What comes to your mind when you think of Germany?
Some would say Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen, others would argue BMW, and others would say automation in general.
That is not only limited to automobiles, even in food there are countries that have build strong brands for competitive edge in the global market.
USA through Silicon Valley is synonymous with technology, Italy is known for fashion, Switzerland with chocolate and closer to home, Nigeria has created a position as world leaders in jollof rice cuisine.
Undoubtedly, these brands have created an image in the minds of consumers, including that of quality, perfection, and to a greater extend luxury.
For most consumers around the world, the need to be associated with global brands means they need to pay more, which has in turn played positively to growing exports and contributed immensely to their nation’s incomes.
Zimbabwe can also earn more and penetrate global markets with easy when concerted efforts are put towards creating strong local brands on international markets, which will go a long way in stimulating economic growth.
Currently ZimTrade, the national trade development and promotion organization, in its strategy has identified national brands as crucial to export growth.
The target is to develop strong national brands that will be used to change global consumer perception of Zimbabwean products.
Zimbabwe has some of the highest quality products and services, that have potential to be world leading brands and command a large share of markets around the world.
Regrettably, these products and services have failed to command significant markets and to date, few of them can resonate as strong brands which is ideal for growing markets.
To date, the country is still to come up with key products and services that can be easily identified with Zimbabwe.
For example, countries in Africa such as Namibia have developed products such as Windhoek larger, which have made strides in countries in the continent, including Zimbabwe.
This is the same with Nigeria’s Jollof Rice, which is growing in demand across the world and can easily invoke appetite for more products from Nigeria.
Why strong national brands are important
One way of the other, a country has a brand or is branded.
A huge lesson over the past decade, especially for Zimbabwe is that if a country does not take deliberate steps to build its strong brands for global audiences, they risk undertaking brand images that are assigned to them by other countries.
Thus, the honors is on Zimbabwe to create a strong brand image that speaks to how it wants to be known across the world.
A brand is a promise, and a commitment to abide to certain values such as quality, duarability, price, and taste.
According to this definition, Zimbabwean products and popular brands such as Mazowe, Cerevita, and Tanganda Tea are a promise of good natural taste.
These products can form the basis upon which the national brand is built. As Mercedes Benz, Audi, Volkswagen is to Germany so can these products be to our national brand.
These are brands that have taken a while to create and build and have a reputation that crosses borders.
Brand building is a long-term process that requires discipline and consistency.
According to Wally Ollins, “the best and most successful brands are completely coherent. Every aspect of what they do and what they are reinforces everything else”.
For instance our non-GMO policy is coherent with the natural tastes of our food products.
Strong networks will also be required as these will help grow national brands with ease.
Strong brands such as Adidas have product testing platforms and give free apparel to clients to get their endorsement.
Davido as a brand ambassador for Adidas has brought in good publicity for Adidas in Nigeria and beyond and contributed positively to the brand success and revenue.
Lionel Messi with the partnership with Lays and Pepsi has brought increased recognition to both the sport and brands.
If Zimbabwean brands are to be successful, they also need to target partnerships with already popular brands and celebrities.
These could be in the form of, for example, actors, musicians, and sportsmen.
This is why creating strong brands will not come cheap, it requires huge investments to create favourable perceptions about Zimbabwean products.
Further to this, there will also be need for extensive advertising and marketing across the world, so that certain product lines from Africa will be synonymous with Zimbabwean products.
For example, Colgate or Surf, because of multiple encounters through advertising and posters of these products, an individual will use these brand names to identify with their needs.
You often hear people calling all toothpaste as Colgate or all washing powder as Surf.
This is a case of a brand becoming a generic trademark, this comes when the consuming public no longer identifies the brand but the action.
The brand will have become so pervasive that people associate it with the action.
The ubiquitous brand status is beneficial especially in the fast-paced business world as quick buying decisions need to be made and people find it easier to seek out specific brand names.
Local brands must fulfil a promise
A brand represents a promise, hence local companies must ensure that their products or services have capacity to, first promise and fulfil.
The promise aspect of the product can be used to develop the unique selling position for the product, and other products withing a country.
Diaspora has a role to play
The size of the Zimbabwean diaspora is large and continues to grow, with more than 3 million nationals living across the world, according to International Organization for Migration.
Undoubtedly, the size of the diaspora and the number of immigrant entrepreneurs have a positive, significant, and economically meaningful impact on local brands.
There is room for Zimbabwean businesses to utilize the diaspora living in strategic markets to position their exports in those markets.
An inclusive arrangement towards building strong national brands, that will ride on diaspora, will contribute to the internationalization of Zimbabwe’s brands.
There are several ways in which the diaspora can stimulate growth of national brands, which include becoming marketing agencies for domestic companies.
This is a powerful conduit through which they can continuously help development of local brands.
Zimbabweans living in other countries can take on various roles in the development of export markets for their homeland which include leader/reputation builder, middleman, or enforcer of national brands.
It is easy for Zimbabwe’s diaspora to assume these roles given the existing social ties with businesses and families back home, where they can become brand champions of the country and local products.
Zimbabwean nationals in other countries, particularly in Europe and America, can help challenge global narrative regarding Zimbabwe that is dominated by discussions of economic decline.
As brand ambassadors, the diaspora can help sale Zimbabwe as a source of quality products.
Already, Zimbabwe’s diaspora is playing some role of increasing awareness of local products on international markets albeit the small scale of that action.
What is now required is to upscale the activity and to formalize some of the operations so that they contribute meaningfully to development of national brands.