The role of brands in enhancing the country’s reputation and strengthening its competitiveness

The nation brand concept has been around for almost two decades and continues to attract interest due to the very nature of its dynamism. Brand South Africa is mandated with managing the country’s image and reputation and as such, continuously seeks to engage in public and private collaborations to strengthen relations and promote a cohesive approach.

Place branding has many similarities with product branding. The general definition that a brand communicates a ‘promise of the rational and emotional benefits that customers can expect’ also holds true for place branding. The difference is that in place branding, delivery of the brand ‘promise’ is constantly affected by the behaviour and actions of a multitude of stakeholders. Those range from the highest levels of politicians, civilian leaders and business people to the person in the street who interacts with visitors.

One cannot be dismissive of the fact that in product branding the value chain is far more controlled, manipulated to some extent and the brand promise can be delivered more consistently, whereas with place branding this is far from the truth. Place branding is a long-term process of getting as many brand influencers to adopt and commit to delivering on the brand promise, from the high powered-influencers that have the biggest media following and reach, to local communities and citizens.

It has been said several times, that place branding goes far beyond the nice logo design and slogan. While the logo and slogan are important symbols of a brand identity, they usually have a very limited bearing on place brand credibility. Brand experience and brand credibility become the defining pillars that influence a decision to visit a country.

The actions and conduct of government, business and community leaders are the real factors that affect brand credibility. This has been evident in our country as we have witnessed our vibrant constitution and democracy in action.

The most difficult task in country branding is about proactively canvassing a broad spectrum of brand ambassadors to adopt and ‘live’ the brand; expand the brand communication in a controlled manner and do damage control when the brand image and reputation is threatened. The positioning needs to be converted into a catchy and creative brand essence that is easy to communicate. A marketing strategy should be devised to promote the brand message to selected target markets and segments.  It is all part of an integrated approach.

There is now more than ever, a need for more awareness and understanding of the importance and relevance of the value of the country’s brand by stakeholders – both public and private. This includes a great variety of sectors, such as tourism, exports, investments, culture, sports and international relations, with whom we can achieve a common message, alignment of contents and a common graphic expression of what South Africa stands for and what it offers to the world. An untapped opportunity is the country of origin though there have been a number of brands who naturally found brand fit with their brands and have encapsulated the South African identity into their communication messages.

Country Brands like Chile and New Zealand have been successful in adopting and implementing the country of origin approach in telling their brand promise story. Additionally, a strong incorporation of the country brand has been generated at the level of different companies highlighting the country-of-origin. In the long run, this has a positive impact on the reputation of these countries and the country is able to build strong brand constructs or association.

The same opportunity exists in South Africa. We strongly believe that South Africa is a country that punches above its weight and there are thousands of successful stories that when put together under the umbrella of a “brand promise storytelling” can fast track the association of our country brand with inspiration, talent and admiration.  Our country brand’s image and reputation will be enhanced in a way that encourages each and every South African to be a positive ambassador, reflecting the attributes of the brand.

The brand of a country is a tremendously powerful tool for the promotion of exports, the attraction of investments, the attraction of talent and, most importantly, to favour business and the development of countries. With appropriate management of a country’s brand and strategic collaborations, it is possible to promote and position the differentiating attributes of a nation audiences.

Our vision as Brand South Africa is to create a Nation Brand that inspires its people and is admired globally. The time for this vision to come alive is now as we partner with MAA to get SA corporates to play their part and rally behind their country brand.

Public-private partnerships: private businesses have most contact with potential customers, both at a business-to-business and business-to-consumer level. It is extremely important that the government and private sector marketing parties should agree on clear brand messages and should apply and use these consistently. After all, when the country succeeds, the economy improves and the brands prosper.

The role of brands in enhancing the country’s reputation and strengthening its competitiveness play an integral component in showing off a country’s capabilities. The value and quality of these brands are a reflection of the country’s brand. They tell the story of a strong Nation Brand which is experienced by both domestic and international audiences.

Words by: Sithembile Ntombela, Brand South Africa