Zimbabwe’s brand architecture after the downfall of Robert Mugabe through the “soft” coup of November 15, 2017 is hard to define. The replacement of Mugabe after the seizure by the military and his erstwhile vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa, contributed to the weakening of an already fragile brand.
By Lenox Lizwi Mhlanga and Tabani Moyo
National brands are naturally a representation of order strengthened by the consolidation of democratic ethos and values. This explains why the new president is struggling to take brand Zimbabwe on a new and acceptable trajectory.
Zimbabwe, post-Mugabe, is facing an existential crisis of creating a brand promise and accompanying experience. This is because the leaders assumed office through force and power seizure rather than through constitutional means. The result of which is supposed to create a social contract, as both the promise by leadership and the “experience” citizens and national stakeholders are supposed to enjoy.
If managed well, the impending 2018 general election is supposed to deal with this dilemma. However, it has become common knowledge that foreign powers like Britain and the European Union seem keen use the electoral process to launder the coup. This will only serve to delay the resolution of the brand crisis of legitimacy and credibility.
It is for the benefit of Brand Zimbabwe if the internal stakeholders engage extensively and build consensus on the electoral conditions that will lead to the plebiscite so that there won’t be any dispute on the outcome. Yet, the prevailing situation is that of an incumbent bent on pleasing outside forces rather than complementing internal stakeholders in building an enduring brand.
We need to examine three major national branding indicators in order assess where Brand Zimbabwe stands after Mugabe’s rule.
Defining the big idea
After Mugabe, the new regime seems to be struggling to define a “big idea” that unites the people of Zimbabwe. This has seen the new leaders running around the globe, like proverbial headless chickens, riding on a very hollow concept, “Zimbabwe is open for Business”. This is a very small idea, for lack of better phraseology.
It does not mean anything to internal stakeholders. It creates the impression that Zimbabwe is up for sale for pittance. The challenge for the new leadership that emerges from an undisputed democratic election which is not disputed would be to craft a big idea that would anchor Brand Zimbabwe. This big idea should become the shining light that will guide citizens in moving the country forward.
Barrack Obama’s administration was anchored on inspiring its citizens on the promise that the US could rebuild and reclaim its global leadership through the, “Yes we can” and “Forward” campaigns. These big ideas served to motivate the citizens to rebuild America after the debilitating global financial crisis.
Constant messaging and visual style
Enduring brands are anchored on a constant set of positive messages. The new administration entered office on the promise of a “new dawn! new era”! This is an ambitiously bold statement which should be made when internal stakeholders are prepared to meet the brand promise.
With more than the definitive 100 days in office having elapsed, a new era is yet to see its dawn! The more things change the more they remain the same. This serves to expose the dysfunctional nature of the team in office. A team that is failing to meet the brand promise for lack of a big idea that will meet the citizens and stakeholder’s expectations.
Effective use of multiple media platforms
Zimbabwe has a very rich arts, culture, and sports heritage which lies largely untapped because of poor administration. We are home to the likes of World Karate champion Saiko Sensei Samson Muripo, heavyweight boxer, Charles Manyuchi, paralympian Elliot Mujaji along with globally-acclaimed musicians and artistes who can Brand Zimbabwe ambassadors.
This works if the brand is well managed and is free from the high reputational risk with which it is currently associated. When the big idea is well defined, the messaging structured, then our media across all platforms can easily carry the message to a global audience.
In many of the instances, countries are focus mainly on creating an ‘image’ rather than on designing and offering a national brand experience. They end up failing to rally the citizens and external stakeholders around a single brand idea.
Countries must be alive to the following experiences that they should subject their citizens and stakeholders to:
Random experiences: Zimbabwe is in the category that delivers sporadic experiences. The citizens are never sure at any given time of what kind of experience to expect when they engage various departments and agencies. Surprisingly the country focuses on tasks and delivery of services, without considering the citizens’ perspective in measuring their impact.
Therefore, you find plenty of “very busy people” but of little impact in delivering value. That’s why the president is all over the map telling whoever cares to listen that “we are open for business” yet few believe him. At one end the president is preaching free and fair elections, at the other, the military component in the ruling party commissariat are threatening to unleash violence. On one hand, the country is pushing the dawn of a new era mantra, and yet on the other, it unleashes solders to kick out informal business from the CBD, and teargassing students peacefully petitioning the government to honour fundamental education rights at institutions of higher learning.
Differentiated experience: This is the ultimate approach towards delivering an exceptional citizen centric experience. The countries in this category are few, highly likely if the Labour Party wins in Britain, we might be headed towards this experience. This is because the party recognize everything they do distinguish them from competing forces.
Zimbabwe under Mnangagwa is a brand without shape and form, mainly because of the means with which the administration usurped power through a military coup. This makes it difficult for it to build consensus through building a brand that appeals to the hearts and minds of a people. The Brand Zimbabwe is without a big idea, where citizens endure random experiences.
lTabani Moyo is a chartered marketer, marketing, branding and reputation management consultant based in Harare. He writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted at email@example.com
lLenox Mhlanga is a communication specialist and public relations consultant. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org