Boldly Branding Namibia

Boldly Branding Namibia

ONE is baffled by the fact that so many of our countrymen and women are objecting to the presence of Chinese nationals in our midst, almost to the point of xenophobia.

When one visits any metropolis of the world, be it developed, underdeveloped or developing, people of the oriental civilisation seem everywhere. There are Chinatowns selling not only clothing and related artefacts but adding to the culinary delights of those nations.Namibia has seen its fair share of that in regard as well.One’s thoughts wander further to think of Namibia’s ‘place in the sun’ as it were.Our ‘place in the sun’ took a particular twist at the end of a recent visit to Namibia by the Chinese President, where a critical development was announced for the marketing of the Namibian tourism product to China, amongst other undertakings.As a student of marketing, for me it was certainly one of the most significant announcements for the tourism sector in recent years.One was forced to pose the question whether we were ready as a nation to position ourselves and take full advantage of this rare opportunity to target a new, and until recent years, closed market.In other words, what is our brand promise and value proposition as a nation to the Chinese market? Would it be xenophobia or a warm welcome to our shores? Theory teaches us that in terms of control over a nation’s image, various stakeholders like national politicians, officers of the law, and ordinary citizens on street corners or warders at various game parks can determine the fate of a country’s image.Those tasked with marketing a certain image of the nation would thus be at the mercy of some of these players and their dealings.So, unlike product branding, a nation-branding exercise is a lot more complex and needs to be achieved through aligning critical building blocks of a meaningful communications mix as follows: In relation to this new opportunity China offers, the author has spent time contemplating what we are doing in Namibia to position “Brand Namibia”.It is true that various low level efforts have been taking place under wraps and mainly amongst the practitioner communities but very few of them in the public domain.The purpose of this contribution is to assess our readiness and what some of the issues are that we must boldly confront if we are to see Chinese or any new tourist visitors to our shores.In positioning Brand Namibia, let’s look at some of the challenges that confront us.Unanimity at national agenda level One of most important challenges currently facing place branding are: lack of unity of purpose, difficulty in establishing actionable and measurable objectives, lack of authority over inputs and control over outputs, restricted flexibility and relative lack of marketing know-how.Numerous public sector officials who are involved in branding are drawn to product marketing approaches (as opposed to place marketing) because their countries are in desperate need of exports, tourism, and foreign direct investment.The above model assumes that tourism is one of the key pillars of what the outside world would experience of Brand Namibia and that how we are perceived is influenced through the actions of those involved in the tourism trade directly and indirectly.What is however absolutely critical is that we have a national plan of how we are going to position the brand.Yes, government will have to drive it through the Ministry of Environment and Tourism but more than that, Trade and industry, Team Namibia, NCCI and related stakeholders have contribution to make to the exercise as well.It is a laudable attempt that parliament recently allocated money for the purpose of improving the state of our national parks.For one, Etosha can once again be a good facility to visit instead of some privately owned lodge at its doorstep.NWR’s attempts at repositioning itself and the facilities at leading resorts must be applauded by all and sundry.As good as that is, the real challenge still remains in attracting tourism traffic to Namibia, a role that the Namibia Tourism Board (NTB) is tasked with in part.Last year we saw exciting work afoot to launch a nation branding toolkit along the paths of “Rediscover Lebanon”, “Discover our beautiful Mozambique”, Malaysia is truly Asia”, or ” Incredible India”.What has happened to a sustained public launch and awareness campaign of the key building blocks of that well researched and designed toolkit one is not sure.Additionally, we have marketing agencies in localities around the world to promote the Namibian tourism product but one wonders whether the offices are sufficiently financed or in the countries where new traffic would come from.It is sad to note that we have little visible efforts being made to attract tourists from the largest emerging markets (not only of the future but of today) such as China, India and most of the Middle East.Even a small fishing village economy some 30 years ago, such as that of Dubai, has realised that if it is to flourish it needs to diversify away from the oil-based industries, and modernise and invest in tourism.It’s a country of 1,2 million inhabitants (of which a mere 20 per cent are indigenous) but it handles tourism traffic to the tune of some 8 million p.a.By 2010 they expect to have a population of some 4 million and about 22 million visitors a year.Publicly debated plans are being implemented and the process carefully managed at a national level.Maybe it’s time to rethink our strategies and to stop relying on the traditional European catchment areas.We have friendly nations, be it as a result of the independence struggle contributions or some famous acting couple’s recent stay here.The possibilities are endless as long as there is unanimity at a national level and a plan to execute such a mandate.On the export product positioning A country brand must serve as an umbrella for all national marketing activities.Once an umbrella brand concept that is unitary and clear is established, individual constituents can go their merry separate ways within it without the risk of inconsistent messaging.Achieving this, of course, will take a lot of effort.There is a steep learning curve and a great need to devise approaches for coordinating with and across diverse constituencies to ascertain the WHAT, HOW and by WHOM.As much as tourism is an important revenue generator and job creator, physical products and an appropriate service industry have a role to play under a national umbrella brand.Team Namibia was set up to, in part, promote Namibian products and services with the aim of preserving and protecting indigenous jobs.If one compares our local drive with that of another emerging market such as South Africa (Proudly South African), or Botswana, one is left to wonder what we are trying to build here with such a small-scale effort.While others are being bold, firm and consistent in their attempts, the Team Namibia effort simply survives and lingers from day to day.Where is the promised collaboration with the Ministry of Trade and Industry to collectively drive a national product branding, promotion and marketing? Where is the nationally coordinated drive at the highest levels to marry Team Namibia with NCCI, Ministry of Tourism and NTB to present Namibia as a winning nation? Our efforts are seen as wanting in these respects if we are to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities the new and emerging markets present to us.Again, we cannot position brand Namibia to China or any new markets unless we are agreed on a national brand.Money, National Coordination and BOLD IDEAS In a sense, what is needed for successfully branding and positioning Namibia are three key ingredients: money, coordination of all efforts centrally, and being bold as a country.Let me address each in brief.Firstly, spend money! There is no doubt that we can’t expect any dividends without a sound investment strategy backed by real money.And loads of it! How can NTB market Namibia on a limited budget while our competitors invest significant sums for maximum returns? How can Team Namibia effectively promote creation and protection of local jobs through “buy local” drives with a mere reliance on members’ subscription fees? More than money behind some of these drives, what is needed is a nationally coordinated umbrella strategy to brand and position Namibia both as a tourism and investment destination.The present piecemeal approach will drive all efforts to naught.Is it not better to invest all energies in achieving the objectives of our unitary state given the dearth of resources at our disposal? Forget regional initiatives at the expense of a national drive to attract foreign direct investment.Above all else, the country needs bold ideas if we are to succeed.On many an occasion, the world marvels at how China has suddenly emerged as a superpower of this century.We also wonder why the Malaysian or the South Korean economies matter today.It took bold ideas to build bold economies while boldly equipping the best of its citizenry with the requisite skills to move the countries forward.And finally… In a nutshell, Namibia boasts some of the most liberal investment and tourism management legislative frameworks in the world, thanks to our visionary political leadership.However, it is now time to create a bold, nationally coordinated drive to brand, position and market the country.Laws and policy frameworks will not bring the tourists and consumers of locally produced products beating a path to our shores with so many attractive global alternatives at their disposal.A concerted national strategy is needed comprised of key players such as Team Namibia, NTB, Ministries of Trade and Industry and that of Environment and Tourism, amongst others.Country branding has its place.What has always been part of the national attempt to influence the world around it will continue and will continue to use sophisticated marketing techniques.The competition between country brands need not be a zero-sum game.There will always be room in the global marketplace for many brands including those with niche brand promises (unspoilt Sossusvlei, raw and rugged Fish River Canyon, culturally diverse Namibian people).But the brand that succeeds will always be the one that is marketed boldly, financed well and presented confidently to the world.* Albertus Aochamub lectures and has worked in the area of marketing and communications in Namibia for the past 10 years.These are his personal views and do not reflect the views and opinions of any entity he is associated with.There are Chinatowns selling not only clothing and related artefacts but adding to the culinary delights of those nations.Namibia has seen its fair share of that in regard as well. One’s thoughts wander further to think of Namibia’s ‘place in the sun’ as it were.Our ‘place in the sun’ took a particular twist at the end of a recent visit to Namibia by the Chinese President, where a critical development was announced for the marketing of the Namibian tourism product to China, amongst other undertakings.As a student of marketing, for me it was certainly one of the most significant announcements for the tourism sector in recent years.One was forced to pose the question whether we were ready as a nation to position ourselves and take full advantage of this rare opportunity to target a new, and until recent years, closed market.In other words, what is our brand promise and value proposition as a nation to the Chinese market? Would it be xenophobia or a warm welcome to our shores? Theory teaches us that in terms of control over a nation’s image, various stakeholders like national politicians, officers of the law, and ordinary citizens on street corners or warders at various game parks can determine the fate of a country’s image.Those tasked with marketing a certain image of the nation would thus be at the mercy of some of these players and their dealings.So, unlike product branding, a nation-branding exercise is a lot more complex and needs to be achieved through aligning critical building blocks of a meaningful communications mix as follows: In relation to this new opportunity China offers, the author has spent time contemplating what we are doing in Namibia to position “Brand Namibia”.It is true that various low level efforts have been taking place under wraps and mainly amongst the practitioner communities but very few of them in the public domain.The purpose of this contribution is to assess our readiness and what some of the issues are that we must boldly confront if we are to see Chinese or any new tourist visitors to our shores. In positioning Brand Namibia, let’s look at some of the challenges that confront us.Unanimity at national agenda level One of most important challenges currently facing place branding are: lack of unity of purpose, difficulty in establishing actionable and measurable objectives, lack of authority over inputs and control over outputs, restricted flexibility and relative lack of marketing know-how.Numerous public sector officials who are involved in branding are drawn to product marketing approaches (as opposed to place marketing) because their countries are in desperate need of exports, tourism, and foreign direct investment.The above model assumes that tourism is one of the key pillars of what the outside world would experience of Brand Namibia and that how we are perceived is influenced through the actions of those involved in the tourism trade directly and indirectly.What is however absolutely critical is that we have a national plan of how we are going to position the brand.Yes, government will have to drive it through the Ministry of Environment and Tourism but more than that, Trade and industry, Team Namibia, NCCI and related stakeholders have contribution to make to the exercise as well.It is a laudable attempt that parliament recently allocated money for the purpose of improving the state of our national parks.For one, Etosha can once again be a good facility to visit instead of some privately owned lodge at its doorstep.NWR’s attempts at repositioning itself and the facilities at leading resorts must be applauded by all and sundry.As good as that is, the real challenge still remains in attracting tourism traffic to Namibia, a role that the Namibia Tourism Board (NTB) is tasked with in part.Last year we saw exciting work afoot to launch a nation branding toolkit along the paths of “Rediscover Lebanon”, “Discover our beautiful Mozambique”, Malaysia is truly Asia”, or ” Incredible India”.What has happened to a sustained public launch and awareness campaign of the key building blocks of that well researched and designed toolkit one is not sure.Additionally, we have marketing agencies in localities around the world to promote the Namibian tourism product but one wonders whether the offices are sufficiently financed or in the countries where new traffic would come from.It is sad to note that we have little visible efforts being made to attract tourists from the largest emerging markets (not only of the future but of today) such as China, India and most of the Middle East.Even a small fishing village economy some 30 years ago, such as that of Dubai, has realised that if it is to flourish it needs to diversify away from the oil-based industries, and modernise and invest in tourism.It’s a country of 1,2 million inhabitants (of which a mere 20 per cent are indigenous) but it handles tourism traffic to the tune of some 8 million p.a.By 2010 they expect to have a population of some 4 million and about 22 million visitors a year.Publicly debated plans are being implemented and the process carefully managed at a national level.Maybe it’s time to rethink our strategies and to stop relying on the traditional European catchment areas.We have friendly nations, be it as a result of the independence struggle contributions or some famous acting couple’s recent stay here.The possibilities are endless as long as there is unanimity at a national level and a plan to execute such a mandate.On the export product positioning A country brand must serve as an umbrella for all national marketing activities.Once an umbrella brand concept that is unitary and clear is established, individual constituents can go their merry separate ways within it without the risk of inconsistent messaging.Achieving this, of course, will take a lot of effort.There is a steep learning curve and a great need to devise approaches for coordinating with and across diverse constituencies to ascertain the WHAT, HOW and by WHOM.As much as tourism is an important revenue generator and job creator, physical products and an appropriate service industry have a role to play under a national umbrella brand.Team Namibia was set up to, in part, promote Namibian products and services with the aim of preserving and protecting indigenous jobs.If one compares our local drive with that of another emerging market such as South Africa (Proudly South African), or Botswana, one is left to wonder what we are trying to build here with such a small-scale effort.While others are being bold, firm and consistent in their attempts, the Team Namibia effort simply survives and lingers from day to day.Where is the promised collaboration with the Ministry of Trade and Industry to collectively drive a national product branding, promotion and marketing? Where is the nationally coordinated drive at the highest levels to marry Team Namibia with NCCI, Ministry of Tourism and NTB to present Namibia as a winning nation? Our efforts are seen as wanting in these respects if we are to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities the new and emerging markets present to us.Again, we cannot position brand Namibia to China or any new markets unless we are agreed on a national brand.Money, National Coordination and BOLD IDEAS In a sense, what is needed for successfully branding and positioning Namibia are three key ingredients: money, coordination of all efforts centrally, and being bold as a country.Let me address each in brief.Firstly, spend money! There is no doubt that we can’t expect any dividends without a sound investment strategy backed by real money.And loads of it! How can NTB market Namibia on a limited budget while our competitors invest significant sums for maximum returns? How can Team Namibia effectively promote creation and protection of local jobs through “buy local” drives with a mere reliance on members’ subscription fees? More than money behind some of these drives, what is needed is a nationally coordinated umbrella strategy to brand and position Namibia both as a tourism and investment destination.The present piecemeal approach will drive all efforts to naught.Is it not better to invest all energies in achieving the objectives of our unitary state given the dearth of resources at our disposal? Forget regional initiatives at the expense of a national drive to attract foreign direct investment. Above all else, the country needs bold ideas if we are to succeed.On many an occasion, the world marvels at how China has suddenly emerged as a superpower of this century.We also wonder why the Malaysian or the South Korean economies matter today.It took bold ideas to build bold economies while boldly equipping the best of its citizenry with the requisite skills to move the countries forward. And finally… In a nutshell, Namibia boasts some of the most liberal investment and tourism management legislative frameworks in the world, thanks to our visionary political leadership.However, it is now time to create a bold, nationally coordinated drive to brand, position and market the country.Laws and policy frameworks will not bring the tourists and consumers of locally produced products beating a path to our shores with so many attractive global alternatives at their disposal.A concerted national strategy is needed comprised of key players such as Team Namibia, NTB, Ministries of Trade and Industry and that of Environment and Tourism, amongst others.Country branding has its place.What has always been part of the national attempt to influence the world around it will continue and will continue to use sophisticated marketing techniques.The competition between country brands need not be a zero-sum game.There will always be room in the global marketplace for many brands including those with niche brand promises (unspoilt Sossusvlei, raw and rugged Fish River Canyon, culturally diverse Namibian people).But the brand that succeeds will always be the one that is marketed boldly, financed well and presented confidently to the world.* Albertus Aochamub lectures and has worked in the area of marketing and communications in Namibia for the past 10 years.These are his personal views and do not reflect the views and opinions of any entity he is associated with.

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