To all our readers and stakeholders.

Without any whiff of doubt, cities, provinces, countries and continents globally continue to vigorously market their service and product brands in addition to competing for tourists and foreign direct investments. Although there is no consensus on defining the scope of what nation brand or competitive identity is, we are able to identify a number of themes that have emerged out of both theoretical conceptualisations and empirical experience.

There’s consensus among a number of scholars that the dominant theme is related to country image. The second biggest is nation brand personality – was there any difference between the Charles Dickens’ gentlemanly brand personality of South Africa under President Thabo Mbeki and under President Jacob Zuma’s “rediscovery of the ordinary” (to borrow Prof Njabulo Ndebele’s coinage). With the revelations flowing out of the State Capture Commission in South Africa, one is tempted to describe the country’s brand personality during the latter’s era as descriptive of China Achebe’s “man of the people” or Ayi Kwei Armah’s “the beautyful ones are not yet born”. But pardon my digression into the literary world as this isn’t the focus of my narrative this month. Other themes explored are a country’s reputation and nation brand strength. All these themes are based on perceptive studies. So do remember that marketing science teaches us that there’s a thin line that quickly vanishes between reality and perception.

Although personally I subscribe to the concept of competitive identity, I’m almost equally comfortable if, for now, it could be seen as synonymous to nation brand. I therefore reject the conclusion by Naomi Klein, a world-renowned anti-branding specialist, who describes both concepts as just an academic faux pas. The best argument for the existence of any form of branding and its impact on building a set of stakeholder perceptions is eloquently and undisputedly advanced by the neuro-marketing scientist, Martin Lindstrom. I do believe that every nation could be viewed as a brand as it’s a compound based on contemporary and historical associations that have relevance for marketing. For example, in describing South Africa’s nation brand initiatives when it was declared a pariah state by the United Nations for its draconian apartheid policies before 1994, Ron Nixon explicitly describes such attempts not only as “selling” in his title of the book but by also accentuating or emphasising the meaning of “selling” by branding the cover of his book based on the design style and colours of a can of Coca Cola’s “Coke”.

The most matured and measured argument is advanced by Keith Dinnie who deliberately shies away from the academic storm in the nation brand teacup by referring to the psychological impact of what could be called “nation brand”or “competitive identity” on stakeholder perceptions held about cities, regions, countries or continents. Thus every nation has a brand image irrespective of whether that country undetakes a deliberate nation branding exercise or not. Competitive identity is about how autonomous purchasing decisions by various consumers across the spectrum of unrelated intentions and wants could be aggregated to create an integrated and streamlined value chain across the entire country.

The central organising concept of competitive identity is the development and building of a country’s brand equity which is essentially the value that may be embedded in the perceptions that a variety of stakeholders or foreign markets, and furthermore, the manner in which these perceptions could be utilised in advancing its interests and those of its citizenry. Talking about foreign markets, we then look at how the ‘country of origin’ impact on consumer purchasing decision. This could also be referred to as the “product-country image”.

I have been making a case for brand positioning our cities, provinces, countries and the continent. And we have to allocate sufficient resources for the intelligent and judicious application of marketing and branding techniques upon countries as this could be a powerful global tool for accumulation and distribution of wealth and, furthermore, as a force for economic and socio-cultural development. We have to appreciate the fact that a “Made in …” label is as equally significant as a “Made by…” label. A country’s nation brand rubs off “onto the products that come from those countries, and they count for a lot.”

International supply chains, as bi-product of globalisation, have also given birth to the concept of “brand of origin”. This could be defined as “the place, region or country to which the brand is perceived to belong by its target consumers” although it could have been manufactured in another country. Due to the intensification and deepening of globalisation and its vast networks, “made in” no longer possesses the same meaning as it originally did. Nowadays, the ‘country of origin’ does not necessarily translate into the country of production. For example, many American brands such as Levi’s and Apple gadgets are now produced in the People’s Republic of China because the cost of production, particularly labour, is extremely low. This throws consumers into a dilemma as they traditionally perceive the value of a product as accruing from the trinity of country of origin, brand equity and country of production.

We have to understand that perception is reality to our stakeholders. For me as a South African, this is true when one considers that while the Mexican Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice’s findings have rated Cape Town as the eleventh deadliest city globally, followed by Nelson Mandela Bay at forty five and Durban at forty seven, Johannesburg does not feature in the top fifty and yet it is reputed “for high levels of crime”, but the three cities attract more tourists because their stakeholder perceptions remain positive over Johannesburg’s. Thus, according to the Touropia Travel Experts, Johannesburg’s bad reputation translate in the city attracting fewer tourists than Cape Town though it’s rated the number one crime spot in the country and followed immediately by Durban in the number two spot. So these findings disprove Klein’s anti-branding arguments. These statistics are corroborated by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).

Not to throw the spanner in the wheel, the rise of globalisation also leads to foreign owners buying controlling shares in a country’s national brands. So then do we maintain the authenticity of a brand’s heritage once the brand is appropriated by a foreign investor or manufactured in another country? Then here’s a pertinent question: “Is Jaguar Land Rover, owned by Tata (an Indian company), still British?” This then poses a question to us: “How will these global developments impact on ‘Made in Africa’ as the ‘country of origin’ effect is at the core of our branding effort?” In global trade practice, then the issue of intellectual property (such as trade marks) then comes to the fore and then a question arises: Is the Fiat bus, owned by an Italian company, assembled in South Africa with seventy percent localisation, an authentic Italian brand?

We have to appreciate the fact that the challenge of national economic development has gone beyond the limits of public policy and have become a market challenge. A country’s image results from many features, among them the country’s geographical location, history, proclamations, art and music as well as famous citizens. Not only are product categories such as perfumes, electronics, precision instruments, wines, cars and software strongly identified with certain places, but so are societal ills such as HIV/Aids epidemics, political riots, civil rights variations, attacks on the environment, racial conflict, economic turmoil, poverty and violent crime. All of these have been repeatedly and strongly associated with certain locales. Most country images are in fact stereotypes, extreme simplifications of the reality that are not necessarily accurate. They might be dated, based on exceptions rather than on facts, but are nonetheless pervasive.

We have to use our countries’ brands as the anchor upon which to build loyalty with our people since each of the country’s citizens become the living embodiment of the brand, and their actions and behaviours impact on their country’s brand. For the branding programme to have credibility, the domestic campaign has to be supported by real changes in the physical infrastructure, the promotion of strategic industries through incentives, the attraction of venture capital, the encouragement of creativity, and getting citizens with an international profile and local opinion formers to serve as brand ambassadors. Since much of what is known about a country is through word of mouth, increasing the number of `informed believers’ is similar to creating a pool of brand ambassadors who will promote a country to whomever they meet and wherever they go.

Each and every country in Africa needs to remember that many nations are involved in the process of branding themselves, and that those countries which do not engage in proactive branding run the risk of being positioned by their competitors to their own advantage. Such a situation would make it even more difficult for that country to control its economy’s destiny. Unless carefully managed, a country can come to be characterised by a particular negative image or stereotype.

We have to develop multidimensional brand development model that makes it easier for us to develop a holistic, coherent and cohesive nation/continental brand strategy which will cover every facet that impacts on a country’s or Africa’s image as perceived by both its internal and external stakeholders. This model has to help us resolve the apparent conflict between brand positioning a nation state within the context of a treatise eloquently advanced by Margy Burns Knight that “Africa is not a country” and “the danger of [communicating] a single story”, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian contemporary novelist, has put it. We need to develop epistemological harmony between “Made in Sudan”, as an example, and “Made in Africa”. This speaks to the issues of a nation state within the context of the implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) which came into effect from 1 January this year and launched Africa as the world’s biggest common market.

While we boast about the AfCFTA integrating us into the world’s free trade area inhabited by over 1.27 billion consumers and a combined GDP of over US$3 trillion, we are at great risk of not enjoying the benefits accruing maximally. Why am I advancing this argument? The annual brand Africa survey conducted by Thebe Ikalafeng’s Brand Leadership Group, and validated by the African Leadership University, found in 2019 that only 20% of the “Top 100 Most Admired Brands” were of African origin.

The statistics became more depressing last year when the percentage came down to a mere thirteen (13). Sandile Tyini, a Chief Director: African Multilateral Economic Relations at South Africa’s Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, has shared startling statistics that indicated that while The continent boasts 17% of the world’s population, it only generates 3% of the world’s GDP; 3% of the world’s trade; and 2% of the world’s manufacturing output. The World Bank has validated this by indicating that intra-African trade is between 16%-18% of traded goods. This is worse than being described as scandalous since the continent’s trade with Asia is 52%; North America at 50%; and trade with the EU is as high as 70%.

Yes, as an excuse, we may attribute these appalling statistics to the unbroken legacy of colonialism, we need to reduce exports of most of our raw materials – such as oil, minerals and cocoa – to the rest of the world and then importing finished goods (consumer and capital goods). The fact that the current intra-African trade (between African countries) is largely in value-added manufactured products should catapult us into a beneficiation drive that will ensure we don’t just produce for our own internal con- sumption but to be able to service foreign markets with our strategic exports.

The Brandhill Africa group promotes not only “Made in Africa” but particularly “Made by Africa”. We are ready to partner with the owners of Africa’s service and product brands to position them to successfully gain traction over foreign brands. Furthermore, we brand position Africa and her 55 countries as viable destinations for invest-ments. Make maximum use of our platforms – namely, this digital publication, Jambo Africa Online; the Zebra Awards for top cities and countries in Africa; and the Biashara Services and Products Africa (BiSPA) Conference and Exhibition – which is a series of bi-monthly virtual seminars which climax into an annual event held during the first week of December.

If you’re reading this edition, it means your life was spared over the Easter holidays during which our roads swallow lives through road accidents. We give thanks to the Most High. We also take it you celebrated the International Women’s Day – a theme we still celebrate in retrospect through this edition. We also pay homage to the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) which should be the backbone of our economies. Let me conclude by wishing our Muslim readers and stakeholders a blessed Ramadan Mubarak. Stay blessed.

Saul Molobi



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