It is up to every one of us to sell South Africa


Brand South Africa
“If we are serious about marketing the country to the world, we must engage the brand ambassadors who are ordinary South Africans,” says Brand South Africa’s Wendy Tlou. (Image: Brand South Africa)

• Brand South Africa
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Wendy Tlou

Branding a nation is like branding a sugary beverage or a pop star (even those with questionable talents). The goal is the same: maximise brand value and remain relevant to your audience.

Like any brand, nations change, values change and so should the message about the chosen or perceived brand identity.

If we are serious about marketing South Africa, we must be clear about what our values are.

Branding South Africa is critical to the future of the country for the trite reason of competitiveness and much-needed direct foreign investment.

The process of brand development and leveraging the value the brand brings without engaging the diverse people of the country is a plan that is sure to fail.

That we have not invested in the exercise of ingraining a common vision that will inform our overall brand as a nation may be seen as a sign that we are not serious enough about how we market South Africa to its own people and to the rest of the world.

We are taking chances. In sustainable marketing, buying our own hype is not an option – our marketing ingredient has to be real, otherwise anything else will see us pay dearly in the long run.

Branding a country or state, and branding a nation, are mutually exclusive tasks.

A credible country can exist without a strong nation, but a country is stronger with the existence of a powerful national brand, an inclusive one at that.

Central to a nation is a shared and common culture.

A culture that is not limited to whether you are from the north or speak a particular language, but rather a culture of common understanding, one where we uphold the fundamental values that allow all the people of and in South Africa to be who they are, without anyone infringing on their rights.

A culture that embodies the ideal that together we are stronger, but divided we are vulnerable.

We must address the fact that South Africans are inherently polarised and are thus unable to effectively develop and own a common culture, due to our race and class differences.

I suppose it is safer to talk about this after a hotly contested election. Perhaps we don’t trust one another to believe in the same ideals.

The impact of partisan politics is perhaps the biggest contributor to lack of unity.

Our overall disinterest in the national narrative makes it easy for us to be sold bogus ideas by entities who have only self-interest and profit-making at heart.

We are so desperate that the smell of meat on a braai and the ephemeral excitement derived from sport has become our assumed identity, our brand as a nation.

While we must celebrate how we embraced one another over the past 20 years during huge sporting events that we had the privilege to host, we do have to ask ourselves whether there was enough follow-through to maintain such a momentum.

One would have hoped that there was no better time than the celebration of 20 years after democracy to rectify the error.

Can we honestly say that we are underselling the story of our 20 years of achievement?

The legacy and brand of Nelson Mandela, our progressive constitution, Table Mountain and hosting the World Cup, among others, are too limited tools in our arsenal to fulfil our mission of achieving solid leadership and dominance on the continent, remaining the gateway to the rest of Africa.

They are too limited to ensure we are respected and unmatched – not only because of what we have done, but because of what we are focusing on and investing in for future generations.

Being a breathtakingly beautiful country alone is not enough.

Knowledge, innovation and excellence are fundamental to any brand.

The Americans are arrogant in their pursuit of maintaining global dominance.

They are unequivocal about being the standard.

They are unrivalled in terms of education, innovation, sports and military capability.

They say and believe that they lead because no one else will – and they back it up.

Why are we unable to strive for the same on the continent and have the vision, political will and hard work to back it up?

We may not be there right now, but a systematic and inspired effort to get there, an aggressive crafting of a new narrative around a collective move to fix our education system and making South Africa a safer and more secure country is just as sexy a story as that of the Big Five at Kruger and the wonderful wines in and around Stellenbosch.

For this, decisive and uncompromising leadership from the top is required. We must identify key areas of focus that place us shoulders above other large economies that are a real threat to our economic prowess and leadership on the continent. These focus areas must guarantee returns and have an effect in a relatively short amount of time.

The strategy of having several focus areas is ineffective, because South Africans are impatient.

We want results now.

The concept of planning decades ahead and working for tomorrow is not what we preach.

The high levels of instant gratification in the private lives of South Africans are indicative of this challenge. This stifles our potential to create credible institutions, led by brilliant minds, to include in the brand value we offer the world. We want to know that there is imminent change that is not dependent on who will occupy the highest office in the land, but on the will of South Africans – and that it will serve their interests first and foremost. We need to attach equal importance to the development and encouragement of citizen loyalty and efforts to attract foreign investment.

When South Africans are proud and committed to the development of the country, everyone will do their bit to ensure that those interested in investing do so with the kind of confidence that will encourage long-term investment in several sectors.

Featuring locals in television adverts is cute, but it is not enough to make the project of marketing South Africa, to South Africans and abroad, exceptional.

Properly integrate South Africans in the branding and marketing of their own country. Get more people to participate in keeping the cities and villages clean, not just for visitors, but also for themselves, so that they are also proud of their country.

Brand Proudly South African must be given life from our products, content and – importantly – through the lives of ordinary South Africans.

Let us be honest and clear about who we want in our country, what they bring and how they can help solidify Brand South Africa.

When we are marketing South Africa, do we have in mind the Ivy League graduate looking to do exciting and innovative work in Africa, or the less skilled miners from Zimbabwe?

The Ivy League graduate is just as valuable as the miner – however, their contribution to the development of the country is different.

We expect that their economic activity will significantly benefit key industries, including tourism, which continues to perform positively in parts of the country.

But without a stronger message about prioritising safety, security and reliable infrastructure, we will not be able to attract the calibre of visitors that our economy needs to grow at levels that we need.

We must be unapologetic in the pursuit for quality individuals to make South Africa their professional and economic home. If not, we merely overburden ourselves by taking on more people to cater for.

The pressure under which public facilities find themselves cannot be understated. If we are serious about marketing the country to the world, we must engage the brand ambassadors who are ordinary South Africans.

Limiting our potential to aesthetics is problematic – we can create, we can think and we must tell the world this. We can charm and impress with more than just a three-minute video of pretty South Africa on YouTube.

Tlou writes in her personal capacity. During the day she is the marketing and communications director for Brand South Africa.