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Nation building: How to counter negative perceptions

The Multistep Model is a holistic model which we can use to counter negative perceptions as we embark on nation building. It has specific steps. Firstly, it consists of a preliminary analysis of the crisis, audience and place (CAP) characteristics.


It involves examining the crisis and the place where the crisis occurred and singling out the target audience for whom the place aims to alter the image. Secondly, marketers define the campaigns’ goals and the timing of launching the campaign. Thirdly, it involves the choice of the most suitable marketing strategy or mix of strategies as given by the preliminary analysis and campaign objectives. Fourthly, once a media strategy has been chosen, a number of techniques such as advertising, PR and promotion and channels such as TV, radio, press and internet, are available for delivering the campaign.

The Multistep Model proposes solutions for altering a negative perception based on the SAM Strategy. Source (S) strategies focuses on affecting, influencing or replacing the sources of the negative message such as questioning the reliability of the media outlet or dealing with foreign journalists for reporting negative events that might damage a country’s international image. Audience (A) strategies are to do with audience values, perceptions and dreams. The effort is to reach a variety of target audiences directly. Message (M) can concentrate on directly handling the problematic components of the image itself.

The Zimbabwean situation, to an extent, faces the same reputational and image problems which, to an extent, are also a result of distorted information, stereotyping and negative perception created by the media internationally.

There is a perception that there is widespread political violence and anarchy in Zimbabwe yet visitors on the ground have acknowledged safety and security when they visit Zimbabwe. Government and other stakeholders could clearly dissect the problems and their causes and craft strategies on the basis of empirical evidence to address aggressively negative perceptions and stereotypes.

The propensity of Zimbabwe being mentioned as a rogue state can be utilised to launch corrective campaigns. The revival of Zimbabwe as a nation in people’s minds can be utilised to correct and build a strong brand image in traditional source markets for increased tourism and investment performance. For nation branding as a strategy, it is important for marketers to distinguish between negative reputation that matters and negative reputation that can be ignored because it has no real effect.

Scholars also argue that there is no need for a nation to pour considerable resources to enhance the brand image in a country or region where it is held in low esteem, “but if the country is not an important trading partner, more likely to become one in the near future, nor has significant influence over other nations which are important partners or over international opinion in general, nor it is an important ally or source of talent or a partner in cultural relations or the home country of a significant diaspora, then the motivation to fix the brand is mere vanity — not a reason enough for spending taxpayers money”. It is therefore important at the first stage of a nation/destination branding initiative to critically analyse the current image of the place and make a clear assessment of exactly how and why it needs to be altered or corrected.

Targeting the right market and audience

Simon Anholt (2005) provides some useful insights for utilising nation branding as a strategy to improve the competitiveness of Zimbabwe. Consistent with the cognitive element of creating awareness and knowledge in the target audience, there is need for a nation to be introduced to its target market focusing on core competences and attributes that can deliver efficiently, profitably and sustainably.

Some nations are known to wrong audiences who are not important to fulfil its ambitions, for example, people with too little spending power. This argument is consistent with the general view of the categorisation of tourists in Zimbabwe into high value and low value tourists. Tourists from the Western world are categorised as high spenders and are also known to spend longer periods at a destination (Zimbabwe Tourism Authority [ZTA] Report 2010). The brand needs to be targeted more accurately to the right source market, correct demographic groups, business sectors and appropriate decision-makers. Cultural tourism is more attractive to older and more discerning target markets than the younger generation.

Correcting a destination image

Approaches to correct the image or perception of a nation cannot be generic or cannot be generalised. Some destinations such as Zimbabwe are well known for the wrong reasons and therefore the brand needs to be corrected. To address this situation, the brand needs to be expanded to include attributes, benefits and offerings that are more relevant and more motivating to the market place. The brand needs to be enhanced with more relevant, more precise and more distinctive qualities that are not general, unclear and irrelevant information.

Thirdly, images that are out of date and can no longer make productive connections between the current offerings of the place and its current audiences. This kind of brand needs to be revitalised and realigned with current situation. Zimbabwe as a tourist and investment destination for the major source markets such as USA, Canada, UK, Germany, Australia, Italy and others is well known but for the wrong reasons. The brand needs to be corrected. However, in some source markets such as the Asian tigers (Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore) and China, Zimbabwe’s image is relatively positive but limited and unhelpful for a number of reasons.

There is need for the expansion of the brand to include products and services available at the destination and the benefits of a symbolic and functional nature that can be derived from the destination. It should also include tourism offerings that are more relevant and more motivating to the source market.

Image management

Image management is one step towards nation branding. As in the case of Zimbabwe, some images can actually be negative and the brand needs to be improved so that the audience gradually shifts its perceptions towards the positive attributes, benefits and offerings of the place. The negative perception can either be contextualised to enable target markets and audiences to understand and appreciate them better to keep them in a healthier balance with the positive attributes or de-emphasise the negative so that they occupy less space in the mindsets of the audiences. Avraham and Ketter (2008) in their multi-step model argue for the acknowledgment of the negative image and what they called the “new era” technique. They argue that at times acknowledging the negative image directly is the most effective and most convenient course of action. It can prove useful to establish, maintain or regain a trustworthy image.

The approach of acknowledging the negative image can be applied by the use of “new era” slogans such as indicating that a country has now changed from its problematic past to a promising present or future. For example, Zimbabwe can be “A new Zimbabwe”, “A transformed Zimbabwe”. One other approach to alter or correct the image, according to Avraham & Ketter (2008), is to ridicule the stereotype with the idea being to multiply the negative stereotype towards a place by illustrating how ridiculous it is.

Marketers present the stereotype and then knock it down. Another approach by the same scholars may be is spinning liabilities into an asset. The aim in this strategy is that decision makers recognise a negative factor causing the negative image and spin it into a positive image (Abraham &Ketter 2008) they cite the example of Bahrain when it launched “Bahrain: Small is Beautiful” to spin its small size into an asset. Yemen used the slogan “Land of Mystery and Adventure” to turn the liabilities of insecurity and fear into an asset of adventure.

In the case of Zimbabwe as a destination experiencing the impact of negative perceptions across the globe, because of the land question, there is need to give simple empirical information on the history of the land question to foreigners to understand and appreciate the need for land redistribution. There is need to leverage the destination on the Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Wonders of the World and the abundant wildlife in Hwange National Park, Gonarezhou National Park, Mana pools abundant mineral wealth and flourishing agriculture to improve its image the mineral wealth and agriculture. The negative perceptions caused by the 1999/2000 land reform and associated violence can be clarified by contextualising the historical land imbalances and the need to address them as a basic human right and fairness. The communication can objectively acknowledge the violence and human rights abuses experienced but then demonstrate how these are being addressed.

l 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 taperamc@gmail.com or mctapera@cut.ac.zw

*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, visit the website on www.maz.co.zw or contact mazmembership@mazim.co.zw

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