On a recent essay published some weeks ago titled Aid: The Double-Edged Blade, country branding expert Simon Anholt wrote that eminently good, humane initiatives like charity and foreign aid, while done with the noblest intentions, usually harm a country’s image to the extent of branding it as poor, hopeless, unable and disgraced (hence the need for external aid).
These are certainly not the best attributes to attract investments or export national produces. Of course, one can argue that the aid given is worthier than the loss of country brand image, but that’s another discussion. From a nation branding perspective solely, the fact remains that the aforementioned attributes are what most people think of when they hear Zimbabwe, Zaire, Uganda, Congo, Rhodesia, Sudan, you name it. These adjectives apply to most countries in the African continent, which share a common, exceptionally negative ‘continent brand effect’, in Simon Anholt’s own words.
While this image is helpful in raising funds for aid and charity, its’ a damnation for countries struggling to compete in the global market. “Foreign aid, in many ways, gives with one hand while it takes away with the other”, Anholt writes. And how true!
Acknowledging this fact, some countries have begun to do their own plans to get rid of the typically negative African continent-wide connotations and get a name and identity for themselves, the most famous one being South Africa of course.
Botswana is another black African country willing to change its image. A relatively prosperous and well-governed nation, the Exports and FDI arm of the government of Botswana recently hired Anholt for a Nation Branding masterclass (now re-branded as Competitive Identity masterclass), as Sundaystandard.info reports.
According to the paper, at the Competitive Identity masterclass Anholt urged Botswana to look beyond the brand logo and the catch phrase as they won’t do anything to change the country’s image or help build the country’s economy.
Anholt also presented a basic insight into the processes involved in establishing, building and maintaining a competitive identity of countries. He noted that “in a world of globalisation the marketing of places has grown in importance as most countries are competing with one another to attract investment”.
Anholt revealed that basic areas of activity that entail tourism promotion, products and services exported, government policies, investment, culture and people are key to realising a competitive economic advantage with the goal to attract tourism income and foreign direct investment or to optimize export strategy. As Botswana is in the process of building, by deserving it, a good brand image, Anholt urged Botswana to concentrate on these sectors as they are responsible of constructing a country’s image. “If these sectors send a conflicting message, the negative impact is felt on the nation’s strategies,” he explained.
Anholt said exported products and services act as powerful ambassadors for each country, but only when their place of origin is explicit. He, however, noted that “Botswana is missing this vital conduit to attract investment into the country as products are powerful mouthpieces of a country”.
Anholt also emphasised that if Botswana wishes to achieve its goal of economic diversification, the government should revise some of its policies as they discourage foreign direct investment into the country. “The government should create new structures, which will make it impossible for different ministries and government departments not to coordinate,” he said.
Furthermore, Anholt noted that the Botswana tourism board should work tirelessly to send the right picture of the country to the outside world to rid itself of the negative African images.
Speaking at the occasion, the CEO of the Botswana Export Development and Investment Authority (BEDIA), Jacob Nkate, said, “Botswana should understand that to attract foreign direct investment into the country, it’s not about plastering your tagline all over the world – it’s actually about developing a competitive product to put into the global market”.
He added that the producers should give the customer a quality product. In addition, Nkate said the country is faced with stiff competition in the global economy, “to vie with other competitors in the global economy let us be unison”.
Some more details
Another paper, The Business Diary also reported on Botswana’s nation branding efforts providing some more details on Anholt’s recommendations to the country.
According to the paper, Anholt said that branding a country like companies do to their products “is both vain and foolish”, and that in his 15 years experience in managing competitive images, he has never seen a properly researched case study to prove that marketing communications programs, slogans, or logos have ever succeeded in altering international perception of places.
Anholt believes, the paper says, that brand image is earned and that it is a long term project that takes stamina and dedication, adding that people’s perception will never change but it will always be at the back of their head and can only be influenced.
He said to change perception you have to change the input that caused the perception in first place. “Botswana has to know why she is here, if God suddenly erased Botswana from the earth would any one notice,” he quizzed.
Anholt emphasized that Botswana has to show its relevance to the world or else nobody is going to pay attention to her. “Botswana need to change their mentality and became more imaginative.”
He stressed that self branding is a very healthy attitude, emphasizing that Batswana have to believe and live the brand for them to convince the world how great the country is. “For Botswana to make any impact at all she has to think on a global level,” he said.
Anholt urged the nation to maintain a stream of innovative and eye catching products, services, policies and initiatives in every sector and monitor its international image in countries and sectors where it matters the most.
Anholt concluded that Botswana has the right size and population for it to succeed, hinting that Botswana should be useful rather than being decorative.
Commenting on Anholt sentiments, Jacob Nkate, the chief executive of BEDIA, the custodians of Brand Botswana said he believes that a quote from a Greek philosopher Socrates “the way to achieve a good reputation is to endeavor to be what desire to appear”.
Nkate said indeed Botswana has a lot to offer but the question to ask is that “what do we desire to appear.” In an unamused tone Jacob Nkate advised the nation “not to tell the world what a wonderful country we are, but strive to have certain structures in place that are live examples showcasing what we are and what we stand for.”
Nkate said Brand Botswana intends to work with stakeholders to develop major campaign piece to bring the brand to life. He further noted that they intend to develop and support the implementation of a calendar of activation events, related to Botswana’s international marketing objectives.
“Simon didn’t teach us anything we didn’t know but he made us talk openly and honestly,” Nkate commented. However, he disagreed with Anholt that the nation should not spend money to make Botswana known. He said Botswana is fairly unknown therefore some campaigning has to be done, to introduce Botswana to the world.
Nkate, however, hinted that Brand Botswana looks forward to consulting with Anholt in future.