Nation branding is 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, foreign direct investment and talent attraction. Nation branding is such a massive business activity which requires huge capital investment, stakeholder involvement, visionary leadership and craft competence, if it is to yield good results.
marketing insights with MUSEKIWA TAPERA
A unified national brand strategy
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. 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. Scholars such as Dinnie (2003) and Seppo (2003) agree on the avoidance of dominance of political elements in nation branding because they scare away stakeholders and are led more by political ambitions than 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 co-operate rather than compete and to pool resources towards developing an integrated marketing mix and delivery system.
Commitment of various players is important to deliver a solid destination brand. A truly sustainable destination will recognise that it must satisfy all 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 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.
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. Common visions, strong leadership and existing networks which often work as mediators of contacts and attract attention from potential partners also have an effect. It is also suggested that organisations motivate themselves to enter partnerships with strategy oriented, transaction-cost-oriented or learning oriented incentives.
The core values of a destination should remain consistent in order to send a strong and non-contradicting image. A unified voice, co-ordinated 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 lure people 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:
- The brand strategy should be creative, ie, memorable, surprising and arresting. It should not be boring and this is the factor that more than any other 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.
- 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 effectively characterise one or more of the factors that objectively distinguish the place from its competitors.
- 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 of stakeholders with diversified interests.
- 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.
- 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. The brand strategy must 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 a brand strategy is hard to explain or too specific to a particular situation, then it cannot function as the single driving force for an entire destination.
- Musekiwa 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. firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
*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. Visit www.maz.co.zw or contact firstname.lastname@example.org