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Country branding – an instructive article on Brand Kenya

Nairobi’s Business Daily (8 January 2008) carried an excellent opinion piece on what Kenya needs to do to build a country brand, especially in the face of the current instability. “Whereas we had reached a point where Kenya was seen as a case study in political tranquility and economic stability, we are now being showcased in the international media as a war-torn economic time bomb,” writes the author, the CEO of Interbrand Sampson East Africa. “One solution to counter this is to create a strong country brand.”

According to the writer, a country brand offers the following key benefits, and I strongly agree:

  1. Improves a nation’s image in general (obviously)
  2. Aligns citizen’s way of thinking about the country “and speeds up healing and reconciliation”… “builds up patriotism and pride.”
  3. Positions a nation “way above its peers”…offers a “competitive edge” as countries “compete…for tourism, inward investment and export sales.” (Maybe this is three separate benefits?) Specifically, it “gives weight to the ‘made in’ label because it will positively aid the sale of products in foreign markets.”

How do you develop a country brand? The writer notes that you need:

1. The involvement of “government, business, the arts, education and importantly the media.” (I wonder how a country can involve the media if the media’s role is to maintain impartiality and be above notions like branding. The media might report on branding, but how would they be a part of it?)

2. “To find out how your country is perceived both internally by citizens and externally by people abroad who you want to influence.” (“You should also consult with opinion leaders…and compare their views.”) This step cannot be underestimated. It is the critical marketing research piece that every brand requires in order to be successful.

The resulting “brand idea and positioning…positively and clearly differentiates the country from any other.”

This “enables the development of messaging to the various audiences previously identified.”

The writer goes on to state that “the most difficult part of country branding is on the ground roll out. You should work out a programme to make the strategy tangible through improvement projects.” (I’m not sure I understand that part. What kind of improvement projects? How does this relate to the brand?)

The author further writes that it is challenging to create a collaborative system to implement the brand strategy (across government, business, the media, etc.), “without making it look too governmental, because people will instinctively avoid working with it.” (My question is, why will people not want to work with the government on a brand strategy for the country? This does not make intuitive sense to me.)

The author states that although executing the strategy takes time, the important thing is to “be consistent, building an integrated picture and always backing it with quality.” This should be unaffected by what is going on politically. (I am not sure, again, how the strategy is executed unless by traditional means—advertising, marketing promotions, online awareness-building, etc.)

Overall I found this article very useful and highly instructive—for country branding or any other kind of branding, for that matter. The key equation is: collaboration + research = brand positioning and messaging.

Of course, there is always the question of brand vision—is there a way to circumvent the research process and come up with a vision for the brand that is derived from someone’s personal genius? I think so in theory, although it is risky for an entire country to do that.

Finally, there is the question of execution, which remains murky. How exactly do you implement a brand strategy for a country? Aside from advertising (or maybe the primary tactic is advertising)? I would like to read more in these kinds of articles about specific brand-building approaches, both for country branding and branding in general. I am reading another brand book now and it also suffers from the same murky approach to actual implementation…more on that in a future post.

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