Beauty, they say is in the eye of the beholder. And if your potential beholder has been badly bruised by the tumbling global money markets, you have to make an extra effort to get noticed. South Africa is doing just that. Nearly a decade after the country emerged from the wicked grip of apartheid; one of her new challenges is developing a national brand. President Thabo Mbeki has set aside millions of dollars and engaged a powerful think-thank to help create a profitable image for SA. Brand South Africa intends to "imprint a unified and consistent image of the country on the universal brain".
Building and promoting brands is a tough job even for the largest of multinational companies with annual budgets bigger than that of some national economies. Branding a country is therefore a unique and breathtaking marketing proposition. National branding campaigns such as the ones recently undertaken by Britain after the 'mad cow disease scare' are usually prompted by a desire to promote tourism. Yet Brand South Africa aims to do more - "not merely to foster trade, boost investment and promote tourism, but also to build national self confidence".
The International Marketing Council of South Africa says the campaign will attempt to create and sustain a tailored, single-minded South Africa brand messages that every citizen can identify with. This is a very tall task.
The current reality is miles away from this objective. South Africa's GDP has hovered around the 2% mark for several years. It would need around 6-7% annual growth to close the huge gap in relative poverty. The fight against rampant crime and HIV/AIDS requires more than a brand proposition that is "alive with possibilities". Potential investors often see crime, violence and HIV/AIDS as obstacles that blemish South Africa's positive face.
Despite the obstacles, we believe that South Africa's branding intention is a welcome objective. Marketing experts reckon that 46 of the largest 100 economies of the world today are companies not countries. Running countries are now no different from managing large companies and therefore the need to apply brand thinking to countries.
Now more than ever countries should appreciate the power of a strong brand. At a time when battered investors, customers, employees and citizens are questioning whom they can trust, the ability of a familiar brand to deliver value is quite critical. Consumers and investors worried about value for money are more likely to stick to names and images they know and trust. A trusted brand often provokes repeated purchases. A strong brand can open the door when growth depends on breaking into new markets.
On the other hand, fancy advertising and promotional gimmicks can only take a brand so far. If Brand South Africa's claims are not backed by concrete performance, the current campaign will amount to no more than applying lipstick on a dirty face.
Flying the African Dream
This edition carries a survey of one of South Africa's brands that is going places. South African Airways has scored a profit oxf $53m despite the current recession in the international airline sector. Chief Executive André Viljoen says his Perfecting the Basics strategy that targeted efficiency initiatives across the airline is responsible for the success. The section has been researched and written by Southern Africa Editor Janet Sebastian. Read all about SAA's expansion plans in our survey starting on page 29
Finally an initiative to reverse
Africa's brain drain!
Academics and researchers continuously debate Africa's increasing brain drain while the steady flow of professionals and graduates out of the continent continues. So, to hear of people actually doing more than talk about the issues is good news. Their newly launched initiative to "woo" back some of these people is good news. Read all about it on p14.
However, before we get too excited about ways to stem or even reverse the tide we need to get our house in order. The United Nations has released a report names companies in Africa who have taken advantage of the war in Congo by exploiting 'blood diamonds'. Our coverage of this is on page 14.
This edition as expected is rich in high quality information on Africa. There's the drive by Ghanaian banks to introduce electronic delivery of services. Nigeria is still aching from a court ruling on the Bakassi oil-rich territory and Ivory Coast continues to suffer political identity crisis. We are delighted to share our knowledge of Africa with you.