The Sunday Mail
What comes to mind when you think of Germany? Some would say Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen or BMW, while others would say automation in general.
Clearly, there are countries that have built strong brands for a competitive edge in the global market.
USA, through Silicon Valley, is synonymous with technology, Italy is known for fashion, Switzerland is associated with chocolate and, closer to home, Nigeria has popularised jollof rice.
These brands have undoubtedly created a perception of quality, perfection and luxury in consumers’ minds.
For most consumers, the need to be associated with big brands means they are prepared to pay more, which, in turn, positively contributes to growing revenues.
Zimbabwe can similarly earn more and penetrate global markets with ease when concerted efforts are put towards creating strong brands.
ZimTrade, the national trade development and promotion organisation, has already 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 for local products.
Zimbabwe has high-quality products and services that have potential to be the world’s leading brands.
Regrettably, these products and services have failed to command significant market share.
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 other countries, including Zimbabwe.
Why strong national brands
A huge lesson over the past decade, especially for Zimbabwe, is that if a country does not take deliberate steps to build strong brands for global audiences, it risks brand images that are assigned to it by other countries.
Thus, the onus is on Zimbabwe to create strong brands that speak to how it wants to be known across the world.
A brand is a promise and commitment to abide to certain values such as quality, durability, price and taste.
Local popular brands such as Mazowe, Cerevita and Tanganda Tea, therefore, 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 are 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 across borders.
Brand-building is a long-term process that requires discipline and consistency.
Strong networks will also be required as these help grow national brands.
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 promoted good publicity for the brand in Nigeria and beyond, and contributed positively to the brand success and revenue.
Lionel Messi, with partnerships with Lays and Pepsi, has largely made these products recognisable to global audiences.
If local brands are to be successful, they also need to target partnerships with already popular brands and celebrities.
For example, these could be in the form of actors, musicians and sportsmen.
This is why creating strong brands will not come cheap.
It requires huge investments to create favourable perceptions.
Further, 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.
Brands can become generic trademarks, especially when a product comes to represent a whole range of products.
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.
A brand represents a promise, hence local companies must ensure their products or services have capacity to fulfil expectations.
The promise aspect of the product can be used to develop a unique selling position.
It is estimated that there are more than three million Zimbabweans living across the world, according to International Organisation for Migration.
The size of the Diaspora and number of immigrant entrepreneurs have a positive, significant and economically meaningful impact on local brands.
There is room for local businesses to use the Diaspora in strategic markets to position their exports.
An inclusive arrangement towards building strong national brands that will ride on the Diaspora will contribute to the internationalisation of local brands.
The Diaspora can become marketing agents for local companies and a powerful conduit through which they can continuously help grow local brands.
They can also become reputation builders, middlemen or enforcers of national brands.
Those in Europe and America can also help challenge global negative narratives about Zimbabwe.
So, as brand ambassadors, the Diaspora can help sell Zimbabwe as a source of quality products.
Already, Zimbabwe’s Diaspora is playing a role in increasing awareness of local products on international markets, albeit on a small scale.
What is now required is to upscale and formalise some of the operations so that they contribute meaningfully to development of national brands.
Allan Majuru is ZimTrade’s CEO.