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Opinions of Sunday, 14 November 2010

Columnist: Akotia, Mathias

Nation Branding and Nation Image

By Mathias Akotia,

Chief Executive Officer, Brand Ghana Office.

Nation or country branding is about using strategic marketing to promote different aspects of a country’s identity. Country branding implies that countries behave in many ways like commercial and corporate brands.

Country branding is not about spin, neither is it about propaganda. It is about proactive and conscious husbandry of a nation’s identity so as to enhance citizenship behaviours and nationhood internally, and to compete favourably internationally. It is about the recognition that image and reputation of a country as well as aggregate citizenship bahaviour are critical to a nation’s strategic development.

Simon Anholt, a nation branding expert, emphasises that a nation brand is national identity made tangible, robust, communicable and above all useful. Unless the overall strategy rings true about its people, there is little chance that it will be believed or endorsed by the population, much more the rest of the world.

Ghana’s story must be credible and appealing
The story told about our country must not only be credible, it must be more appealing, salient and differentiating than others. Country values must be made to come alive and projected through country on-brand acts of leaders of government, political parties, civil society, academia, business and community as well as the behaviours of ordinary citizens. Ghana’s story must also be about constructing the supporting reality- regulatory, infrastructure, accountable and transparent governance, ecologically friendly environments and purposeful culture-that will support nation brand values and aspirations.

Professional country communication is critical to structure country brand benefits to target audiences and to create brand relationships. However, country communication need not be advertising. The point must be emphasised that country promotion hardly works with direct country advertising.

Country advertising does not work
Ghana’s story, about her struggles for liberation and wellbeing of her people, about football successes, about peace keeping, about relative success in democracy and rule of law, about her modest economic and educational achievements, her warmth and hospitality, hard work and sacrifice of ordinary people and, about her huge aspirations, has to be told by ourselves first. The relevant country story must be told, most coherently, attractively and credibly. And the best stories are told through the country brand supporting acts and policies of our leaders, the aggregate behaviours of our people, our cultural products and artefacts, our export and tourism brands, the build and feel of our cities, country promotion that is directed by the nation brand strategy, desirable media reportage on Ghana and not advertising.

In today’s world order advertising (and advertorial) may have its place in country product (tourism, investment, export etc) promotion. But when it comes to country brand communication to her population public relations solutions (such as public education, demonstrations, and exhibitions), role playing and role modelling, sporting and cultural events marketing, deliberate storytelling, legends and myths about key people and event marketing are more effective than advertising. The country activities, processes or outcomes that leaders pay attention to, even the design of physical space, and buildings, status symbols all have positive socialisation effects on the population.
For international audiences, public diplomacy, public relations and e-marketing are found more effective.
Lessons have been learnt on country advertising. The failure of Ms. Charlotte Beers, former head of powerhouse agencies, Ogilvy and Mather and J. Walter Thompson, who was appointed as under-secretary of state of the US following September 11, 2001 attacks is instructive. Ms. Beers, appointed by the then Secretary of State Colin Powell to polish America’s image abroad, especially among Muslims, relied on advertising (and advertorials) to her resounding failure and early retirement. There are several better communication solutions to country promotion than advertising. Today’s country brand managers must be smart enough to understand this.
Questions have been raised about Brand Ghana Office going to do expensive country advertising. Ghana’s branding model, based on identity based brand management concept, will demonstrate that this is far from the truth. The Identity brand concept states that power brands are built through identity based brand management. Just like a person, for a brand to be strong, it must have a true self, a field of unique competence, driven by a vision, values and personality (behaviour) that are different from others and resistant to change.
This “true self”, the national identity, is not created by advertising investments. It must be created by esposition of country values and internalisation of those values through conscious citizenship programmes. Then you can begin to project and communicate the appropriate citizenship behaviour to actual and potential internal and international consumers. The communication is through promotional agencies (Investment, Tourism, Export, Information Services, NCCE), state policies and acts, the behaviour of ordinary people, products and services, cultural products, sports and events exchanges etc.
The country ads you see on CNN are mostly country product promotions, not country promotions. For example, South Africa It’s possible! is a Tourism South Africa promotion, and Malaysia Truly Asia is Tourism Malaysia advertisement. Angola I Believe is an investment promotion ad. There are several other tourism and investment product promotions running currently in international media. But as argued by nation branding consultants Ikalafeng (of Brand Leadership) and Anholt (of Nation Competitive Identity & Brand Index) these promotions stand very little chance of success unless directed by a nation’s brand strategy.

Country brand strategy directs country behaviour
These product ads are sometimes confused with country promotion programmes for the reason that they are directed by country brand strategy and therefore also effectively promote the country. They communicate the product brand of the country but they also promote the country. For example, Malaysia Truly Asia promotes Malaysia Tourism brand and yet promotes the country Malaysia (the people and their cultural products such as foods and clothing, their aspirations, export brands, inward investment and so on. This is what country branding does very well. Country branding provides a clear strategy that directs and integrates country efforts and thereby provides the bases for effective country and product brand promotion.
With a nation brand programme, every act of promotion, exchange or representation by government, civil society, business, and national sports become opportunity to build the country’s reputation and promote other products. This means all stakeholders should be united by the nation’s brand vision and shared values to work together and align their behaviour to a common national strategy.
South Africa world Cup 2010 was one such example. The country leveraged football tournament into country development. One act of football event hosting had spawned several practical benefits for all in South Africa. Crime rate was down, social cohesion, national optimism and loyalty and, “feeling proud about South African” ratings were all up.
When ordinary citizens are made to feel important and instrumental in shaping and realizing the country aspirations a strong sense of national identity and responsible pro-social behaviours are engendered by the citizenry. This will help reduce nation negative scorecard such as crime and violence, corruption, unstable political environment, poor safety and security, poor labour productivity, poor public health and sanitation.
In the case of South Africa there were business benefits also, with the world cup campaign. Inward tourism, investments, and exports of South Africa brands and cultural products and, employment ratings all improved significantly. For Brand South Africa the World cup 2010 was a national development programme, not just football hosting. All nation branding league tables show a huge leap for South Africa brand image, following 2010 World Cup.
Ghana also hosts several sporting and cultural events. What strategy exists to integrate and harmonise effort and thereby engender benefits for Ghanaian businesses, communities and ordinary people? What strategy exists to grow local capacity and parent local brands into regional success? We continue to miss opportunities and blame others for our unfortunate situation. Ghana still imports national flags, handkerchief, tooth pick, African print, football jerseys, and sports stadia to host football tournaments. We have Kofi Annan, Rawlings, Kufuor, Essien and we have brand Nkrumah still alive with us. What national strategy do we have for leveraging personalities, events and places in Ghana?
South Africa on the other hand proudly exports vuvuzelas, wines, fruit juices, apparel, kwaito music and diski dance, services (ICT, financial, security, retail, international media), tourism sites and business systems. South Africa is able to mobilise society to pro-social behaviours, leverage and market personalities like Mandela to the whole world.
These contrasting examples show how a country will compete and not win and how another country will compete and win. It is about nation brand strategy, discipline in execution and a focus on people must deliver the strategy.

What has always been part of a country’s attempt to influence the world around it will continue and sophisticated elements of marketing techniques will also continue to be used. There will always be room in the global market place for many country brands. Branding is part of the reason there is such an ever increasing gap between the developing and the developed countries. There is now an opportunity for a developing country like Ghana to close this gap, by turning attention to employ professionalism in its country branding programme.