More than sea, sand, sun and fun
Nation brand diversification and economic growthTuesday, May 12, 2020
COVID-19 has been on our shores for 63 days. Consequently, several industries, principal among them tourism and manufacturing, have seen drastic declines. The dollar is devaluing, seemingly pegged to our collective anxiety bred of uncertainty as we traverse a path never before trod and therefore impossible to chart.
This abrupt shift in the economy and resulting social and political landscape highlights the importance of a much-needed conversation on nation brand diversification. When I speak of brand diversification I refer to the industries, activities, and policies that translate into, simply put, what a nation is known for doing well internationally; where its competitive advantage lies.
At present, sea, sun, fun, and sand are in an overleveraged space in Jamaica's brand perception globally. Playing into this narrative has left the country wide open for the exogenous shock it is presently experiencing.
In my former life, as a lecturer of political science, the theme of patterns of investment and consumption, and their inexplicable link to the economic resilience or insolvency of states, resonated with me deeply. Modern investment strategy speaks to the diversification of asset classes to form an effective hedge when one industry or sector experiences difficulty, thereby reducing the negative impact. Yet for years Jamaica has been focused on primary sectoral inputs — agriculture, tourism, and light manufacturing for export.
We are facing an unprecedented time in history in which the decisions we make today about where to put our already limited resources will define how our people live, work, travel, and do business tomorrow. The nature of which we get to define and brand.
Globalisation means people no longer have to live where they work and they have more options about how they distribute their financial resources. This opens up a host of opportunities for a connected Jamaica for both her Diaspora and the wider world to partake in our economy.
The new landscape
The Fourth Industrial Revolution, and the coming fifth, will significantly impact what a modern state will look like, and its perception. This is a prime time for Jamaica to play an active part in shaping its narrative and defining its brand for the foreseeable future.
There are four elements that limit Jamaica's optimal and diverse brand perception as a place of business prowess, natural beauty, high levels of productivity, and corporate professionalism:
1) bureaucratic/technological hindrances that affect the ease of doing business
2) high perceived levels of public sector corruption
3) slow legal processes and judicial systems
4) minimal economic diversification
I suggest that as we wade through the uncharted waters in the coming months, businesses and organisations aren't the only ones that have to consider diversification. There needs to be a national approach — a Country Continuity Plan, of sorts — steeped in research and a deep understanding of the right mix of economic actors, industries, and foundations to reduce the impact of whatever the occurrence in the future.
Our patterns of investment must shift and our educational programmes revamped to focus on technology. We are not in a bubble and cannot operate in one. This globalised world leads to global opportunities, but also far-reaching downturns.
With air and sea ports closed globally the tourism sector has come to a screeching halt, which wields a hard blow to our local economy, vis-à-vis all the connected actors which have largely depended on this sector.
The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is executing an ongoing assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on international tourism. According to the assessment, there is an expected fall of 20 per cent to 30 per cent in tourism arrivals. These results could translate into a decline in international tourism receipts (exports) of between US$300 billion to US$450 billion, almost one-third of the US$1.5 trillion generated in 2019. Based on past market trends, this would mean that the sector will lose between five and seven years' worth of growth to COVID-19.
This data illustrates why Jamaica must move away from having the one-trick pony perception of sea, sun, fun, and sand. The shift in brand image is vital in attracting new opportunities outside of tourism and helps compensate for the estimated loss of revenue as a result of the global pandemic.
The way forward
Developing a brand strategy for a nation is understandably more complex than creating the same for a product or even a multinational corporation. However, countries akin to businesses face similar challenges when it comes to capturing the attention of its targets, both internal and external. In the digital age, countries compete for mindshare, which translates to dollar share in international economics. Brands determine who is perceived to be valuable and which countries' products command a premium and vice versa.
Brands can be a 'growth trap' if we do not continually evolve the narrative around who we are, what we have to offer, and what we as a nation will achieve.
A 2019 study conducted by Future Brand revealed that a country's environmental friendliness, the quality of life its people enjoy, and the products and services the country produces are key indicators for developing a strong brand presence. It also proved to be a key factor in influencing how residents, visitors, and investors choose to spend their time and money. Countries that successfully align with the values of their potential investors also see an uptick in business opportunities. Visitors, investors, and citizens all want to be associated with a country that shares their vision on what it means to thrive.
For example, Nigeria saw a significant shift in their brand perception by both internal and external stakeholders by focusing on the environment and attracting technological innovation, even though their potential was constrained by broader issues such as joblessness and a lack of adequate energy supplies.
Diversification supports continued economic growth by widening the economic structure creating a better way of life for the population. Brand diversification is not an easy game to win; it takes continuous research, applying data, strategy and a clear understanding of culture, geopolitical and socio-economic benefits and potential pitfalls. However, once achieved it will bring light to new offerings, ideas, brand assets, and, above all, economic growth.
Kemal Brown is the president & CEO of Digita Global Marketing Limited, a Caribbean based, globally-minded digital marketing and technology agency. He is also speaker, serial entrepreneur, and digital innovator. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or www.digitaglobal.com.