The idea of nation-branding was not an easy concept for me to understand. With anything, albeit is a product or a nation, there is that one word that pops into your mind, and is most likely to influence your perception. For example, Switzerland evokes "neutral", which leads me to see them as peaceful moderators. And even though world perception of America is not at its highest, many wouldn't argue the concepts of "freedom" or "democracy" that might come to mind as being a bad thing.
So how does a nation form its brand? That seems to be the hard part. I wouldn't wish that job on anyone. In "The Importance of National Reputation," Simon Anholt pretty much debunks the myth that private-sector marketing techniques can influence brands. This creates a kind of conundrum, because isn't that the point of marketing, to brand? But Anholt describes nation brands as something much more stable, and something that must be earned. He states that this can be difficult, since we like to keep to stereotypes at all costs and resist change.
Anholt proposes what he calls "Competitive Identity", which is pretty much a plan of nation branding that goes beyond just communication to encompass both the private and government sectors, including foreign policy, cultural products, exchanges, the media, and tourism. Anholt believes it is important for the country to promote a "clear, truthful narrative" of what the country is about. This is ideal, but sounds rather difficult to implement.
What seems to be at the root of the nation branding phenomenon is the "acting what you preach" in the name of your desired brand. A brand is only enforced by the actions behind it, what the world percieves of said country. While this seems a daunting task, it's not impossible. However it does entail cooperation between various sectors to enforce specific values, and to ensure that these are communicated in the intended way to foreign audiences. Which as we all know, is a daunting task.