Thursday, March 4, 2010



By Mary Kimonye

Historically branding has been confined to the private sector and more specifically to their products and services. However, the rapid environmental changes of the 21st Century are forcing Nations to adopt branding. Among those changes are the rapid developments in technology, dwindling natural resources, globalization and convergence of consumer choices.

These have converged to intensify global competition among nations for investment, tourism, inward inflow of capital, visitor numbers, corporate head quarters and more importantly global goodwill and influence. As the competition intensifies, Nations have found it necessary to develop distinctive identities and images that position them as the destination of choice.

Country branding is premised on the assumption that countries can be treated as products and therefore their names and other attributes like climate, music, people, leadership, culture and heritage amount to brands which convey certain images and perceptions. Based on such images and perceptions, people can make decisions on how to interact with a country as they make their choices of where to live, work, invest and visit.

Indeed, different countries or places evoke different emotions in people. In terms of definition, country or state branding can be expressed as the use of strategic marketing to promote and position a country’s image based on its key attractions.

Such attractions can then be packed and communicated in such a way that they translate into positive attention and goodwill towards a country. The ultimate aim is for the country to enlarge its economic and social opportunities in terms of increased foreign investment, tourism, residence and visitor numbers and internally, motivation and inspiration of its citizens.

When a country embarks on branding, it communicates a very strong message that the country is willing and not afraid to be held accountable for the claims and promises it makes to its citizens and stakeholders.

This being the case, for a country brand to be successful; it must be supported by certain visible developments such as isolation and attractive packaging of its principle brand assets. These must further be supported by good and reliable infrastructure, reliable basic service provision, an enabling business and investment climate, stable leadership, a very clear and concise vision of its future and a comprehensive and well integrated communication strategy.

Country branding is therefore not an event but a journey that begins with the country having a very clear picture of where it is, comparative to its competitors in terms of all the above critical dimensions, the needs and aspirations of its citizens, potential customers, stakeholders and its capacity to deliver on these needs.

It requires a holistic approach and cannot be left to any one agency. The branding agency in any country only serves as the custodian of the country brand. However, participation of all groups in the country, business people, investors, policy makers, politicians, leaders and corporate managers is critical. A successful country brand strategy should therefore be co-owned by the public and private sectors as well as have the input of other non state actors and the citizens.

With the rapid changes in today’s environment country branding is not a choice rather it is a necessity that any nation hoping to tap into global resources must consider and adopt.

When country branding is applied to products, such products often are able to attract premium prices, loyal customers and to withstand competition. Similar benefits can be reaped by countries that have managed to transform themselves into strong brands They have attractive, believable and distinctive identities and images.

It is easier for those countries to withstand political and economic crisis, attract premium tourists and visitors, attract foreign investments, be preferred choice for business seeking corporate headquarters, fetch premium prices for their export products, energize their citizens and rally them towards a common goal and vision and enhance their influence and decision making capacity in the global arena and especially in bilateral and multilateral organisations.

In a nutshell, branding gives countries “soft power” which translates into economic, social and political benefits for its citizens. This power is expressed in the emotional value that results from people’s association with the country.

Mary Kimonye is the CEO of Brand Kenya Board