Acting President of Chulalongkorn University


Prof. Dr. Magdalena Florek said that soft power is the creation of attraction or a certain identity that inspires foreigners to imitate or follow, which benefits the country. Creating soft power will help enhance the country’s image further. However, effective use of soft power requires an important process, which is place branding that relies on specific knowledge and careful development by experts. Otherwise, the direction of creating value and worth of the country’s soft power will be ineffective. 

What Thailand will gain from projecting soft power is collaboration. Unlike hard power, which requires the costly and dangerous use of military force, money, and coercion to get what one wants, soft power utilizes knowledge, culture, and innovations that make others want to follow, without causing losses. It is low-cost and sustainable. Thailand already possesses great soft power assets. Developing effective place branding can further elevate and leverage this soft power.  

“The term place branding refers to applying marketing or branding strategies for products and services to “places” – from small scales like villages, residential areas, sub-districts, all the way to larger scales like provinces, regions, and countries. These are the “places” to which we can apply branding strategies in order to make them more attractive, leading to a positive outcome of a strong brand,” explained Prof. Dr. Florek.  


                        Prof. Dr. Magdalena Florek Place Branding Expert, International Place Branding Association
                                                                        Prof. Dr. Magdalena Florek 
                                              Place Branding Expert, International Place Branding Association


Asst. Prof. Dr. Ake Pattaratanakun said that typically branding helps organizations sell more products, which shows that having a good brand can stimulate sales or generate more revenue. Place branding also has implications for increasing community or national income, but that’s only one aspect. A strong brand also helps reduce costs by requiring less advertising, as well as attracting investment and collaboration. If Thailand has a strong national brand, it will be easier to attract more cooperation and investment, increasing the sense of national pride in the Thai people. Therefore, incorporating place branding into the soft power development will lead to more income and save costs, attracting interested individuals to join the efforts and instilling pride in the locals.  

Asst. Prof. Dr. Ake cited the case of Japan as an example of successful branding. In the 1970s-1980s, there was a wave of hatred towards Japan in Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand. Japan launched a campaign called “Cool Japan,” which was a place branding effort combined with soft power to create a new impressive image for the country, its people, culture, and food. This led to the emergence of “fan clubs” that would defend Japan when conflicts occurred, despite not being Japanese themselves. Another example is Estonia, a small newly-formed country that became globally known for its technology, innovation, and digital transformation. These are the countries that successfully implemented place branding strategies. 

“Not only is Prof. Dr. Magdalena an international place branding expert, but she’s also well-connected with many world-class experts. Should we seek consulting in any particular subject, we can rely on not only her expertise, as well as an international network of experts with experience in place branding. This will greatly benefit Thailand’s soft power policy by reducing the time for trials and errors, hastening our success,” said Asst. Prof. Dr. Ake.  


                        Asst. Prof. Dr. Ake Pattaratanakun  Chief Brand Officer and Head of the Marketing DepartmentChulalongkorn Business School, Chulalongkorn University
                                                                      Asst. Prof. Dr. Ake Pattaratanakun  
                                                 Chief Brand Officer and Head of the Marketing Department
                                                  Chulalongkorn Business School, Chulalongkorn University


Assoc. Prof. Dr. Viriya Taecharungroj defined soft power as a country’s ability to attract interest and foster collaboration. Currently, Thailand only regards soft power mainly from the perspective of cultural exports such as fashion and food. However, there are other aspects as well, such as quality of life, technology, innovation, governance, or unique characteristics of Thai people – these are also important components of soft power that can be utilized for branding purposes. 
“Thailand has many strengths. Tourism may be a start, but it does not need to be the end goal of building a stronger brand. There are many other things that Thais may view as ordinary but are unique and distinct. For example, the entrepreneurial spirit and creativity of Thai people who are ready to try various endeavors. Or industries that one may not expect Thailand to be among the world’s leaders in beyond tourism, such as the medical and healthcare industry. The main outcome of nation branding is making people want to come or, for those already there, want to stay,” said Assoc. Prof. Dr. Viriya.  


                        Assoc. Prof. Dr. Viriya Taecharungroj  Lecturer, Business Administration DivisionMahidol University International College
                                                               Assoc. Prof. Dr. Viriya Taecharungroj  
                                                           Lecturer, Business Administration Division
                                                            Mahidol University International College


The three panelists agreed that it is necessary, important, and commendable that the Thai government is starting to talk about soft power as the world today is highly competitive, especially involving geopolitics. This issue is therefore significant. However, what is more important is not to view soft power from only one angle, but to see beyond just cultural products and services. Pushing forward with place branding can be done and will allow Thailand’s soft power endeavors to go much further.