Dr Musekiwa Tapera Chinhoyi University of Technology
Nation branding is such a strategic issue which is central to global competitiveness and visibility.
It cannot be relegated to be a peripheral issue as it is core to enhanced economic performance through tourism competitiveness, oreign direct investment and talent attraction.
Nation branding is such a massive business activity that requires huge capital investment, stakeholder involvement, visionary leadership and craft competence if it is to yield good results.
One of the major mistakes that are made by nation branding strategists 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 nation. An academic, Cooper (2012), argues that the commitment of various players is crucial for nation 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 a nation and different points of view, there is no convergence of ideas, common vision and shared values. This situation slows down or blocks the strategic process. Specialist such as Dinnie (2003), and Seppo (2003) agree to the avoidance of dominance of political elements in nation branding because they scare away stakeholders and are led more by political ambitious than on driving the project.
Scholars also agree that key stakeholders within a nation must collaborate in order to create a strong, unified image. The critical challenge for nation marketing is to pull together all individual partners to cooperate rather than compete and to pool resources towards developing an integrated marketing mix and delivery system. In support of this argument, Fyall (2012) stresses that it is important to pull together all stakeholders and synergise their efforts to manage the complexities and challenges that are connected to branding a nation. This will bring into being an effective overall strategy of nation branding.
Commitment of various players is important to deliver a solid destination brand. Cooper (2012) stresses the point that nations comprise a mosaic of different actors (stakeholders). A truly sustainable destination will recognise that it must satisfy all of its stakeholders in the long term. Strategic planning in nation branding demands that all stakeholders should participate in formulating the core idea, vision and strategic analysis, local development and the provision of leadership in the strategic branding process.
It can never be a one person one entity affair. A wide level of participants in the branding process creates ownership in the country and it also promotes a common sense of purpose and consistency of message — a critical element of the brand proposition.
An academic, Dinnie (2011), outlines numerous benefits of conveying a unified image. He argues that a unified branding strategy can create a unifying focus for all public, private and non-profit sector organisations that rely on image of the place and its attractiveness. An all stakeholder driven approach and concerted efforts towards coming up with an effective strategy enables a nation brand to be attractive and sustainable in view of global competition. Co-operation diminishes the chances of sending out conflicting messages that may cause multiple perceptions in the minds of the consumers. In addition, Anholt (2007) in support of the above position, argues that conflicting messages can compromise the impression of the consistent image, which can damage the image of the destination. He argues “far more can be achieved if the work of these stakeholders is coordinated, of consistently high quality, and harmonised to an overall national strategy that sets clear goals for the country’s economy, its society and its political and cultural relations with other countries.”
Research in the area gives a uniform picture of partnerships being both a critical and popular part of tourism marketing in general and in destination branding in particular. Partnerships are usually created out of organisations’ free will, even though they otherwise are independent of each other. Answers to why collaborations occur can be found partially in the complex situation that tourism organisations operate.
Selin and Chavez (1995) present the first and initial stages of collaborations being created in their evolutionary model of tourism partnerships. In that stage, environmental forces influencing tourism organisations’ decisions to collaborate with others are presented.
The forces include economical, technological, political, social and competitive ones leading to organisations not being able to compete successfully alone. Other factors addressed are crises of some sort which might direct potential partners’ efforts toward a mutual problem (Ndlovu and Heath 2013). Common visions, strong leadership and existing networks which often work as mediators of contacts and attract attention from potential partners also have an effect. Wang and Xiang (2012) have incorporated these factors in their framework of destination marketing alliances, giving them the same role of initial forces. It is also suggested that organisations motivate themselves to enter partnerships with strategy oriented, transaction cost oriented or learning oriented incentives.
Anholt (2007) stresses the importance of consistency in destination/nation branding. He also underscores the importance of consistency in destination/nation branding by arguing that any change of a strategy should take place within the consistency of a destination brand. The core values of a destination should remain consistent in order to send a strong and non-contradicting image.
A unified voice, coordinated communication messages and consistency can represent Zimbabwe as a strong destination brand in Sub-Saharan Africa. A sense of common purpose and strategic brand management, consistently represented, will influence a positive consumer mindset, which will result in high visitation and high tourist expenditure. Cluttered efforts and messages, competing interests and lack of a clear strategic direction are likely to create a multiplicity of images in consumers thereby affecting the overall perception of the destination and performance of the tourism sector.
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 executional and tactical. In some cases governments create a creative think tank with a responsibility of coming up with refreshing, challenging and mind-breaking strategies.
Secondly, own ability 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 nation, 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. 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. This is important for Zimbabwe which is putting spirited efforts to reposition itself as a new, changed and progressive nation. 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. Some specialists argue 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 do so to customers.
Lastly 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:
- The Nation branding bodies should confirm readiness. Under this the analyst 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 Nation branding strategists or government should set up a 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. 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 by Morgan et al (2007), 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.
Destinations need to create a sense of being unique in order to outcompete and outposition competitors and attract customers on a global market that is becoming increasingly competitive. Morgan et al. (2007) argue that 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 international artistes for a week of festivals of music, drama, poetry, and painting 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 predicted on the media attention that the event obtains”. Hosting the Olympic Games or the World Cup greatly provide a destination with a massive possibility for economic value if the potential is exploited correctly.
- Morgan et al 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 the 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 DMO’s.
- It is argued that “many places and their leaders have also recognised that they also need to distinguish themselves through their culture and heritage; witness the intense competition to be European Capital of culture.
Destinations can combine the effects of hosting unique events to promoting aspects of their culture in order to differentiate themselves. The 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.
- Domeisen (2003) further points out that there is need to coordinate the presentation of the core idea. There is need to ensure that key publics and private sector entities dealing with tourism, investment and export development convey the core message in their marketing programmes.
- Domeisen (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. It is argued 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.
- According to Anholt (2007), marketers should not conjure up messages which are not true. It is argued that “consumer research had 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.
- Hornskov (2011) underscores the importance of being authentic as he argues that in the global market, the importance of authenticity can be the difference between a differentiated or blended brand. He argues that a strategy to convey a feeling of being authentic is clearly connected to concrete things such as historic buildings and monuments which can be considered as factual and physical evidence of authenticity. In this case, Zimbabwe can leverage on its historical monuments such as the Great Zimbabwe ruins to market themselves and project unique attributes that cannot be matched by another destination. This is a mark of authenticity.
- Gertner and Kotler (2011:42), cited in Rungo (2012), support the view of authenticity when they argue that “to be effective, the desired image must be close to reality, believable, simple, appealing and distinctive.
Dr Musekiwa Clinton Tapera writes 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]