As mentioned in Part 1, place brand development is a huge mission. And trust me, you need patience and a tried and tested bandwidth. This is compounded by a myriad of stakeholders who have divergent views. However, developing a place can be an exhilarating journey and an enriching ‘jamboree’ for creative mavericks. The creatives love the mind mapping sessions around the mahogany and walnut tables. It makes them deferential to ‘maverickism.’ Oops, I digress!
Place brand development should ideally start with an audit of the current perceptions of the place. Say, for example, we wish to develop Gaborone to be a competitive city brand. The first thing is to find out what Batswana and visitors think of Gaborone. Is there an urban culture? What images spring to mind about Gaborone? Do we have prejudiced perceptions or vice-versa? If we are to look at the Fraser Institute Annual Survey of Mining Companies 2021 report, Botswana scores poorly on the taxation regime, labour regulations, uncertainty about protected areas, among others. In fact, Botswana came 31st (out of 84) compared to 15th (of 77) in 2020 on mining policy. Morocco now is Africa’s number 1 ranked country in mining policy. So, to brand Botswana, these are things that need to be considered. To brand a place, there has to be policy certainty. Investors want that, otherwise they zip up their wallets. Mining is like oxygen to our economy and we should do all to protect it. So, a place that wants to brand itself but cannot have policy certainty on its biggest sector cannot compete with established big mining investment destinations such as Canada and Australia.
Second, who has to be engaged as the target audience? HATAB, Business Botswana, the host community and Botswana Tourism Organisation are among entities to be engaged to find out their perceptions about the attributes of the place. Third, a positioning strategy needs to be collectively formulated. Positioning has nothing to do with a product or brand but is more focused on the consumer’s mind. Developing a place requires that brand practitioners evaluate the place’s assets, weaknesses and threats. Assets mean what the place has that will create a competitive edge, i.e. traveller experiences, investment climate, climate, tax laws, attractions and so on. For instance, what does Gaborone have that can draw people to the city? Weaknesses may refer to poor infrastructure and red tape. Look at the poor inner roads in Gaborone and the time it takes for a truck driver to enter Botswana. Threats may refer to the competition from branded places. For example, can Botswana outcompete a better brand like South Africa? The answer may be no when you look at many fundamental metrics. Therefore, place brand development means getting the fundamentals right and being brutally honest with yourself.
Developing a place brand firstly needs a place audit or what is called a destination audit. Destination audit means looking at your core assets and prioritising them to establish which of them appeal to your profitable market segments. Place brand development practitioners need then to know which of their assets are strongest and most appealing to visitors. Then you need to compare those assets with those of your rivals. For example, in 2018 Botswana was rated as the country with the best African safari experience due to its “scenic tapestry” and “authentic wildlife and bush experience”. This is a huge sense of pride and Botswana should consolidate its grip. However, we need to temper this with a few hard realities. Why would Volkswagen invest US$20 million in a car plant in Rwanda ahead of Botswana whilst Rwanda was engulfed by genocide 28 years ago? What have they done in such a short period of time that we have failed to get right? Besides, they are a landlocked country like us. We need to work on our investment climate.
When developing a place brand, there is a need to do a segmentation analysis. This means identifying key market segments, prioritising them and investing in them. For instance, it may not make sense to prioritise cultural tourism in Botswana as other types of tourism are far ahead of it. Wildlife-based or adventure tourism are a ‘diamond’ for Botswana and therefore they should be a priority segment. Again, if there are discernible niches, focus on them as well. When you know the priority segment, you will have a better idea of how to develop the brand. The segment’s perceptions, opinions and feedback will provide you with insight into how to get the most out of the segment by meeting their needs and wants. As previously said in this column, you will need data to render the bespoke services. In marketing rule of thumb for the uninitiated, data is gold for modern marketers.
After the segmentation analysis, a SWOT analysis has to be carried out. This is a tool that crystalises what you can and cannot do. Each segment has to be analysed using the SWOT analysis tool and then a master SWOT analysis that compiles all the most competitive strengths from each segment. For example, Botswana should identify its main competitive strengths and prioritise them. Second, what are the opportunities that exist that can be exploited or prioritised? International tourism continues to grow and Botswana needs to take advantage by continuing to provide the exceptional safari mentioned earlier and improve the quality of services in relevant sectors. Third, identify your weaknesses and honestly deal with them. For instance, it is important to liberalise our skies. Air Botswana is not much efficient and needs competition. It is an albatross to tourists and investors. The government cannot be a policymaker and player at the same time. This is an out-of-date approach. Finally, identify your threats and deal with them, starting with the greatest threat.
Every place brand development initiative should always engage stakeholders. Identify key stakeholders and their influence and perceptions. Doing this is key to the success of a place brand. Provide platforms where branding initiatives are ventilated. Finally, have a toolkit that every stakeholder will have access to. (NOTE: stakeholder engagement has been covered in detail in previous columns. The toolkit will be discussed in later columns).
Consumer perception research then follows stakeholder engagement. As mentioned earlier, you need data to get insights. Insights help make sound decisions. You need to know who your customers are, those who may want to jump ship, those who want nothing to do with you, and those that are not a priority. Prioritise research on target segments through focus groups and indabas and probably engage a reputable research agency to establish the perceptions of segments and what influences their decision making. If Botswana was doing this right, we would not be scoring poorly as indicated by the Fraser Institute report cited earlier.
From consumer perception, then an aspiring place brand has to do competitor analysis. This means knowing where you stand against your rivals. What is that your competitors have that you do not have or that you do not provide? Why do students, investors, travellers and so on. opt for another place instead of you? This is when you need to utilise a brand perceptual map to see where you are in the competition. For example, Beijing is a city that most of the time is soaked in thick smog and as such cannot compete with a small city like Bristol, which positions itself as a conservation-oriented area. Again, the Fraser Institute’s report cited is useful here when it comes to Botswana because it compares Botswana with other mining countries.
After the competitor analysis, you then select the brand-building model that suits you. There are many but the most used is the five-stage brand pyramid. It focuses on the place’s rational and emotional benefits: what do investors like to see and how do visitors feel about the place? Then identify what is your unique selling proposition (USP) as this defines your DNA. Furthermore, what does the place brand have as the strongest competitive features? Finally, focus on the place’s core values that make it stand out. And what does Botswana have? Well, let’s do wide-ranging stakeholder consultations before rollout. It is vital to incorporate the place brand in integrated marketing communications (this has been covered).
Finally, monitor the brand performance. Are you meeting the needs of customers? Are investors happy with your policies? Are you a facilitator or an albatross to place brand development? Do you have better bandwidth for business efficiency? Do you solve customer and investor queries expeditiously? What are people saying about you vis-à-vis other competing place brands? And most importantly, are you creative and innovative? These are important questions to be answered.
Building a place brand is a huge undertaking that needs skills, patience and tolerance. At the same, it is like planting a tree and then seeing it germinate, bloom and being visited and enjoyed by kaleidoscopic masters of pollination.
Stay true to your values. That’s why you were a success in the first place, and that’s how you make incredible things happen – Rafe Offer