This is part one of Branding Article. Feint and Margin will publish the second part in next weeks publication. “I am an African by identity and a South African by citizenship” I began this article with this statement as I look at some of the issues that are hampering the progress of the African continent in this 21st century. In this piece I assert that what the African continent needs to build a brand in order to be able to make a dent in the world in other words we need to build brand Africa. So naturally I will first start by asking a number of questions then attempt to answer these with the hope that they will help us realize why this intervention will assist the cause of the motherland to become a powerhouse. It is also important that I highlight that I am speaking of branding Africa not only South Africa, Nigeria, Zambia or Zimbabwe. One may ask why that approach? It is because Africa rises and falls together, it has become my observation that a negative news story from Zimbabwe reflects as an African story in the international news media, although it seems that view of bundling Africa as just one piece is slowing dying as most of our western co citizens begin to learn the difference between Zambia and Gabon. I am certain most of us who have travelled to the western world have those experience where someone would be referring to a friend of theirs who lives in Botswana whereas you come from Cameroon and somehow be under the impression that you could actually know the person, despite the fact that you are citizens of two countries. The last justification for this view point of promoting and building an African brand is because even as one listens to the talk of future economic growth prospects the reference is always that “Africa” is huge growth market not South Africa, Botswana etc. Although the micro separation of states is important but when it comes to our image we are seen as one person. Therefore I am of the view that Africans from Cape to Cairo must accept our shared identity and destiny and indeed deal with the dangers of tribalism and xenophobia (see Tribalism is the noose around our necks). What is a brand? The American Marketing Association defines a brand as a “Name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.”  A brand is thus a product or service whose dimensions differentiate it in some ways from other products or services designed to satisfy the same need. A brand can take many forms, including a name, sign, symbol, color combination or slogan. For example, Coca Cola is the name of a brand make by a particular company. The marketingspot.com defines a brand as the first stone set in the construction of a solid product or company. As the cornerstone it is the most important piece of any masonry structure because all other stones will be set in reference to this stone. Your brand will be the blueprint of your customer experience design, it will flavor all conversation about you, and it will align your advertising & promotional activity. Your brand determines the position and strength of your entire marketing framework. Your marketing cornerstone must be plumb and level. In other words, your brand must be the truth and it must be about you. Another explanation states a brand is the emotional and psychological relationship you have with your customers, as such strong brands elicit thoughts, emotions, and sometimes physiological responses from customers. John Moore of the marketingspot.com states that the process of forming a brand is the result of “unrelenting passion, not unending spin.” Very important to highlight is that a brand is a promise of a particular level of quality, service or certain type of experience and therefore to build one requires time, commitment and passion. However another question will be why though should Africa focus on a brand building exercise? This is because due to globalization we live in an age of powerful brands. For instance Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft have become global brands it does not matter where in the world you are the response to these products is almost always similar. However more importantly brands determine what you can charge for a service or product. Brands determine value other examples from other industries include Yale university, Harvard university, London School of Economics and Cambridge all these academic institution have built themselves as global brands and as such influencing the price one pays for their service. Elsewhere Manchester United is a global brand so is FC Barcelona, Real Madrid and AC Milan. Skynews, CNN, CNBC, FOX News, Reuters and other media outlets have become global brands. Indeed one could also argue that Silicon Valley has become a global brand as has Disney land. The mention of any of these names evokes certain emotions and thoughts about great service or products and experiences. The power of a brand also determines how much people might be willing to pay for its services or products. So why have these brands become household names in many different countries and continents? The answer is simply that they have been consistently delivering a certain level of quality service or product over a sustained period of time. However it did not end there, in addition the enterprises made a concerted effort to communicate their message on a systematic and permanent basis to the world. The effort was also complimented by the fact that the organizations in question had the platform(s) on which to deliver their message in mass to the world. It is my belief then that part of the rise of the African continent will be linked to how we brand the continent. Sure enough we still have a lot of base work to do in the areas of governance, poverty alleviation etc. Be that as it one of the key challenges for the African continent is that we have not been able to decide our own identity and image. In addition to not being able to decide our own identity we have not made an effort to communicate that image and identity to the rest of the world. What has been happening is that our identity has been defined on our behalf and the African story is being left to CNN, Skynews and the rest of the international media to tell it. The result: Africa is projected as underdeveloped, poverty stricken and war torn with no prospect for a bright future.
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