By Shamiso Hlatshwayo
Brand South Africa’s mandate requires the organisation to clearly understand the reputation, competitiveness, and perceptions of South Africa in key international markets. As part of its approach towards achieving this mandate, Brand South Africa has since drawn insights from its Global Reputation Study Research, through ongoing monitoring of Nation Brand Performance against a range of competitiveness, reputation, and governance related indicators.
In March 2022 Bloom Consulting was tasked with measuring South Africa’s performance in terms of its international reputation and perceptions. The analysis based on three pillars reveals current challenges and opportunities for Brand South Africa.
The study used 3 different approaches in which South Africa was compared with 10 markets, across 4 continents. The country was compared in relation to perceptions around exports, investments, talent, tourism, and general reputation, providing a holistic and broad map on perceptions and their nuances across 13 key markets. In addition to survey data, the nation’s digital identity was also measured to provide an objective view on its current challenges and opportunities.
Bloom Consulting have one of the most accurate descriptions of the term “Nation Branding.” “It is the act of strategically building, connecting and managing the systematic flow from perception to emotion within the scope of reality to minimize distorted images and maximize Nation Brand potential to attract and appeal through a positively reinforced reputation.” Which simply put, is really about telling the story of who you are as a Nation and carefully curating that story into a narrative that seeks to not only appeal to the hearts and minds of the world, but also keep you top of mind in key areas.
Even if a nation does not make a conscious effort to brand itself or manage its reputation, the world will still have images and opinions of that nation, formed by external entities, such as international media. As a result, the simple association of a nation’s name will reflect on products/services associated with that nation, greatly influencing investing, buying, and travelling decisions. As the one of the oldest and most established Nation branding agencies in the world, Brand South Africa occupies a niche space that although largely misunderstood, plays an integral role of how the nation views itself and how the nation is viewed by others.
According to the study, South Africa continues to remain top of mind in the areas of Investments, Exports, Tourism and Talent Attraction. From an investment perspective 59% of the respondents indicated that they would invest in the country, while 75% indicated that they would do business with South Africa. These sentiments were directly attributed to South Africa’s ease of doing business environment, which is largely regarded as being an environment with low operating costs, appealing regulatory environment, and vibrant entrepreneurial landscape.
The country is also highly regarded for its mining sector capabilities, with 45% of respondents citing their interest in the Natural resources sectors of South Africa, with Agriculture at 30% following closely as another sector of interest for investors.
Although South Africa’s investment appeal remains relatively high, it must be noted that the July 2021 unrest had a slight negative impact on perceptions, with investors indicating their concerns about the country’s political stability. Crime and ‘unsafety’ were cited by about 21% of possible investors and business owners, as negatively influencing their perceptions, with the lack of incentives cited by about 20% of respondents. Significantly, familiarity once again plays a critical role, with South African products ranking very highly in relation to existing investors. However, on a slightly more positive note, those same investors were more concerned about Covid-19 than the country’s energy challenges.
The majority (74%) of potential tourists would visit South Africa, attracted by its nature and wildlife (60%, climate (43%) and Culture and People (35%). The majority of respondents that would not visit South Africa are concerned with Unsafety and Crime (66%). Health risks and Covid-19 are less important factor, standing at around of 25% of negative responses. Here again familiarity plays a critical role, with those not familiar likely to rank/perceive the country as worse than competitors. Most would be tourists from the US and UK, with Saudi Arabia and India making the most rapid gains.
Significantly in line with numbers, demand in relation to searches is on the increase, yet remains at pre-Covid levels with a 20 to 25% decrease in searches in the second half of 2021 when compared to pre-Covid levels. First content providers are relatively successful, appearing on the first page in search results 70% of the time in relation to travel and tourism, with google seen as a first source for 34% of would-be tourists, travel web site 11% and first content cites 8%.
South Africa is one of the top 5 searched countries for talent, competing with Brazil and Thailand in the study. It ranks amongst both Brazil and the UK as a top destination for students, especially from France and Japan. Over 400 thousand searches on South Africa as a possible destination for studying was seen in 2021, with around 750 thousand searches in relation to work. For those wanting to study and work, opportunities were cited as ranking positively for 40% of would-be workers, and 43% of would-be students, with people and values cited positively by 39% of would-be workers and 46% of would-be students.
Significantly, 55% of surveyed individuals saw South Africa as positive in relation to studying, providing an incentive for government, especially when the fact that around 250 thousand searches were conducted in relation to studying in the country in 2021 is accounted for.
However, safety and security are seen as the main reasons informing negative views on working in South Africa (cited by around 40% of individuals surveyed), with governance factors also influencing perception; around 50% of the 7000 individuals surveyed would not consider relocating to the country as a result.
As a country, our greatest exports in Nation branding language, our Central idea – the emotions that South Africa evokes are those largely related to our peaceful transition from Apartheid to Democracy, the values espoused by one of the world’s greatest leaders Nelson Mandela, and more so the resilient and dynamic character of our people. No two nations are alike, and there is no other like South Africa.
As the custodian of the Nation Brand, Brand South Africa has the unique task in strategically working towards shaping perceptions and curating narratives, in order to ensure a steady stream of investment appeal and interest, tourism attraction, export expansion and to increase South Africa’s soft power and influence.
The results from this study will ensure that Brand South Africa has a detailed overview of key markets that offer the most lucrative pool of potential investors, tourists and potential workers and students. It will also ensure that the organisation is strategic and intentional in its focus to increase its digital appeal, by collaborating with key partners to shape a favourable narrative in order to ensure that the content is both factual and reflective of the opportunities available for the country.