Practical and Action Oriented National Branding Strategies and Approaches for Zimbabwe (Part Three Article)
A destination should leverage on its culture. Culture plays an important role in moving the current brand image of Zimbabwe as a destination towards its desired brand vision. Culture is central to tourism and cultural tourism is identified as the highest yielding and fastest growing aspect of tourism (Anholt, 2003). Culture is the area that can start to make a connection between people’s interest in the place itself and their interest in the life of a place. What it therefore means is that culture is magnetic for destinations.
A rich cultural life makes a complete place not just a tourist destination. It becomes a place worth visiting at different times of the year and possesses a broader social appeal particularly to the higher end market with a higher spending culture.
This category of tourist is older and well behaved, characteristics that are desirable at most tourist destinations. Anholt argues that in order for an attraction to be magnetic it has to have mature pulling power built through many years of excellence. Events such as Montreaux Jazz Festival, Harare International Festival of the Arts, Cape Town Jazz Festival are so unique and irresistible that its pulling power is intrinsic and are born out of great magnetic ideas without huge investments in infrastructure or marketing. The ideas generated through culture seize imagination and are compelling by their very nature. Culture also includes sport.
Sport in itself can be leveraged by branding specialists to be magnetic. South Africa and New Zealand ride on Rugby while Spain and Brazil ride on Soccer. Bangladesh, India and Zimbabwe can leverage themselves on cricket. People in this case are the only efficient and cost-effective advertising medium for reaching large numbers of other people.
It is argued that creating magnetic attractions is often a matter of taking a basic cliché that everyone knows about a place as the starting point. For example, Chinese culture is full of dragons, Zimbabwe has renowned wildlife and architecture, Brazilian Samba dance and Carnivals and many others can be the starting point. Destination branding strategists could utilise the human and natural capital that is readily available. Knit it together to make a tourist magnet. Innovation is at the heart of creating cultural attractions.
However, this has to be stimulated by the right people under right conditions to flourish. In the Zimbabwean context, ZTA should establish innovation groups whose responsibility is to produce a constant stream of innovative ideas which can be circulated around companies, stakeholder groups and individuals who might add to them. The popular management creed that everyone is creative should be avoided.
The brand of places needs to be managed sustainably for the long term and Anholt (2005), a branding specialist provides four basic qualities that are essential motivations in leading the brand management process. Firstly he argues that wisdom is essential because it is often difficult to make the right choices between the short-term promotion and long term brand building.
Secondly, Anholt calls for patience which is necessary because brand of destinations move very slowly. The brand of the country that one inherits today may be the cumulative effect of centuries of management and mismanagement. It will take decades to change it.
Thirdly, it is argued that imagination is important because innovation and creativity can create real progress, change the brand and keep it going and healthy. Fourthly, care is important because only people who have the best interest of the place at heart can be trusted always to do the right thing for its ecology, economy and community.
Lastly, Anhlot argues that besides attributes of a destination branding strategy (efficiency, inclusiveness, consensus, vision and expertise) qualities such as poetry, ceremony and ritual even romance can play a significant part in the success of the venture. Consult writers, poets and comedians and filmmakers for imaginative ways of presenting issues. Anholt calls for doing things differently from the usual bureaucratic managerialism, formal meetings and conferences.
Diversification to hedge against risk
This article while focusing on evaluation on destination branding approaches to enhance tourism performance in Zimbabwe, Anholt (2005), argues that a Nation brand, regional brand or city brand that depends too heavily and exclusively on awareness of a single economic sector such as tourism, a single product or offering is an example of a brand that needs expansion in order to lessen the exposure of the place to risk. He further explains that many nations and regions today especially in developing countries have brand images that are heavily and exclusively biased towards tourism as the main source of revenue. Such places have brands that are grossly unbalanced. He argues that if the main relevance of the place for the majority of people is one single industry, then the way that particular product or sector is marketed or fails to be marketed, becomes the way the whole brand image of the place is built. Such countries are thought of by most outsiders purely as a tourism or leisure destination.
Tourism information is the only information about the place and it is on this basis that they form all their views and perception about. It makes such places very vulnerable if the tourism brand declines. Few people from outside the destination will accept that it is a good place in which to live, work, invest and buy products. If a catastrophe hits the place such as the Indian Ocean Tsunami, it causes serious damage to the tourism product then the brand image of the place can do little to help provide income from other sources apart from charity. What this suggests is that destination branding should focus on the wide spectrum of the nation’s assets to spread risk.
The Zimbabwe Tourism Authority should partner with the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries and other economic sectors to project a wholesale picture of the country’s offerings than leveraging on tourism only. In addition, while destination branding as a strategy can focus on tourism mainly, it can widen its focus to include other economic sectors to provide a wide view of the country.
This is so, so that if the tourism image plunges, as it did from the year 2000 to date, other sectors can retain positive aspects from which a country’s perception relies upon. However, the purpose of this article focuses on tourism destination branding as a strategy and will leave other aspects of nation branding provided by Anholt (2005) for further research.
Image and reputation as a core elements of destination branding
Destination image is the sum of beliefs, ideas and impressions individuals have of attributes and or activities available to a destination (Crompton 1979; Gartner 1986; Hunt 1975) and is the foundation of the overall mental pictures (imagery) of that destination. According to consumer research, consumers’ attitudes towards a product are influenced by the combined result of pre-purchase images and post purchase perceptions (reputation). In further explaining the formation of a destination image, Gunn (1972) established that destination image is a consequence of two processes; that is, organic (newspapers, magazines, the opinions of friends) and induced (promotional advertisements, commercial promotions, branding efforts e.t.c).
Echtner and Ritchie (1993) developed an alternative framework for understanding destination image. They made a proposal that destination image is attribute based and holistic driven.
The attribute based component has to do with the perception of individual destination features. In Zimbabwe, one would look at the attribute based features of the Victoria Falls as an individual destination.
The holistic component which is regarded as the mental imagery in people’s minds.
They further argue that attribute based and holistic components possessed functional (measurable) and psychological (abstract) characteristics. They also proposed that destination image included attributes common to all destinations as well as attributes unique to specific types of destinations which according to this research study will culminate into product or service differentiation which also determines branding strategies in a competitive environment.
Furthermore, Mazurky (1989) and Beerli and Martin (2004) postulate more factors influencing destination image. They argue that past experience with the destination is the most important factor predicting destination image because tourists with past experience tend to search for less information from external sources.
Sources through which individuals receive information such as symbolic stimulus from promotions, social stimulus from recommendations were found to influence destination image. (Baloglu and McCleary 1996) including the amount and type on information (Gartner 1993, Woodside and Lysonski 1989).
Mreation of megabrands
Destination branding entails taking control of many elements of a destination some of which are complex to manage. Despite these demands places must gear themselves to become megabrands by becoming world famous. A megabrand is one that positions itself by design in the path of major social change. If a brand finds itself boring and stale it is because it is “continually repeating the same behaviour in the expectation of a different result. Scholars argues that destinations get the image they deserve and imagining that they can change the brand of a destination without changing the way they behave is the height of delusion. New and interesting things get adequately reported in the media because new things always capture anyone’s attention. Innovativeness and creativity are important to achieve this. Mirimi et al (2013) advocates for shifting attention from the traditional tourism sites in Zimbabwe to other unknown tourism gems from which Zimbabwe can leverage on couple with creativity and innovativeness, destination branding can be a success. Zimbabwe heavily, relies on Victoria Falls at the expense of other tourism gems. Chinhoyi Caves in other countries is a bid tourists site, Domboshava rocks, Natalie Ruins, the Zambezi Escarpment and others are tourists attractions that are poorly packaged. We get the adventure in Dubai when we go to their desert and you and up with their cultural dinner sitting on the floor. We take pictures and send them all over the world promoting Dubai. Why can’t package over tourist sites through the country create the adventure and fun, so required by tourists.
A unified brand strategy
One of the major mistakes that are made by National branding organisation and governments is failure to establish and agree on a concrete and adequate selection criteria for the brand strategy itself before embarking on a strategic process. Absence of such criteria creates conflict in stakeholders to agree on what is appropriate and workable for the destination. Cooper (2012) argues that the commitment of various players is crucial for destination branding. Selection of ideas, more often than not, becomes a matter of personal taste and opinion especially in situations where the process is led by politicians or their appointees. Political expediency takes the centre stage instead of professional branding. If there are so many different stakeholders as is the case in tourism and different points of view, there is no convergency of ideas, common vision and shared values.
This situation slows down or blocks the strategic process. Scholars agree to the avoidance of dominance of political elements in destination branding because they scare away stakeholders and are led more by political ambitious than on driving the project.
However, the political element or government involvement cannot be entirely ignored because some projects are based on government to government first before they come down to other critical players.
Brand vision must be extremely compelling and motivating to drive both people of destination itself and its existing and future target markets to seeing the place in an entirely new and productive way, lure them away from the “comfort zone” of their current perceptions towards new, unfamiliar and ambitious ideas. Any good brand should be able to achieve this by doing six things. Firstly, the brand strategy should be creative that is, memorable, surprising and arresting. It should not be boring and this is the factor that more than any other that ensures the nation, region, or city brand stands a chance of being noticed in an increasingly crowded global marketplace. This refers to the quality and creativity of the messages used for communications about a place, for example, “Uniquely Singapore” or tone of voice with which they are delivered.
A robust element of creative thinking can be built into a core brand statement itself. Branding strategists should try to make the creativity conceptual and strategic rather than exceptional and tactical.
Secondly, ownability or ownership is a combination of truthfulness, credibility and distinctiveness. Communication should be true and something people are prepared to accept as true and it should affectively characterise one or more of the factors that objectively distinguish the place from its competitors. Thirdly, the messages should be sharp, that is, highly focused, not generic, telling a very specific and definite story about the destination, rather than a generalised and frivolous message. For this to happen, there is need for consensus among a wide group of stakeholders with diversified interests. According to Anholt (2005), the strategy must be daring or striking enough to make an indifferent customer or tourist “sit up” and pay attention. It might just start to change people’s minds about the place if enough weight is put behind it.
Fourthly, the strategy should be motivating by clearly pointing people towards new and different behaviours within government, the private sector and civil society that will lead to a changed image. Anholt (2005, 2007) argues that a brand strategy can be good, true, ownable, sharp and creative but still have no impact whatsoever. This is usually because it is trying so hard to be good branding that it forgets to be good policy. He argues that, in this case, it is a possessive descriptor of the brand rather than an active force for sustaining or changing it. A brand statement is not an advertising slogan. It is critical for making people see themselves in a new way and so eventually be seen in a new way.
Fifthly, the branding strategy should be relevant by being a meaningful promise to the consumer. Good brands work internationally and internally. They are motivating to the population and stakeholders but must equally so to customers. Lastly Anholt argues that the brand strategy must be elemental, meaning it should be simple, usable, practical and robust enough to be meaningful to many people in many institutions over a very long period and to be practically implementable within the context of each stakeholder’s day to day business. If this brand strategy is to be hard to explain or too specific to a particular situation then it cannot function as the single driving force for an entire destination. To strengthen the above arguments, Domeisen (2003) contends that the experiences of countries with successful national brand suggests that there is a best practice way to decide on the relevance of a national branding or rebranding. She argues that this involves the following:-
1 . The Government should confirm readiness. Under this Domeisen (2003) poses the following questions: 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 DMO or Government should set up a working group which comprises politicians, civil servants, industry representatives, media, educators and figures from sports and the arts. Domeisen (2003). Decide who you are trying to influence and confirm how these target groups perceive your nation. Just as Anholt (2005) argues, start by identifying and defining your critical audiences both external and internal.
- In support of Anholt (2005), Domeisen argues for the identification of a core idea. She argues 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 argued for before in 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. Olins (2006).
- It is further pointed out that there is need to co-ordinate 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.
- Doneisen (2003) underscores the need to differentiate the messages. She argues 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. She argues that, do not allow the government to run it. She argues for the creation of a structure that is going to be there when the Government changes. She stresses that 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.
- An all stakeholder indaba on Nation Branding should be held involving all critical stakeholders. To be co-ordinated by Government (President’s office) and Business(including Marketing Association of Zimbabwe, Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce, Zimbabwe Tourism of Authority, Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe Council of Tourism).
- A carefully elected committee Interim Board of Nation Branding must be set up to co-ordinate national effort towards this national project.
10 The Nation Branding Organisation, a holistic organisation (which includes selected people from all relevant stakeholders should be constituted with a Board and Secretarial to co-ordinate the exercise.
- Terms and reference of the board must be crafted and the operational framework must be established.
- The process, while Government is a critical player and funder should be led by business in collaboration with Government for efficiency and effectiveness.
- The project must be funded by government and RBM strategy should guide its operations.
- Quarterly reports to the Presidency and cabinet should be conducted based on real actions taken and milestones achieved.
- Nation Branding Organisation’s Secretarial must be led by Nation Branding Professionals but mixed with business and experienced Government personnel.
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. For feedback and comments-email. [email protected] or [email protected]