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11.01.2005 Feature Article

Let’s get more serious in branding our nation Ghana

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Ghana's natural endowments and some recent achievements Recently, Ghana has been on the world's radar in terms of its democratic achievements (well organized and relatively incident free elections, good governance, press freedom etc), sound investment climate, good credit rating, among others. Apart from these, Ghana has a lot of tourist attractions that it can share with the rest of the world. The Ghanaian economy which has long been stagnant is stabilising and is now poised for accelerated growth and development. Again, Ghana can also boast of being peaceful and in terms of security very formidable. Most of our international visitors, citizens (both within and outside) and other interested stakeholders can attest to the fact that good governance is gradually gaining root in the country. This has been vindicated by the way we organised our last elections. There is no gainsaying the fact that over the past four years, the rule of law is also assuming centre stage in our society coupled with its enhanced respect for the freedoms of speech and movement.

In the eyes of donors, international/development partners, the international financial authorities and investors, the nation's image has steadily improved. For Ghana to be rated B+ credit by Standard and Poors, a renowned international credit rating company, has put the nation's credit rating at par with Brazil and higher than Turkey and Indonesia.

Another feat we can boast of in this regard is that, Ghana was among the first group of countries adjudged to have qualified to access the first tranche of the US Millennium Challenge Account of US$ 1 billion. This is deemed to be significant in the sense that a country must meet all the stringent criteria to qualify for a share in that fund.

One could also argue that the Anglogold-Ashanti Goldfields' merger, the Heineken-Guinness' merger, the growth plan of Unilever and the presence of Newmont Mining in Ghana have provided and added boost to the country's investment prospects. Nestlè Ghana and Coca Cola, which have been in the country for many years, are also expanding their production facilities.

Our Stock Exchange is doing quite well and is rated among the top few in the whole of Africa. This was given a boost by the listing of Anglogold- Ashanti on the exchange. This has raised the Exchange's operation to a new pedestal with greater international acknowledgement. The exchange is also doing its possible best to encourage other companies to enlist.

Past and present governments have tried in various ways to improve our infrastructural development which has translated into building of roads, ICT development, improved provision of energy, ports, harbours, rail and mass transportation. In the ports and railway sector, Ghana is gradually becoming the preferred entreport for our immediate landlocked neighbours, Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali.

With the adoption of the “Ghana ICT for Accelerated Development Policy”, the government is poised to mainstream the country onto the global information super highway. This vision has culminated in the rolling out of the rehabilitation and expansion of the telecommunication infrastructure. It is in this vein that Ghana has fogged various partnerships with countries and organisations to establish appropriate training institutions like the Kofi Annan ICT Centre of Excellence for capacity building.

As a sign of seriousness and commitment, Ghana has been on the forefront in supporting the African Peer Review Mechanism which is being advocated among member states of the African Union. This has further been demonstrated by opting to be the first country to subject itself to the Review Mechanism. Also, our nation has supported initiatives for global peace and has continued to deploy troops on peace-keeping missions all over the world. Ghana has been well-acknowledged on the international scene by the UN, the Commonwealth, the G8, and other international organisations.

What we are doing with our tourist attractions and the information goldmine? Notwithstanding our tourism endowments, the above are some of the achievements that Ghana as a country can pride itself with. These achievements as a matter of fact did not and have not been coming to us by chance. As a people, we have been toiling for most of them. This makes us stand tall among our peers in Africa. We should remember that these “fought for” achievements could also be equated to our natural resources such as gold, diamond, “white gold”, tourism among others which the President and our ministers have been going around the world to sell to investors. The million dollar question one may be tempted to ask is that, what are we doing with all these accolades or if you like this “goldmine of information” available to us as a country?

Unfortunately, Ghana as a nation has not capitalized on her achievements and natural endowments to brand or sell herself to the world. These pieces of information should be put together and packaged very well so that as a nation we can sell ourselves. This is because if we do not blow our horn, who will?. We should not forget that South Africa which has internalised the importance of state branding has consequently become a world class competitor in this arena. Thus, it should not have come as a surprise that South Africa was recently chosen to host the 2010 Soccer World Cup, becoming the first African country to organise such event. Again, the New Zealand government has being one of the practice leaders in this field since early 1990s. Prior to that, both Singapore and Japan over decades represented much more consistent brand leadership than most global companies have exhibited. Finland has started a campaign to enhance her image as a center of high-tech innovation, with the hope of helping its technology companies fare better in the United States. As a nation, we need to understand that the most important recent understanding in nation brand architectures in a networked world is not a topic for just a big/rich country but a vital one too for developing countries such as Ghana. This then leaves us no choice but to manage our nation branding in a more formalized way. Our partner in the south-south co-operation, India has emerged in the last five years in terms of perceptions in a quite different way from the way it was perceived ten or fifteen years ago. It was spirituality and poverty, and now it is software and highly educated people.

Branding is the ways in which an organization communicates, differentiates and symbolizes itself to all of its audience. However, national branding is doing the same thing, but on a country level. For instance in Ghana, this may be to vigorously encourage foreign direct investment, create internal pride, or be a support for traditional exports or any enterprise like the President's Special Initiatives (PSI). Ghana can therefore develop and communicate strong brand identities which could help speed up development by attracting foreign investors and tourists. That, in turn, could increase political influence, build confidence amongst her people and help the country's industries grow.

Why Ghana's official web site is critical in this enterprise As it is typical of African countries, most of them often suffer from negative perceptions as a result of their location. For instance, Ghana as a relatively stable country is detrimentally closed to or sandwiched between her unstable neighbours. This makes it imperative for Ghana to clearly distinct herself from her neighbours. To this end, official country web sites as matter of fact is cheapest but effective conduit or platform in communicating and providing a snapshot of the brand or national identity and current achievements of a given country. In terms of cost-benefit analysis, the Internet is also considered the cheapest medium looking at the huge cost involved in paying for advertising slots on international broadcast and cable television channels such as CNN, Sky News, Discovery Channel and the print media such as New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Financial Times, Time Magazine etc. Even the reach of these media is questionable and at the same time we cannot assess the profile of our readership and the listernership. The Internet provides us the possibility to profile our visitors and to record the number of hits per day.

It has been established that investors and other interested parties such as tourists look up to the official websites and other related sites for information about a country before a final decision is made on a destination. Nowadays and the world over, websites have become the effective medium used in searching and gathering information about countries. This option is available to Ghana and it is up to her to make effective and effecitent use of this phenomenon to brand herself. This is because Ghana's ability to compete against its neighbors for investment and tourism, depend in part on how it is perceived by potential investors and tourists especially at this potential first point of call .

A visit to the websites of countries like Botswana, Tanzania, South African and Rwanda reveal the importance of how African countries are not leaving no stone unturned in taking advantage of the Internet. The official web site of Botswana has some to these pleasant things to say about the country: That Botswana has the highest investment rating in Africa; is the most uncorrupt country in Africa; has the fastest growing economy in Africa and has the lowest corporate tax rate in Africa. These were crowned with the slogan: “Botswana, the gem of business in Africa”. It is no wonder that some of these countries have been benefiting from the chunk of investment and tourism inflows to the Africa continent.

On the contrary, Ghana's official country web site (www.ghana.gov.gh) has become a news portal competing with the Ghana News Agency and other online news portals such as ghanaweb.com, ghanatoday.com, ghanareview.org, newsinghana.com etc in carrying news. Though an official home page should carry news about a country, this should not be the prime focus. The managers and other brains behind this website should as a matter of urgency focus their attention on working on how best such achievements enumerated above are well packaged and conspiciously given a centre stage on the web site. Visitors to the site should not be at a lost in searching for information about the people, geography and climate, history, governance and investment opportunities, tourism and ministries. The links to potentially resourceful links are so tiny and hidden that visitors may not be tempted to click on whilst the choice of words are not helping in communicating any brand personalities hence not inviting. Again, I do not see the reason why the site is blinded with that front page. One needs to wait for a couple of minutes before accessing the original homepage. This mode of introducing a site is gradually becoming outmoded especially in the eyes of business-minded people. In business, time is money and any serious minded person will not have the time to wait.We should remember that our competitor is just a click away. If the site developers still want to show that introductory picture by the reasons best known to them, there should be the option for visitors who are not interested to skip this page.

The rationale behind the official web site should be such that it carries first-hand and concise information to foreigners, interested individuals/organizations and the citizenry. To these audience, it should showcase what we have achieved as people, where we are, our competencies, where we want to go and where we need a helping hand in terms of investment and support. Specifically to the citizenry, it should also communicate our responsibilities and obligations as citizens. It should also make available where and how to find what especially in our ministries/departments/institutions. It can publish tenders and other official fees to be charged by various ministries, department and other institutions in Ghana. This could help at least minimize bribery and corruption to some extent and also enhance transparency. The way forward Every nation has a brand. However, the nation's brand is defined by the people, by their temper, education, look, outlook and by their endeavours. This is why national branding is not easy. It is very hard to change a nation's values. It calls for education; it means economic status and standard of life. It takes generations to change how people are. This should not be the sole work of a branding agency, not even of a government or a sole ministry/institution. Instead, our national branding programs should aim at something different: making the country's values better known, minimize the effect of several accidents caused by individuals that affect the nation's brand, promote tourism, or attract investors and distinctly and clearly putting on a brand personality. In terms of tourism, countries such as Kenya have taken on brand personalities like rugged and exciting, South Africa as competent and Botswana as sincere and exciting. What is Ghana communicating to the tourism world?

It needs to be noted that, when marketing expertise is lacking within government, it may be possible for Ghana to enlist for the help of within-country or outside professionals. Costa Rica beat out Brazil, Chile and Mexico to become the site of Intel's first Latin American plant in 1996 by drawing on the resources of its own investment promotion agency and the Irish Development Agency. Likewise, Columbia is today the major exporter of coffee to the US, largely because the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia built a successful marketing campaign for Café de Colombia.

I believe that relying on government leaders to devise a country's branding campaign is particularly risky if politicians have image problems of their own. Inevitably national branding campaigns need to be inspired at least partially by governments. However, governments like quick results and most often do not stay in power for very long time. Hence governments should work closely with the private sector in developing national branding strategies.

Conclusively, changing the image of a country is a daunting task that calls for systematic planning, effective leadership and commitment. While branding may be able to help a country improve its communication with the world, it will not work if the country sends out lies or hype. Again, it is also very important to reiterate that the audience in this enterprise is split into two major categories: the foreigners and the citizens. Most national branding strategies and programmes are aimed at foreigners—improving one nation's image in the eye of the rest of the world. However, it is equally important for us to create programmes that aim at that nation's own people, because on a long-term basis, Ghana will be perceived also through its citizens. In principle, it is a country's citizens who stand to gain the most from a successful nation branding campaign. Just as corporate branding campaigns can raise the morale, team spirit, and sense of purpose of a company's employees, national branding campaigns can provide a country with a common sense of purpose and national pride – not to mention a higher standard of living. Robert Ankomah Opoku Research School of e-Commerce Division of Industrial Marketing & e-Commerce Luleå University of Technology Luleå, Sweden http://www.geocities.com/opokurob/mypage.html Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Robert Ankomah Opoku
Robert Ankomah Opoku, © 2005

The author has 8 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: RobertAnkomahOpoku

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