South African brand remains consistent

20 November 2015

Brand South Africa, in partnership with Independent Media’s Business Report, released South Africa’s Nation Brand Index results at the Regency Hyatt hotel in Rosebank, Johannesburg this week.

Brand South Africa general manager for research Dr Petrus de Kock presented the details of the index’s findings. He also joined a panel discussion with media monitoring professional Tonya Khoury, economics expert Dr Iraj Abedian and Sello Mosai, executive manager of Productivity SA, to discuss the intricacies of the results and the way forward for the country and its brand.

Abedian is the founder and chief executive of Pan-African Capital Holdings, as well as a highly respected economic policy adviser, researcher and author. Khoury is a leading expert on South African and African media analysis and the founder of ROI Africa media monitoring company.

The event was opened by Brand South Africa chief executive, ambassador Kingsley Makhubela, who spoke about the changing dynamics of global geopolitics. He cited the Paris attacks and the Syrian crisis to illustrate how perceptions could affect the way the rest of the world saw individual countries. He urged that South Africa, as a nation, use the findings of the index, as well other global economic and social barometers, to look at what other nations were doing right and change the things the country was doing incorrectly.

South Africans could be proud of the country’s performance in a range of indices in the past year, Makhubela said. “The Global Competitiveness Index produced by the World Economic Forum ranks us 49 amongst 140 countries and number two in Africa. (together with) the Mo Ibrahim Index on African Governance placing us at number four amongst 54 countries on the continent. now, the Nation Brand Index places us at number 38 of 50 countries.”

The country needed to embrace a culture of continuous improvement and be able to tangibly measure those improvements through surveys such as the Nation Brand Index in order to become a better country, Productivity SA’s Mosai said in his introduction to De Kock

The Nation Brand Index

The Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index is a global survey, started in 2008 by British policy researcher Simon Anholt, the “father” of nation branding.

The index measures perceptions and opinions of 50 country-brands, including 20 core countries and 30 economically and regionally representative member countries, based on the six dimensions of national competence, known as the Nation Brand Hexagon. These include governance, exports, tourism, people and culture, as well as investment and immigration. An overall score is determined from the average of the six scores.

Anholt called the index a vital barometer for how countries perceived each other and how it affected relationships with one another. In an overview of the survey on its website, he explained that “it is (a country’s) perceived impact on the world that affects reputation more than assets or achievements”.

The dimensions of the nation brand hexagon

  • Exports: This is what marketers call the country of origin effect – whether knowing where the product is made increases or decreases people’s likelihood of buying it, based on a country’s particular strengths in science and technology, as well as creative energy.
  • Governance: This dimension incorporates the perceived competency and honesty of the government, while also taking into account perceptions on how the government respects citizens’ rights. A country’s global behaviour in international peace and security, its environmental protection policies and efforts to reduce poverty are also factors.
  • Culture: The score is based on perceptions of a country’s heritage and its contemporary culture of music, art and sport. The survey gauges the strongest images and recollections of a country’s cultural product.
  • People: Assessment of the sociability of a country’s citizens and the appeal of the people on both personal and professional levels (tourism and business relationships).
  • Tourism: The appeal of a country is scored based on three major areas: natural beauty, historical significance, urban modernity.
  • Immigration and investment: This assesses the perceptions of a country’s economic prosperity, equal opportunity and quality of life – would it be somewhere you would want to live and/or invest in?

The scores of each dimension, as well as the overall score, are based on an online survey of over 20 000 interviewees from 20 countries. Scores are determined from a combination of ratings and word choice surveys completed by the sample. Fieldwork was conducted from 9 to 27 July 2015.

This year, the United States gained the top spot on the survey overall, while Germany, which was first in 2014, was second. The United Kingdom, France, Canada, Japan, Italy, Switzerland, Australia and Sweden completed the top 10.

South Africa’s brand index rating

South Africa’s brand index rating per dimension is:

  • Exports: 36th out of 50 countries surveyed
  • Governance: 39th
  • Culture: 30th
  • People: 36th
  • Tourism: 36th
  • Immigration and investment: 39th

South Africa’s overall rating this year is 38th, a one place drop over 2014. But it remained consistent in the fields of exports and governance. The country raised its rating by one place in people and tourism, with both moving to 36th place out of the 50 countries surveyed.

According to a summary of the results, the Anholt website highlighted South Africa’s slow but steady climb in the survey over the years. “South Africa’s growing international appeal gives it a measure of moral authority,” it said. “Developing South Africa’s reputation should leverage off existing positive profile the country has globally.”

As has been consistent throughout South Africa’s participation in the survey, the country’s strengths still lie in its natural beauty, highly influential artistic and sport culture, and its diligent and skilful people in the business field.

South African cultural touchstones were getting a lot more exposure overseas, Khoury noted later during the panel discussion. She cited issues such as the discovery of Homo Naledi and the success of Trevor Noah. This, she said, was in most part the result of the continuing rise of social media and the proliferation of news cycles, which also had a negative side, as seen in the case of Oscar Pistorius’ murder trial during 2014 and 2015.

“The nature of social media is that people have a voice and an opinion, but sometimes don’t know how strong that voice can be and don’t consider the ramifications of using social media to express that voice,” Khoury explained.

This year, the index noted that the South African respondents were generally more favourable towards their home country, ranking it sixth or better for the people, tourism and culture pillars.

More work needs to be done in the country’s governance and poverty alleviation, as well as in raising the profile of its exports. The results also noted that improvements in the country’s technological readiness could raise its brand index in the future.

Realistic optimism, based on figures and facts such as the ones found in the Nation Brand Index, were key to unlocking a more successful economy, Abedian said in the panel discussion. “Our economy is one of the most favourable economies; we just need to unlock it in the right way.”

Mosai agreed, explaining that the potential of the South African economy was there. “We just have to maximise it correctly, using the right tools and information.”

So how can South Africa play to its strengths to improve on the weaknesses of the country as a brand?

The panel discussion offered a variety of choice words and some typically South African out-of-the-box thinking to define and solve the conundrum.

Khoury said South Africans were celebrated for doing things differently. She spoke of how the grassroots campaign #FeesMustFall used social media to put forward its ideas and build a following. At the same time, it communicated the campaign to the rest of the world, inspiring similar questioning of the issues globally. This, she said, was an organic and fluid process, something that could be applied to any kind of campaign with the right intentions.

Abedian spoke about the differences between policy frameworks and the state’s stance, and finding a common ground to make the country’s economy work. He also said that the private sector, while remaining strong in South Africa, needed to play a more proactive role in highlighting its important role in South African society.

Mosai said building a quintessential South African identity was something that should have been created from the beginning of the post-democratic era, yet it was not too late to start. “The identity of South Africa is every individual in the country and we have to build a united front out of all those elements,” he explained.

De Kock argued that while 21 years may not be enough to form a definitive South African identity, he agreed that more in-depth interrogation of what we wanted as a nation was needed.

In closing, all the panellists agreed that the country’s best course of action was to play to its strengths, while also changing perspective and being more creative thinkers. Mosai concluded that the country might have a trust deficient, politically, socially, globally: “If we can’t trust each other then we can’t work together. We need to find a common ground for all in the country.”

“Our diversity is still our greatest strength,” concluded Abedian. “Let’s see how we can use that to feed positively into a national narrative in order to build on past failures and improve our successes.”