The South African transformation that has taken place in the last ten years is recognised the world over but how do take it a step further and turn this phenomenon into a commercial branding success story? Enterprise IG South Africa CEO Anthony Swart, suggests that it's time to leverage global optimism towards Brand South Africa, before it's too late.
South Africa stands at an exciting cross road as it contemplates its next steps on the global stage. One of the most crucial involves the development of "Brand South Africa" from its current "democratic miracle" and "great tourist destination" to a brand, which epitomises values that can be leveraged to a far greater economic extent.
There is no question that excellent work has already been done. One only has to look at the successful implementation of the "Proudly South African" initiative and the International Marketing Council (IMC) work around the "Alive with Possibility" pay off line, both of which have led to increased awareness of South Africa as an international tourism destination.
These efforts have been further reinforced by the mapping of a set of emotional and functional benefits around Brand South Africa as well as its key personality traits. Most importantly the values that are synonymous with the country have been identified as:
• Ubuntu - Motho ke motho ka botho, Never a stranger, O nne kwa gamathakga; respect for others, people values, hospitality and warmth, welcoming, embraces all
• Perpetual optimism - A fervent belief in tomorrow, open minded and positive
• Transparent - Approachable, real
Laudable as these efforts are, however, there is still work to be done in transmuting them into the realm of commercialism, where they take on the role of key revenue generators for South African goods. As a nation we are richly endowed with natural resources, which we typically sell in commodity form. This needs to be taken one step further.
We need to imbue these products with a South African brand essence that transforms them from basic "things" into "buy-me" brands. We need to permeate them with a personality and image that is uniquely South African. For that we need a strategy that will allow us to develop brands that capture the key elements of our unique, world-inspiring success story in terms of our political success, economic stability, sporting prowess, quality products, tourism and of course the sheer beauty of this country.
This brand identity should harness these key characteristics and use them to create brands that exemplify what South Africa and its people are all about - a kind of "new South Africa nationalism".
But how exactly do we do this? Let's first take a look at a few international case studies.
Deutchland über alles - German case study
As a prelude to this journey of discovery it is useful to consider Germany, which it could be argued, is the epitome of a country that has become synonymous with specific values and is now something of a super power when it comes to a firmly entrenched brand.
The irony is that the forging of the German brand identity was the work of the British in the late 1800s. Threatened by German exports, Britain tried to reduce them by labelling products "Made in Germany". The thinking was that British people would boycott German products but instead, "Made in Germany" quickly became a quality seal, increasing German exports to England.
In a response to that "faux pas" and ambitions to be better than England, good product quality became a goal for German manufacturers.
According to a study conducted last year by the Boston Consulting Group, the key values associated with Germany and its brands were: value, reliability, consistency and discipline, while negative aspects included: rigidity, inflexibility and conservatism.
The most important practical implication of this well-defined set of values is that they have filtered down to being most widely associated with a number of key sectors and brands within those sectors including:
• Motor vehicles - BMW, Mercedes Benz, Porsche, Audi and Volkswagen
• Engineering - Zeiss
• Technical Goods - Bosch
• Pharmaceutical Goods - Bayer
Interestingly, the study also showed that there is very little differentiation between German brands and German people. This is important from a South African perspective where the diverse make up of its citizens is widely regarded as one of the country's richest resources.
Germany did not consciously set about creating a model to associate the country with certain core brand values. Instead, the branding of Germany and German products evolved over many years and involved the consistent application of the same principles.
The East catches up - Korean case study
Unlike Germany, Korea is a good example of a country that has consciously set about re-branding itself. Despite having the legacy of the Korean war to contend with - which continues to dominate many foreign perceptions - the image of Korea has improved dramatically since it hosted the Soccer World Cup in 2002.
The reinvention of Korea and its brands is given further credence in a recent article in the Korea Times. This highlighted the findings of a report by US-based brand consultancy Interbrand, which found that the economic benefits of a consistent and professional country branding were already quite widespread within Korea.
"International consumer attitude toward Korean products has made a turnaround over the past few years, with big-name Korean companies investing heavily in brand management, product development and customer service improvement since in the 1990s," it stated.
The real hero of the Korean brand revolution is Samsung, which has dramatically improved its brand management. Barely a decade ago, this somewhat dubious brand only added to the company's global reputation as a manufacturer of shoddy products. This is in stark contrast to the Korean powerhouse's current incarnation, as a global benchmark of product and brand innovation.
It has achieved this rapid turnaround, by embracing the mantras of branding, design and product quality, Samsung has redefined itself as a brand that epitomises innovation and product leadership. Into the bargain it has also spearheaded a radical shift in how Korean brands are perceived across the world. At the heart of Samsung's success story lies an appreciation of branding and its ability to influence perception. Their strength lies in product-led, genuine innovation.
Historically, Korean brands were fairly low down the list when it came to positive brand equity, because of the acknowledged co-relation between a national image and image of products produced in a specific country. It wasn't until 1994, when the government of Korea declared the opening of a Design Era to mark the recognition of design as a competitive advantage for the nation, that brands such as Samsung upped their game. The Year of Design Revolution for Samsung Group was announced with heavy investment in developing a global design program for the brand. The `halo' effect from Samsung has made it easier for other Korean brands to expand abroad."
Whether in plasma technology by LG Electronics or the digital prowess of Samsung the result is the Korean recipe for offering slightly better value at each price point.
But at this stage, Korean brands such as Samsung and LG are well ahead of the Korean government in promoting branding policy. This is because the owners of the company profoundly believe in branding.
China, which is still to a large degree trapped in a mass-produced commodity mindset with no current global brands, has felt the full onslaught of Korea's two big electronic brands. In China, Samsung is seen as an energetic brand for young people. Not surprisingly then, it is ranked number five and LG number 10, in terms of brand recognition. China set itself a goal of having five Chinese brands in the global top 10 within the next 10 years. Ambitious? Absolutely, but don't rule it out!
Based on these examples it is clear that South Africa is probably in a more fortunate and positive position to take its already identified set, of unique brand values and turn them into the defining characteristics of South African brands. So where do we start?
What is needed is a shift in mindset from theory to reality, where key practical strengths and characteristics are seen as common to most South African brands. It is only in this way that the majority of South African products currently produced, can go from being basic commodities to adding value to our country's bottom line.
No one is denying that we have some incredible local brands at our disposal: Castle Lager, Nando's, DSTV and personalities such as Nelson Mandela, Charlize Theron and Gary Player.
Important from an image and awareness point of view, but how do we translate the South African values into an industrialised, manufacturing, or service brand and create an iconic leader for the economic growth of our country? Our biggest lead brands tend to have "commodity" perceptions (De Beers, Anglo American). Successful home-grown consumer brands still are largely rooted in South Africa. Promising exceptions here are SAB Miller, Sasol and Sappi internationally, and in Africa MTN and Checkers.
Yet there is no South African brand or values thread which links any of these companies.
Perhaps a good starting point is Nelson Mandela - the living, breathing embodiment of all that is hopeful and positive about our country - a global icon, whose brand equity should never be under estimated. Thanks to his massive stage presence, global recognition of Brand South Africa is probably at an all time high.
Could South Africa develop a brand positioning which would assist in driving local brands into international markets? Could we leverage off Nelson Mandela's values of democracy and fair play? Virgin leverages most of its brand strength from the image of Richard Branson as "alternative, smart, David vs. Goliath", so why should a values-based brand positioning for SA not be possible, especially in a world becoming more value driven.
The challenge is how to encapsulate, agree and drive a brand proposition through all the local brands that we create and it needs to be a 'national cause". Government, business and branding leaders need to contribute to make this a reality.
This process can be further cemented with the introduction of tax breaks and incentive schemes, as well as a focus on practical education, which allows for the development of Brand South Africa entrepreneurs who epitomise the ethos of our country.
We do, however, need to strike while the iron is hot because although South Africa has experienced the good fortune of becoming the 'global flavour of the month', this does not mean this state of grace will last forever.
This article was previously published in The Encyclopaedia of Brands and Branding 2005.