Could rebranding piece back together Botswana’s national identity?

I recently watched an interview by Bloomberg featuring Botswana’s Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry. In response to a number of questions, Minister Kenewendo mentioned Botswana being ‘human centred’ wanting to share ‘Botswana’s message’ and acknowledged Botswana’s challenges with ‘branding’, which is a topic close to my heart.

I actually believe Botswana needs to approach the situation as a rebrand. Botswana has been canvassing investors since its independence in 1966, but over half a century later and all potential investors are the millennial generation. Botswana has many old, long-winded and out-dated practises and procedures predating the millennium, which are a hindrance to most modern initiatives. These need to change if Botswana wishes to target and entice this new millennial demographic. Evolving and modernising these practises will require radical transformations in the way Botswana currently operates. Rebranding Botswana involves everyone and everyone needs to embrace the necessary changes – and I believe many Batswana are ready for change.

I’ve been observing the Botswana brand for almost 5 years and I believe branding overall takes little precedence within Botswana’s professional and political environment. There’s a real shortage of proficiency and the full understanding of its importance is not entirely appreciated, therefore branding is not given the credence it deserves. Branding plays a vital role in almost everything and it is especially vital for trade and investment. We live in an image-conscious and profit-driven world, so Botswana must make herself attractive and her exports commercially viable. But in fairness, Botswana is not completely culpable for all branding breakdowns.

This is just one opinion from someone who has been on the outside looking in. I lived in the UK for over 30 years before I relocated to Botswana. I grew up in the 80s and my first introduction to Africa was when Bob Geldof launched Live Aid (a large global music event) to help raise funds for the “starving children in Africa”. Africa has always been the focus of many charities throughout my lifetime.

 

 

There are many documentaries that show Africa as a place of beauty with stunning landscapes and amazing wildlife, but I grew up being shown two sides of the continent. More often than not newsworthy reports focused on the continent’s issues – apartheid, famine, drought, war, corruption, HIV/AIDS, malaria, drugs and vicious crimes. Africa is repeatedly referred to as a country and so generations have grown up with the impression most African nations are unable to stand on their own two feet.

My point being that beyond tourism, the developed world has unfavourable brand associations with the African continent. Those perceptions and mindsets contribute to the challenges, but Botswana needs to change internally in order to change externally. We need to understand how the world views Botswana, but we also need to appreciate how Batswana view Botswana. Botswana doesn’t just need to sell herself to prospective investors; she needs to sell herself to her people – the latter is more challenging.

As I say, branding is not just what an entity shows on the outside, it’s also how that entity functions on the inside, so a brand should permeate throughout every element of that entity. It’s the whole experience and why major changes are required for an improved Botswana brand to succeed. On the one hand you might have a nice product, but if the packaging isn’t good or the message is lacking, most people will dismiss the product regardless. On the other hand you might have nice packaging, but if the item inside the wrapping is poor or not what was expected/promised, people will feel let down or worse. You need to find the right balance. By Minister Kenewendo’s own admission, branding Botswana is challenging, which could suggest current initiatives and strategies are not having the desired impact.

Yes, there is ‘Brand Botswana’, but for a long time, I struggled to fully comprehend what ‘Brand Botswana’ actually is. I have an idea now, but I had to search for the answers because even the most knowledgeable Batswana family and friends of mine were not entirely sure. The general consensus was that it was primarily connected to tourism. I think that is because the logo itself featured more on tourism-related collateral. Also, the tagline “our pride, your destination’ speaks very much to a travel audience; when you think of the word ‘destination’ you’re more than likely going to think of putting the word ‘holiday’ before it.

One of the golden rules of design is to ‘keep it simple’, but there’s a tendency to overcomplicate. I read an article that said, “Brand Botswana’s mandate is centred on national branding through strategic collaborative impacts that create traction for Botswana to be known worldwide.” What does ‘strategic collaborative impacts’ actually mean? Then I look at the organisational structure and wonder what differentiates ‘BITC’ (Botswana Investment & Trade Centre) from ‘Brand Botswana’ and the latest brand I’ve seen – ‘Go Botswana’? Are they one and the same or three separate entities? I struggle to keep up and if I do, many Batswana and foreign investors must struggle too.

I can talk about this at length, but for the purpose of this post, I have to be brief. Suffice to say, my intention is not to belittle what Brand Botswana has done because it’s evident the team works tirelessly, but communication is key and this is another problem in Botswana. The Botswana brand shouldn’t just be about business and tourism, it should be all-inclusive and ‘people centred’, especially when globally respected NGOs such as UNICEF publish reports with alarming statistics. Why not utilise these reports and work with these organisations because the work they do also impacts on the Botswana brand.


Another perspective is shown in the following article – https://www.news24.com/Columnists/MelanieVerwoerd/why-foreign-investors-arent-investing-20181024 – This shows the challenges neighbouring South Africa are facing with attracting foreign investment.


Potential investors will look at the logistics and financial benefits of investing in Botswana, but many will be humanitarians and even environmentalists. Botswana’s brand needs to address any ugly truths and change any perceptions or unfavourable brand associations. Botswana also needs to use its origins as an advantage; consumers worldwide love products with a story, they want to hear profits are helping care for the sick and the destitute and they want to know that environmental issues are being addressed.

Relaxing the criteria for permits/visas and considering dual citizenship are definitely steps in the right direction, but there are other changes that will improve the Botswana brand both internally as well as externally. Eliminating the need for numerous copies of certified documents and identifications reduces Botswana’s excessive consumption of paper, which impacts on the environment. Practises like this are how business in the developed world operates and it is taken very seriously, so if Botswana wants synergy it will also have to adopt the same practices.

Make no mistake, rebranding Botswana is a mammoth challenge and it’s not about designing a logo; it’s not just a project. It is not something that can be achieved in a short period of time by a committee undertaking endless meetings. It’s a complete overhaul and whether they like it or not the government/ministries need to make rebranding Botswana a consistent and on-going priority; a strong brand is the foundation for everything they hope to build and accomplish.

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