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Opinions of Monday, 13 June 2011

Columnist: Appiah-Adjei, Daniel

Branding Our Nation; A Candid View From The Village




Branding Our Nation; A Candid View From The Village

Today, we live in a world which globalisation has turned into a single marketplace, where every country must compete with every other country for its share of the world’s consumers, tourists and investors, and for the attention and respect of the international media, of other governments, and the people of other countries. It is also a world in which international public opinion matters as never before.

Nations are brands because people perceive them as brands. Few Ghanaians have time to learn what most countries are really like, so we navigate through the complexity of the modern world armed with a few simple clichés about places: It is noted simply as; France is about fashion, Italy is about shoes and style, America about power and money, Germany about engineering, Brazil about soccer and Japan about technology. The writer wants to know. What about Ghana? Is it our culture, climate, Agriculture, Traditional Religion, Traditional cuisine, Sakawa or what? What can we boast of as a nation? What has been and continuous to be ours? What are we going to use as a brand to attract people from outside Ghana?

We may not like why some countries are gaining monopoly of what we all should have significant recognition, but there’s little we can do to change it. It’s very hard for a country, even a famous and powerful country like America, let alone the less well-known countries of the developing world with virtually no presence in the international media, to persuade people in other parts of the world to go beyond these simple brand images and start to understand the real complexities, the contradictions and the social and cultural riches which lie behind them.

It is very crucial bringing into focus the primary responsibility of our national leaders to find out what our country’s brand image really is, and to develop a proper strategy for managing it; to build a nation brand that is fair, true, positive, attractive, memorable, genuinely useful to our economic, political and social aims, and which honestly reflects the spirit, the genius and the will of our people. We should not lose sight of the fact that managing the national brand has become one of the primary skills of governments of many countries in the 21st century and Ghana must not be left out.

Positive Image

Having a positive image can make a world of difference to a country, city or region, just as it does for companies and their products. Obviously, permit my use of words, Ghana is not soap, powder, MTN, Tigo, Vodafone, Kasapa or Indomie but just like companies, we must depend on our reputation, and must look after it very carefully: it is our most precious asset. A strong national brand helps to attract investment, talent, consumers and tourists, and enhances the country’s cultural and political influence.

“Places can only change their images by changing the way they behave. “

The only sure way places can change their images is by changing the way they behave: they need to focus on the things they make and do, not the things they say. Simon Anholt’s approach of Competitive Identity, (which is also the title of one his books), is about helping countries, cities and regions to earn a better and stronger reputation in the following ways:

• through courageous and enlightened social, economic, environmental and foreign policies;

• through the dynamic development of tourism, foreign investment and exports;

• through carefully chosen international cultural, sporting and political events;

• through improved cultural and academic relations with other countries;

• through a strategic commitment to international development and poverty reduction;

• through productive engagement with multilateral institutions, regional organisations and with NGOs at home and abroad; • through effective coordination between government, industry and civil society; • through enhanced public and private diplomacy overseas;

• through a visionary long-term approach to innovation, investment and education

Maintain Brand Consistency

Ghanaians must establish consistency throughout all aspects of our political and social life. But setting the standards is not enough. We must constantly evaluate our actions. Establish checkpoints for each aspect of the dealings that interact with others from other countries and the general public. Ensure that each citizen is empowered to identify and address inconsistencies in our branding endeavor.

Tourism is only one of several areas that every nation needs to develop and only one of the sectors that can benefit from country branding. After all, a country with fine beaches might also be an easy or safe place to invest in if relevant legislation is in place and the rule of law firmly established. How a country is perceived, both domestically and from abroad, from the quality of its goods and services, to the attractiveness of its culture and its tourism and investment opportunities, to its politics, economic policies and foreign policy, can be shaped under a brand. The branding process strengthens democracy and helps both internal development and successful integration into the world community, on all levels.

Countries like ours which don’t have powerful and distinctive brand images of their own often suffer from “continent branding effect”, where, rightly or wrongly, they are closely identified in people’s minds with the overall characteristics of their region or continent.

This is the fate of all African nations with the sole exception of South Africa: from a distance, people find it hard to distinguish between little-known states, and the way they live. And the consequence is that several prosperous, well-governed and attractive countries end up sharing the brand images of the poorest and least stable. If our rich culture is probably going to be our brand image, we should always remember that the European Union and other powerful States and Foreign Organizations are most likely going to share the branding with us through The Cultural Initiatives Support Programme (CISP), Danida Cultural Fund, and UNNESCO Cultural Fund etc.

Brand management

A successful branding effort delivers benefits that exceed any government or administration. In the same way that Coca Cola is sold through a successful global branding and marketing campaign, year after year, irrespective of who owns or runs the company in Atlanta, so too a good branding and marketing campaign for a country can reap benefits for it, irrespective of who is at the top of its government.

To do their jobs well in the future, politicians in Ghana will have to train themselves in brand management. Their tasks will include finding a brand niche for the state, engaging in competitive marketing, assuring customer satisfaction, and most of all, creating brand loyalty.

I am sure that any discussion about the brand values of this nation will raise the question of whether there is anything that can be done to change them, to reverse a negative image, or just to manage a brand as well as the better corporations sometimes succeed in doing.

Just as advertising can’t sell a product which doesn’t deliver on its promises or which people don’t need, so a country can’t build its reputation by singing its own praises or spewing out endless information about its wonderful products, investment opportunities, people, places and achievements. In today’s world, information is virtually valueless because there’s so much of it. If someone has already decided to buy, then they will welcome information; if not, they will simply ignore it.

In the end, if a nation wants to change its brand image, it must learn to behave differently not an easy or a quick task by any means. But only through constant innovation, in all sectors, which is aligned to a clear national strategy, can the new “story of the nation” be proved to be the true story to the rest of the world. Almost every place, at some level, gets the reputation it deserves, so if it wants a new reputation, it needs to do different things.

Fortunately, there are examples to prove that our country’s international reputation can be managed and changed to better represent the current reality and future aspirations of the place, as long as there is a clear strategy for doing so, leadership, and proper coordination between government, the public and private sector, and the population in general. The natural channels of communication of all places of governance, culture, people, products, tourism and trade and investment promotion need to be harmonised around a single, clear, visionary strategy for positioning the nation competitively in the global marketplace.

The message about nation branding is of critical importance to developing nations. In a deeper sense, nation branding also provides a way for newer, smaller and less well-known countries to prosper. Nation branding is a new paradigm for statecraft, and one of the most powerful tools for competitive advantage.

Fortunately, Branding is not a new thing in Ghana. We are already branded by our families and clans. We tend to protect the reputations of our various clans and families. Let us extend this into our Nation Building strategy and do away with petty issues that continue to divide us.

By His Grace, I shall be back