South Africa

Op-Ed: A Nation Brand is built through the country’s actions

By Ayanda Dlodlo 8 October 2017

South Africa needs to reposition its brand to meet the global marketing challenge. By AYANDA DLODLO.

A few days ago Brand South Africa hosted their second phase of Nation Brand Forum, targeting businesses that are responsible for the marketing of their brands internationally. This is a strategic Brand South Africa platform through which the organisation endeavours to create an open space for engagement with stakeholders in government, business and civil society.

Through this initiative, stakeholders are challenged to showcase their capabilities to profile the Nation Brand and use their creative input on how each can best bring the Nation Brand to life. The fundamental maxim that drives every participant in this forum is that the Nation Brand belongs to all South Africans!

As a developing nation, in a rapidly changing global economic and geopolitical context, it is imperative that South Africa must, on an ongoing basis, reflect on the strategic implications these changes have for the manner in which we market, profile and position the Nation Brand. It would be idle of us as a country to assume that existing strategies will continue to deliver results.

For this reason, the 2017 Nation Brand Forum focused on engaging business on the development of the Nation Brand’s global marketing strategy. Essentially aiming to involve business in strengthening, enhancing and advancing the long term reputation and image of the Nation Brand and to advise Brand South Africa on how best the organisation can inspire innovation, and utilise the existing business excellence in the South African context, to better market, profile, and position the Nation Brand in emerging markets.

This strategic forum convened at a critical time in our country’s history when the nation is celebrating the legacy of one of the greatest sons that our struggle has ever produced, Oliver Reginald Tambo. Tambo would have turned a 100 years old on 27 October this year, which is a mere four years younger than the ANC which nurtured his bright ideas and revolutionary consciousness.

As an Internationalist and a campaigner for global solidarity and peace, Tambo contributed in more than one way in the construction of the South African Brand. He was the one who sold the South African dream long before many of us envisioned the democratic dispensation we now enjoy. The Nation Brand delegates were unanimous that alongside Mandela, it was fitting to recognise his role as the foremost brand architect of our new nation and country.

The Nation Brand debate unfolds also when our country is working tirelessly to consolidate its identity as a new nation formed on the bedrock of bitter sacrifices suffered by many, some of whom laid their lives down so that this new nation could be born. That history and heritage defines the essence of our Nation Brand which our counterparts in the developing world and elsewhere should embrace and understand. In addition to everything else, our Nation Brand is in many ways influenced by our heritage and culture.

The diverse cultural experiences we display to our visitors, the music and dance, the tales we relate, the art, the crafts are all the collective ingredients of our rich culture and heritage that must never ignored if our Nation Brand is to live up to its true identity.

On a global scale, we have to face the reality that we live in a world that is rapidly changing. The emergence of the fourth industrial revolution, global climate change, conflicts and refugee crises engulfing entire regions, present humanity with several seemingly insurmountable challenges.

During the 20th century we were led to believe that globalisation was an open-ended inevitability. However, in the past few years since the global financial crisis, we have seen exactly the opposite happen. Yesteryear’s advocates of globalisation, international trade and business interaction are increasingly closing their borders in fits of economic nationalism and isolationism.

Among many other analyses of these phenomena, Business Monitor International (BMI) indicates that with the rise of populism, right wing movements in Western political jurisdictions, and phenomena such as the Brexit vote, globalisation may have reached a plateau, and that the process may be reversed in some respects. These phenomena could have serious implications for the Nation Brand given risk factors such as:

  • Rising right-wing nationalism (as seen in the recent German elections), isolationism, trade protectionism, and unilateralism in global geopolitical and economic policy behaviour; and
  • A reversal of global free trade and the emergence of unilateralism in trade behaviour to the detriment of multilateralism, regional and international integration, and co-operation.

As a developing nation, South Africa needs to be aware of these winds of change blowing over Western Europe and North America. It is for this reason that analysts indicate that since 2009, data indicates a slowdown of global trade not only as a result of the fall-out of the Global Financial Crisis, but due to increasing protectionism in the so-called advanced/developed economies of the world. The strategic issues interrogated by delegates at this forum focused on addressing Brand South Africa’s need for a more nuanced global Nation Brand marketing strategy that considers larger patterns of change on the geopolitical and global economic horizons.

The BRICS nations on the other hand have in a short time proven themselves to be willing, and able, to find solutions for developing nations. For example, the BRICS’s New Development Bank is an example of how developing nations are creating alternative platforms to promote and support internal development beyond Bretton Woods institutions in this post-Washington Consensus world. The Nation Brand’s marketing strategy does not have a choice but to keep up with these rapid developments.

A well-marketed and globally positioned Nation Brand can contribute to attracting investment and aid with market entry strategy by increasing awareness of the country in international markets, while also bringing more tourists, students, and specialised skills to the country. Country development strategies that ultimately aim to build positive Nation Brands should be premised approaches that can help people to adapt their views and to acquire new knowledge and skills, and spread new social messages to large audiences.

Still, national development cannot be achieved in isolation – the complex elements of a nation’s political, economic, legal and cultural environment all contribute to a nation’s identity and image.

In this sense, every nation is already a brand: it already exists in the minds of others as an entity with positive or negative attributes. How can we therefore go about increasing awareness of this Nation Brand in markets, and in the minds of people around the world who may know the country exists, but who may be blissfully unaware of what it offers tourists, investors, traders, and partners from emerging markets?

How a country is perceived, both domestically and from abroad, from the quality of its goods and services, to the attractiveness of its culture and its tourism and investment opportunities, to its politics, economic policies and foreign policy, helps both with internal national development as well as the successful integration into the world community, on all levels.

A Nation Brand is built through the country’s actions and behaviours, by a range of actors and stakeholders working in concert and communicating a consistent message. An understanding and appreciation of the inter-relationship between all stakeholders and their interaction with the Nation Brand, is very important in order to build the country’s reputation and shape perceptions.

Despite the recent negative results of the World Economic Forum Global Competitive Index Report, South Africa continues to be the top foreign direct investment destination in Sub-Saharan Africa and is ranked 25th globally on the 2017 AT Kearney investor confidence index. Our country ranks relatively high on the international metrics for innovation and competitiveness.

This is attributable to the generally positive business environment, good intellectual property framework, and a tradition of excellence in public research institutions, a history of manufacturing, and an ICT sector that, while small, has been able to adapt some global platforms and create innovative local applications.

Like any developing country and emerging economy, South Africa has a plethora of challenges that continue to confront it and its developmental agenda. Many nations, like South Africa, have diverse societies. And as such, they often are accompanied by a complex set of socio-economic and cultural stratifications. The NDP succinctly outlines these challenges and at the same time, proposes suitable remedies that must be implemented.

Dubbed the long-term socio-economic development roadmap, South Africa’s NDP or Vision 2030, identifies the key constraints to faster growth and presents a roadmap to a more inclusive economy that will address the country’s socio-economic imbalances. The plan envisions a South Africa where everyone feels free yet bounded to others; where everyone embraces their full potential, a country where opportunity is determined not by birth, but by ability, education and hard work.

To ensure that this vision becomes a reality, we are making strides through efforts such as the Nation Brand Forum to collectively, implement measures that promote the transformation of the economy and focused efforts that build the country’s capabilities, thus resulting in a reputable Nation Brand that attracts investment. As we collectively move forward with the implementation of the NDP, we as leaders know that it is without a doubt that this vision will position us in good stead to have a positive National Brand narrative.

It is incontestable that there are major changes and greater emphasis on communications to be more widespread in contributing to the debate for the development of societies for improved nation brands. The rapid advancement of globalisation means that every country, every region and every city must compete with each other for their share of the world’s consumers, tourists, investors, students, entrepreneurs, international sporting and cultural events.

Economic growth and development is crucial to the strength of a Nation Brand. If the economy grows, jobs are created, social levels improve. Foreign direct investments become a reality and the economy thrives. Therefore, it is unquestionable that socio-economic national development agendas have an incredible impact on the positive branding of the Nation Brand.

In the final analysis, South Africa remains cognisant of the work that lies ahead to ensure that our country remains an attractive investment destination and competitive Nation Brand. Guided by Vision 2030, we are committed to improving our global competitiveness and reputation with the view to delivering on our growth and development imperatives. DM

Ayanda Dlodlo is Minister of Communications.

Photo of Minister Ayanda Dlodlo: GCIS

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