South Africa’s nation brand a mess, says expert

A few weeks ago, reported on South Africa’s nation branding hopes as the country approaches 2010, the year the World Football Cup will put this nation on the limelight. But South Africa’s government nor its provinces are getting it right when it comes to branding, says expert Gary Harwood, of multi-disciplinary marketing services company, HKLM.

“Brand SA is a mess,” says HKLM’s branding expert, Gary Harwood, “and on top of that, each province has its own brand. That’s if you can call a logo that looks like it has been drawn by someone doing Grade 5 art, a slogan and an ad in Sawubona a brand!”

Harwood’s trenchant views come at an appropriate time: South Africa has just been on display at the World Travel Market in London, one of the globe’s biggest travel trade shows. National branding, he says, is no different from any other kind of branding.

“The Country Brands Index 2008 just released makes our problem abundantly clear. South Africa hardly features – not in the overall Top 10, and appearing in just two of 30 sub-categories. We have a far more exciting and compelling country than most of the countries in the Top 10 – even boring old New Zealand rates higher than we do! Why? Because they have a superb and compelling brand campaign – “100% New Zealand”. It’s a winner. Another that we need to take a much closer look at is “Incredible India”. Even something like the simplicity of the USA’s flag – after all, the Stars-and-Stripes continues either to ignite or align people!

“A brand is the reputation of the destination. Therefore, a national brand is the reputation of a country as defined by the people of that country and its visitors. National brands should assist in building a holistic, non-political reputation of a country over an extended period of time. The role of government is to support the nation branding initiative.”

Harwood believes that the local consumer is too often overlooked when thinking about this issue. “We are an important part of Brand SA. We live, visit and invest here – we need to feel inspired, believing and hopeful, we need to have trust and confidence in our national brand. In many respects, the people of SA own the brand.

“We are also doubling the confusion by having individual provincial brands. Why don’t they take all this time, money and energy and put it into building one, compelling national brand rather than a myriad ad hoc initiatives?” asks Harwood, who says we should get back to the basics.

“Go back to Branding/Business 101. What’s your country’s unique or compelling vision and mission? Why does it matter to me? What are you doing about it? Never forget that branding is also about keeping promises. Have you got the best team in place to deliver on those promises?” he asks.

“From time to time, your country’s reputation may also be assisted by an outstanding leader. Both South Africa and the ANC had Madiba for a time. But you also have to look beyond the individual. To do that, you need constant innovation and progression, and you need continually to update and evolve according to the latest market dynamics. If you allow your brand to rest on its laurels, it will die very swiftly,” stresses Harwood.

“It is vital that your nation’s brand should be considered one of your country’s most valuable assets and treated accordingly,” Harwood concludes.