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ETHIOPIA
Firms seek positive brand for Ethiopia
Anaclet Rwegayura
Published: 26-SEP-06

Addis Ababa Around 30 Ethiopian firms were actively seeking a common approach to market their country abroad.

The key issue that industries and the government were addressing in the marketing drive was to improve the image of Ethiopia as a location where business could thrive.

Ethiopian entrepreneurs had little to show thus far, but their effort was indicative of their determination to succeed.

The hope of the Ethiopian industries to make an impact on regional and overseas markets lies with the abundance of raw materials, such as coffee, livestock, leather and minerals as well as the new technologies being introduced into the country.

In their enthusiasm to create a new image of Ethiopia, though, both the government and the local entrepreneurs were up against the challenges of competition that include communications, market intelligence gathering, packaging and branding their products.

"There is a knowledge gap of how to sell goods in the global market and stick with it," said Stephan Willms, a German product branding and marketing expert, after conducting a training session for Ethiopian industrialists in Addis Ababa.

"There are very successful companies in Ethiopia, very well-led too in different areas, but their products are not known by consumers outside the country."

Through its capacity building ministry, the Ethiopian government was working to improve the competitiveness of local industries at national and international levels.

In this endeavour, Germany was providing essential support through its Development Co-operation Agency (GTZ) by training managers of Ethiopian industries to develop their own product branding strategies.

"By developing their own corporate and product brands these companies can increase their recognition as suppliers in national and world markets," said Katharina Binhack of GTZ.

In order to reach that milestone, Ethiopian firms need to have a common national vision and be empowered as part of the country's business re-engineering process.

"When you have a very strong brand as a company everybody knows you. They know that you have a good quality product. People will have a good feeling when they buy your product," Willms said.

For Ethiopia, however, there was more at stake than industrial products. "It is the image of the country," Willms said, noting that negative images derived from Ethiopia's past linger in the mind of the people in other parts of the world.

"There is no war or drought any more. People in Ethiopia are doing something positive. They are doing business and want to be successful. But nobody outside Ethiopia knows this. The picture in their heads is still the same as it was 10 years ago.

"Like the Ethiopian great runners, Ethiopian companies can assist the image of this country if they manage to get their products into the world market," he said. Through the joint Ethiopian-German Engineering capacity Building Programme (ECBP), it was believed, Ethiopia would acquire a new international image while the private sector played a catalytic role in overall development and employment generation.

However, ECBP laid emphasis on micro and small enterprises that were likely to promote employment and thus enable Ethiopia, with a population of over 78 million, to pull itself out of poverty.

Gearing up for Ethiopia's millennium festivities on September 11 2007, government officials said the occasion would be marked with a difference that would give the rest of the world a memorable impression of the country both as a tourist and investment location.

"If the present image can be changed, it will be possible to leverage the name of Ethiopia as a great country to import from and invest in," said Willms.

Industrial associations dealing in coffee, horticulture, floriculture, leather and textile products, he suggested, needed to brand Ethiopia as a country where these commodities were produced in order to attract more foreign investment.

"Using the opportunities that lie ahead such as the Millennium celebration, the ministries and the regional states have to re- brand and re-design Ethiopia so that its potential is known to the outside world. That is a development path that leads to more prosperity in the end," Willms added.

The underlying idea in capacity building for Ethiopian enterprises was to market the core Ethiopian products.

Once the entrepreneurs access and penetrate the markets with a perception of their own product brands, consumers should respond with a loyalty to the new image of Ethiopia. -panapress



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