Feature Article of Sunday, 10 October 2010

Columnist: Akotia, Mathias

Understanding Nation Branding

By Mathias Akotia, CEO, Brand Ghana Office

As with many post-modern concepts the definition of nation branding and associated terms lack consensus. Therefore, as we pursue the Brand Ghana programme it is imperative that the terms associated with nation branding are understood in the context in which they are used by the Brand Ghana Office.

Nation brand image and identity The reputation of nations has always been managed, and actively marketed for growth, tourism, trade, investment, social and sporting exchange, and for image over the centuries. Nations have always been brands, in the truest of senses, although mentioning this fact worries some.

A nation or country brand is a nation’s identity that has been proactively distilled, interpreted, internalized among the citizens and projected for international recognition to construct a favourable national image, and enhance nation competiveness. A nation brand must therefore have a competitive identity, to evoke the desirable image and to enhance nation competitiveness.

Identity is on the sender’s side and therefore precedes image. That is, for a nation to have a compelling image its true identity must be competitive in the first place. A nation’s brand identity is a nation’s true self, essence and character, driven by a vision which is both different from others and resistant to change. All nations have identities: names, espoused values and behaviours, anthems, symbols like flags and coat of arms, feel and build of their cities and the environment, whether these are consciously managed or not.

However, like commercial brands, for a nation to be competitive and resilient that nation must have identity that is compelling to both domestic and foreign consumers. This is one reason why Ghana has embarked on a conscious branding programme to make the country more attractive to her consumers.

A nation’s brand image on the other hand is on the receiver’s side. It is the way that the domestic or international actual or potential consumer perceives the nation brand. A nation’s image is the perception of the nation that exists in the mind of the consumer of that nation’s products, tangible and intangible. The chosen or targeted consumer may be actual or potential and includes the people of that nation whose nation brand supporting behaviours form the basis of the nation’s value proposition or promise for effective engagement with international consumers. The international consumer may be a tourist, investor, and buyer of export brands, student, or anyone who can have a positive impact on the quality of life of that particular nation.

Competing to win All nations have brand images so far as they exist to engage and attract consumers. Some nations may have brand images that are weak and untenable. This renders such countries unable to compete favourably home and abroad. Others, for example the USA, Japan, Germany and UK, do have really compelling images, and can attract consumers all over the world. Countries, like Poland, India, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and New Zealand aspire to have more compelling images and competitiveness through conscious nation branding programmes. In Africa, South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt and Ghana have embarked on this journey.

The common strand to this journey is the world consumer insight that reveals that the dominant powers today (USA, Japan, Germany, and UK) do not hold all the solutions to satisfying and delighting global consumers. Therefore, for a world in search of a better tomorrow, success depends on finding sustainably creative solutions. This means that any country with the ability to approach this broad and varied global market space with a clear, credible, appealing, distinctive and thoroughly planned identity strategy can compete to win.

Stereotypes about country of brand origin Today, you may wish to buy consumer electronics from Japan, automobile from Germany or Japan, watches from Switzerland, fashion wear from Italy, perfume from France and computer software from the USA. Choices about brands are influenced largely by stereotypes we form about country of brand origin. Country images so inform our buying decisions that we often take for granted the stereotypes we have about particular countries. Whenever a country name is cued, some pleasant or undesirable associations may pop up on our minds and we may experience some titillating emotions as well. The responses from individuals may range from “very strong desires and disposition towards you”, to “I don’t care about you”, to “I must avoid you” tendencies to particular country brands.

Imagine a choice to visit either USA or Afghanistan as a tourist, or to buy a TV from Japan or Nigeria. What are your likely picks? Africa evokes several negative associations and emotions to the Western audience: diseases, squalor, wars, famines, dictatorships, African time, corruption, computer scam, illiteracy, poverty and so on. To break through these images about Africa, Ghana will have to differentiate herself, in reality and image.

South Africa was faced with a similar question of her image lagging behind reality in 2000. South Africa formed the International Marketing Council (IMC), the custodian of Brand South Africa, to correct this situation. IMC also managed the country communication around World Cup 2010. Today, South Africa can’t be confused with Angola. Only months ago there was that confusion among some Western audiences following the guerilla attack on Togolese footballers in Angola.

Image and reality go together. Positive image may be the consequence of positive reality. However, both must be carefully managed together to engender positive change. Country branding gives equal priority to perception and reality. Another rule of country marketing is that if you want favourable attention from others you must ensure you are not only understood clearly by them, you must also clearly demonstrate and persuade them that what you have is something they really want. You can’t lie and raise expectations about yourself, because misleading people is ineffective country marketing.

Nation Brand Management, not Rebranding Rebranding refers to the creation of a new name, term, symbol design or a combination of them for an established brand. Some have inferred Brand Ghana Office is rebranding Ghana. The Brand Office will not rebrand Ghana. This is because the nation brand identity is already defined and prescribed and the Brand Office is not going to change the identifiers.

What Ghana needs is country brand management, which is the conscious and proactive management of the values, behaviours and communications of all major and diverse expressions of the country, so that they reinforce and promote what the nation really stands for, to make Ghana great and strong. Brand Ghana Office as far as possible therefore will not deliver and activate the brand by itself. The Brand Office would rather work with the various promotional agencies and other institutions that express the nation to deliver their specific mandates, ensuring that the brand strategy directs their policies and acts.

Nation branding combines several academic disciplines such as international relations, political science, anthropology, community psychology, social psychology, international law, sociology, history with marketing to enhance nation’s competitiveness. Therefore, when the Brand Office is fully formed you will find professionals from these backgrounds working either as full timers or volunteers.

Brand Ghana identity At independence, our nation’s name, ideals, values, behaviours, artifacts such as coat of arms and flags were all defined and prescribed. Significantly, the 1992 Constitution also affirms this. Our national identity has to be managed professionally for Ghana to be her true and desirable self, to be able to attract positive attention from those we need to achieve our aspirations.

The values of Brand Ghana must be internalized, meaning shared nation brand values must be espoused and Ghanaians must live or enact those values. When the values become the orientation and guiding principle for significant number of individuals, families, communities, government, civil society and businesses, then we can have collective citizenship behaviours that are characterized by commitment, loyalty and identification with the nation Ghana.

Conclusion Brand Ghana Office will work to ensure that the people of Ghana have a good, clear, believable and positive idea of what their country really is, what it stands for and where it is going, and manage to coordinate actions, investments, policies and communications of all major channels of national expressions so that they demonstrate and reinforce what the nation stands for.

If we manage to do this effectively then we all will stand a better possibility of building and managing a competitive national identity, to the lasting benefit of exporters, importers, government, tourism, international relations and ordinary people of the nation.