Dr Clinton Musekiwa Tapera
Establishing and creating loyalty can be taken as a migration of hearts and minds with the objective being to move citizens who are “uninformed sceptics” to become “informed believers”.
With such free movement of people, it is vital today that a country is able to retain the loyalty of its citizens and attract more human talent and skills for its socio-economic development.
Sceptics are those who are becoming disillusioned with the country’s institutions, policies and activities.
If left alone, sceptics with their absence of pride in and commitment to the country and their active doubt of its potential will damage and undermine the country’s brand and even migrate to greener pastures. To stem the “brain drain” and also to encourage these individuals to contribute to nation building efforts, they need to be converted to believers through country branding.
This citizen migration strategy is not adequate it not supported by diaspora mobilisation. It is argued that a country’s citizens abroad are the most potent and influential in nation branding. Diaspora engagement is critical in a country’s branding strategy since nations that fail to have a strategy for activating their diaspora network are squandering a unique and precious resource.
This is because diaspora networks are potentially an immense asset for projecting the country positively on the global stage and for creating a brand identity that will position the country effectively at international level.
That His Excellency the President takes time to share national issues with diasporians during his international duties, is an important and value laden activity of engaging this important stakeholder. It’s not an exercise in futility. It is consciously or subconsciously a strategy to bring back sceptics to be believers and convert them into active players in socio-economic development of Zimbabwe. Through the word of mouth effect and coming from the President himself will pay dividends to nation branding ultimately.
The reputation building capacity of diaspora networks represents another key opportunity to enhance the nation brand. Diasporas can act as destination ambassadors wherever they are and can be agents of building international networks that drive the nation branding agenda effectively. They can also play the role of cultural ambassadors for the country. It is argued that knowledge and institutional building capacity is more important than financial flows through periodic remittances to their country.
It is also important to note that members of expatriate communities have three resources that position them to make unique contribution to the development of their home country: i.e. unusually high motivation to make a mark in spite of and against all odds, knowledge and expertise of both global opportunities and local issues and financial resources to act on new opportunities.
The above arguments while directed at nation branding broadly are being linked to the citizen migration model in that once people are turned from sceptics to believers they will stand firmly towards national interest and will actively participate in activities that enhance their country’s image and its standing on the international fora.
Zimbabwe with a huge diaspora population in South Africa, UK, Australia, Canada, America, New Zealand and other countries stands to benefit from the diaspora networks in sending correct messages about the country and even to alter negative perceptions that have derailed Zimbabwe’s positioning on the global stage. These diaspora networks are an opportunity to reposition Zimbabwe to its rightful place in the global community of nations.
The above propositions of citizen mindset migration from skepticism to believing require the adoption of emotional and viral branding strategies to appeal to a sophisticated stakeholder such as a diasporian.
Their exposure and connection with advanced economies make them more discerning and selective. Advertising and public relations gimmicks may not adequately move them to influence nation branding initiatives. A more emotional and viral branding strategy can appeal effectively to their psyche.
Emotional branding provides the means and the methodology for connecting nation branding offerings to the consumer, in this case, the diasporian in an emotional profound way. It focuses on the core compelling aspects of human character, the desire to transcend satisfaction and emotional fulfilment. Appealing to the emotions of consumers is meant to spur emotionally charged relationships.
Diasporians originally and by identity belong somewhere and that emotional attachment remains as asset that can be exploited effectively for nation branding purposes.
The strategic objectives of emotional branding is to forge strong and meaningful affective bonds with targeted A consumers and in doing so become part of their life stories memories and an important link of their social networks. Emotional branding in consumer–centric story driven and rational approach to create deep and enduring bonds between diasporians and the nation brand. Emotional branding is about creating a personal dialogue with target consumers and to know them individually and intimately.
In this case national origins play a critical role in emotional bonding. Scholars argue that consumers today not only want to be romanced by the brands they chose to bring into their lives, they absolutely want to establish a multifaceted holistic relationship with that brand and this means they expect the brand to play a positive proactive role in their lives. It’s not a stroll in the park for nation branding.
Consumers do not only benefit from the functional value of a brand, they also benefit from the emotional aspects. A strong brand mixes and blend a rich, deep and complementary set of consumer responses towards in this case, the Zimbabwe brand.
Viral branding has much to do with public influence, that is, how the country’s citizens influence consumers to value the brand. It recognizes that citizens and not institutions have the most influence in the creation of nation brands. The most sophisticated and cynical consumers such as diasporians are not easily swayed by advertising but most discover and understand brands on their own through social networks. For nation branding purposes the whole concept of viral branding is centred on how people interact and how information about a nation brand can spread through the word of mouth and the influence of opinion leaders. The basic idea is that if the citizens of the country can convince these people to make the brand their own and configure the brand, like a virus, to make it easy to talk about these influences will rapidly spread their interest in the nation brand to others through their social networks like a virus.
In conclusion, moving sceptics to believers towards a complex phenomenon such as a nation brand requires a cocktail of strategies that must appeal effectively to the psyche of the target audience. It’s a process for the long term, not an event. That it is has started already at the highest level should be taken as a fertile ground from which a robust and solid foundation will produce tangible results.