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Place brand marketing for local authorities

Following the realisation that most residents could no longer pay their rates owing to the prevailing economic challenges, most Zimbabwean cities and towns under the Urban Councils Association of Zimbabwe (Ucaz) have taken to marketing themselves to the world with emphasis on investment opportunities.


The rationale behind the initiative is to create an awareness of their place brands among potential investors with the view to attract some of them, in order to increase employment opportunities for their residents who, once employed, would be able to pay their rates. Having a major investor in a city or town boosts that city or town’s status among its peers. Major investors also boost the city or towns’ bottom line as they are the main ratepayers.

In August 2017, Ucaz held the second edition of its Local Government Investment Conference (Logic) at the Harare International Conference Centre (HICC). The event sought to discuss, among other issues, the financing options for urban local authorities’ socio-economic development, investment opportunities in urban local authorities and ways of creating an enabling environment for investment and industrialisation. It was accompanied by a concurrent exhibition by Ucaz members, which exhibited their cities/ towns’ place brands and their various investment opportunities.

The marketing of cities and towns as place brands is not new to Zimbabwe. In the past, cities and towns were marketed by publicity associations in the local authorities concerned. This was very successful, especially in tourist resort towns such as Kariba, Nyanga and Victoria Falls. The thrust at the time was selling the place brands mainly for purposes of tourism of promotion, unlike the current focus which is on re-industrialisation and creating new revenue streams in the face of the prevailing economic challenges.

Although this was the second such event, a tour of the various stands at the HICC indicated that the participant urban local authorities could do more to leverage the power of exhibitions to make the most of marketing their cities and towns as investment destinations. Here are a few hints that can help the local authorities to meet their investment attraction objectives and achieve their re-industrialisation and development goals using exhibition participation as a marketing strategy.

Selling benefits and not features

Most local authorities used pamphlets to market their city or town brands and these emphasised features such that they were pursuing the ease of doing business initiative. Although ease of doing business has become a common phrase since the Office of the President and Cabinet started working on it in 2016, it is not something that one can offer as an attraction to market a town or city. It is a marketing tactic.

A local authority cannot, therefore, list its ease of doing business initiative as an attraction since in most investment destinations the world over it is a given. It is standard fare.

Marketing literature

Pamphlets and other printed marketing material were widely used to reach out to potential investors. The quality of the literature was largely low, with most of the material being printed using laser technology rather than litho, which compromised the appearance of the literature. The graphic designing of most of the literature left a lot to be desired. While most people would understand that the local authorities are cash-strapped, marketing events of this nature are opportunities for them to put their brands’ best foot forward through outstanding material both in terms of content and design.

In some cases, the material contained factually-incorrect information and embarrassing typographical and grammatical errors. In one case, a town with an area of over 560 hectares was erroneously given as covering over 3,5 hectares.

Tied to the inaccuracies was the issue of false claims. One town which depends on Harare for its water supply claimed that it had water in abundance. Instead of glossing over inadequacies or disadvantages, local authorities should turn them into investment focus areas. Lack of a reliable water supply, could have been added to the local authority’s list of available investment opportunities so that a lasting solution could be found through a partnership with an investor.

The presentation of the exhibition literature was another issue which let some local authorities down. Although exhibition visitors happily grab free literature such as pamphlets and brochures, they end up with so much of it that they may turn down anymore at the last few stands they visit. Research has established that as much as 62% of exhibition literature handed out to visitors is never read and ends up on the exhibition venue floor or grounds.

Given this background, local authorities need to invest in quality literature in terms of presentation. The cities of Gweru and Mutare had a number of pamphlets on various aspects of their cities such as clients’ charter, investment prospectus and various projects.

Given the literature load on visitors and potential investors, some pieces of literature carrying vital information such as investment opportunities can accidentally drop, losing the city a potential investor in the process. One hopes that as the event enters its third edition in 2018, most local authorities will invest in A5-sized city or town hand books, which are well thought out in content and professionally designed, printed and presented that every visitor would die to lay their hands and cling onto them until they get home or back at the office to go through them.

Multi-stakeholder approach

Most of the local authorities’ marketing materials concentrated mostly on infrastructure development at the expense of other key areas. The local authorities focused on investors only. Cities and towns are not just about businesses and businessmen. They are also about residents and visitors. There was very little or no information on the attractions of the exhibiting cities and towns.

Major investment projects are driven by experts who may have to move to the target city or town. The local authorities should, therefore, emphasise the attractions of their cities or towns to potential visitors or residents who may have to move into their towns as a result of major investments.

This means that cities and towns should market themselves to highly-skilled people as well. Cities and towns should market to their residents so that they can get their buy-in.

If, for example, a local authority needs a major industry to improve its residents’ livelihood and allocates a stand for such a purpose on land earmarked for a school, it is likely to be opposed by the residents. The local authorities’ new investment drive should be sold to residents through councillors’ town hall meetings for it to succeed. The local authorities can also market themselves to their residents through attending to their complaints and acting on their suggestions. This builds goodwill between the two, which is necessary for residents’ buy-in when local authorities roll out programmes such as the current investment drive.

Singling out targets

While most local authorities simply listed general areas of investment, some such as Chitungwiza Municipality listed their priority areas such as the Muda Dam project which is set to supply the town with water and end its perennial problems as the town depends on the City of Harare. The town listed other priority areas such as the need for a school in the Nyatsime housing scheme, a new suburb in the town.

Properly prioritising and listing the areas in which local authorities urgently need investment demonstrates their seriousness in securing investors for the areas. This does not mean that other areas of lesser priority should not be listed or that investors interested in other areas should be ignored. Prioritising investment areas also enables local authorities to push for investment in areas of urgent need which, in most cases, benefit most residents.

Leveraging the exhibition

Although the Logic event was a local one, selling place brands in general and investment opportunities in particular means appealing to the world. Given Zimbabwe’s prevailing economic challenges, most investors who would take up investment opportunities in the country are global ones. This means that when marketing investment opportunities in their cities and towns, local authorities need to be global in their mind-sets and marketing standards. This means using world standard literature and using knowledgeable and professional exhibition stand staff members who are trained to interact with potential investors, assess and capture potential leads for later follow ups.

Although most exhibition stands were uniform since they were the affordable modular shell scheme type, some local authorities such as the Ruwa Local Board tore themselves from the common herd of other exhibitors by branding their stands through marking their stands in their corporate colours and coat of arms. This is a seemingly simple idea which enabled the local authority’s booth to stand out. Ruwa Local Board further stood out by giving out branded presentation folders to visitors to its stand.

This came in handy as most people had accumulated a lot of exhibition literature which badly required some receptacle to contain it. The City of Masvingo also gave away copies of a videotape of its investment opportunities on a CD, in addition to various forms of literature.

It is these small little things that help local authorities to make the mark in visitors and potential investors’ minds. It is such seemingly inconsequential initiatives which enabled some of the Logic 2017 exhibiting local authorities to meet their marketing objectives.

l This article was contributed on behalf the Marketers Association of Zimbabwe, a leading body of marketing professionals promoting professionalism to the highest standards for the benefit of the industry and the economy at large. For any further information kindly contact mazmembership@mazim.co.zw or visit the website on www.maz.co.zw.

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