Dr Musekiwa Tapera
Certain fundamentals are critical in crafting a nation branding strategy that is acceptable internationally and internally. A well-coordinated, broad based, participatory and transparent nation branding strategy is sustainable and results oriented to make tourism and the other economic sectors generally major contributors to a country’s GDP and attraction of foreign direct investment (FDI).
The outcomes and impact of a nation branding strategy are not by accident. It is a massive management process that is complex and involving but worthwhile. It is therefore imperative to pursue certain steps and principles or approaches in order to come up with a solid and sustainable strategy that will uplift the brand Zimbabwe and its associated benefits.
The Nation branding bodies should confirm readiness and the following questions are pertinent to address: Is nation branding a strategy to adopt that will bring a competitive advantage, that is, to improve a country’s overall image, export base and talent attraction? Which national values are relevant for products and services being promoted? Is there sufficient capacity by industry players to justify efforts? Are benefits likely to be higher than costs in the long run?
The nation branding strategists or government should set up a broad based Working Group which comprises politicians, civil servants, industry representatives, media, educators and figures from sports and the arts. Decide who you are trying to influence and confirm how these target groups perceive your nation. It is important to start by identifying and defining your critical audiences both external and internal. From this position, it is of paramount importance that all major economic sectors constitute the core working group to drive the agenda.
While government is a critical player in this exercise, private sector leadership and approaches are important for effective coordination and minimising bureaucratic decision making layer that are normal in government. However, nation branding, from wide research, while led by private sector leadership, should be housed in the Presidency and funded by mainly government but supported by industry and commerce. The office of the Presidents creates national ownership and focus, which will make international acceptance easier. The President sets the tone for the country.
Nation branding strategists emphasise the identification of a core idea. They generally argue that there is need to identify the internal and external perceptions, images (positive, negative and neutral) of the country and identify the discrepancies between the external and internal perceptions. Then identify the positive values that could be associated with national branding of products and services. A “core idea” should emerge from which a branding programme can be developed. Consistent with the Unique Selling Proposition, the working group should find out what they have that makes them different, then create something around this. Differentiation is more effective when it comes to food, architecture and culture, things that cannot be replicated by any other country
Destinations need to create a sense of being unique in order to outcompete and out position competitors and attract customers on a global market that is becoming increasingly competitive. Events, movies and celebrities can be central to enhancing or damaging the reputations of destinations. It therefore means that if destinations succeed in hosting unique events that gain maximum publicity, it creates an opportunity for marketers to take advantage in contrast to its competitors.
It can also boost the number of visitors during the event. A good illustration in Zimbabwe can be the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA), a prime annual cultural event that invites local and international artists for a week of festivals of music, drama, poetry, and painting and that attracts thousands of national and international participation and attendance. Brown argues that “economic value of an event to the host city or region is often predicated on the media attention that the event obtains”. Hosting the Olympic Games or the World Cup greatly provide a destinations with a massive possibility for economic value if the potential is exploited correctly.
Destination branding scholars posits that “featuring event images alongside those of the destination’s product mix that reinforce aspects of its brand positioning significantly enhances the overall impact. It is therefore crucial for destinations to clearly and carefully consider which events to host in terms of economic value and marketing returns. Spain leveraged on the Barcelona Olympics to re-launch itself as a prime tourist destination after the dictatorship of General Franco New Zealand is used as an illustration of a destination whose image was boosted significantly by hosting the filming of the Lord of the Rings film,
Trilogy and Rugby. New Zealand’s Destination Marketing Organisation has been highly successful in implementing the marketing value of these events in their destination marketing and has been able to brand the country as an adventurous place leading to high global awareness. Unique events are critical for the differentiation of a destination’s image and products. These enhance the uniqueness of a place, which is a vital task of all Destination Management Organisations.
It is argued that “many places and their leaders have also recognised that they also need to distinguish themselves through their culture and heritage. Destinations can combine the effects of hosting unique events to promoting aspects of their culture in order to differentiate themselves. The Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) could maximise on the Harare International Carnival and HIFA by injecting more cultural and heritage aspects to provide a complete picture of Zimbabwe’s rich cultural heritage and modern life. The inclusion of Caribbean samba at the Harare International Carnival could be minimised in order to avoid dilution of what is strictly Zimbabwean and use Zimbabwean culture to project the destination favourably on the global market.
Nation branding specialists further points out that there is need to coordinate the presentation of the core idea. There is need to ensure that key public and private sector entities dealing with tourism, investment and export development convey the core message in their marketing programmes. They also underscore the need to differentiate the messages by arguing that once the core idea has been developed, modulate it for each priority audience. Create a visual idea, which one can also put into words. The words should encapsulate what the concept stands for in different circumstances.
The messages need management. It is argued that, do not allow opportunists to run it. It requires the creation of a structure that is going to be there when the government changes. There is need to ensure that the brand is promoted among local audiences as an asset and protect its credibility through establishing and managing standards of usage.
There is need to establish a long term time frame. Nation branding is a long term initiative. A 20 year time frame is realistic.
According to Anholt (2007), marketers should not conjure up messages which are not true. It is argued that “consumer research has suggested that consumers were increasingly expecting more honesty from brands. People were becoming more marketing savvy and could spot inconsistencies and false claims in brand communication. There was also a desire for more authentic experiences. It therefore means that marketers should send out messages that are authentic. Untruths and unauthentic messages breed suspicion and this can potentially be of great damage to the destination brand.
Dr Musekiwa Clinton Tapera writing in his personal capacity. He holds a PhD in Management, specialising in Destination Branding of Zimbabwe for tourism performance. He is the director of Marketing and Public Relations at Chinhoyi University of Technology. email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org