It’s not often that one can take a trip and return from it with a new lens through which to view the world. Sounds a bit dramatic, but that is how I would describe my recent trip to Costa Rica.

According to sources such as the United Nations World Happiness Report and the Happy Planet Index, Costa Rica tops the list of places with the highest life satisfaction in the world. Over the course of the past few decades, this small country has crafted a brand around the concept of an “economy that is centered on people and the environment.” This country doesn’t just talk about being happy; it shows it through a collective zest for life.

It’s when I least expected to learn that I learned the most. Surprisingly, a few of those lessons related to branding. Here's what I learned:

  1. Stand for Something — It’s one thing to say what a brand means; it’s another to embody the meaning of that brand. Whether it’s defining a country, a product or a professional services firm, a brand should stand for something. What does your firm’s brand say about the company and the people that represent it? How is your professional services firm positioned in the marketplace? When you position your firm, you begin to stand for something — something distinct and useful. Not everyone is going to want what you have to offer. (Related reading: What is Brand Positioning and Why Does it Matter?) Costa Rica has crafted a brand that stands for people and the environment. What does your brand stand for?
  2. Repurpose — Marketers will tell you that producing valuable content for your website is critical for generating the right type of web traffic and visibility. But this takes time and effort. Prolific marketers will also tell you that repurposing content is a credible strategy. Consider this: Content from a white paper can be broken up into a series of blog posts. It can also be the source of multiple 140-character tips. (Related reading: Has Your Blog Run Dry? Try This.) You might be wondering how this relates to Costa Rica? Simple. “Ticos”? the people from Costa Rica?are amazing at recycling their environmental resources. Whether it’s creating hydraulic energy from their rivers to using all of the components of a fruit – from seed to skin? the Tico’s knack for repurposing everyday things is consistent with their brand positioning.
  3. Be Unique — Most of my architecture, engineering, and construction colleagues will tell you that sustainability is essential to today's new and retrofit construction. It’s not unusual to read about the LEED certification for a building. (Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, the LEED certification system provides a framework for implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, and other operational approaches). Consistent with their brand positioning, you’ll find many lodging facilities in Costa Rica have received (or are working toward) a Green Leaf Eco-Rating. This leaf rating program recognizes lodging facilities that comply with environmental best practice standards. This rating is inspiring the creation of unique lodging venues throughout the country. Consider two lodges I visited in Costa Rica. Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge, represents the vision of two urban planners from New York and Xandari Resort, a working farm and resort that represents the vision of a California architect and his artist wife

    While sustainability by itself is not a differentiator, the way venues approach sustainability can become a tremendous differentiator. Urban planners, architects and other professionals in Costa Rica are taking sustainability to another level. At the end of the day, that brand positioning of this happy country is being embodied daily by residents and visitors alike.