opinionBy Wafula Nabutola
Thus far in our 50 years history, as an independent nation, Kenya has marketed herself as a tourist destination, which abounds in wildlife, sandy beaches and beautiful people. We produce the finest sportsmen and women on earth.
Our tea, coffee and horticulture is second to none; our brand of politics is second to none; our politicians campaigning from one election to the next, some of the utterances can easily scare away would be investors, but do they care?. In the beginning we succeeded in attracting foreign and domestic direct investments, and we were contented to invest little and still harvest.
The assumption being that Kenya will sell herself, we are a well known brand!!! That reputation has been eroded with the entry of COMPETITION from everywhere! Moreover reputation can be eroded by other more compelling factors, like perceived insecurity, uncompetitive ways of doing business and, until recently, unflattering infrastructure, where we are playing catch up to our neighbours like Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and others further afield like South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Mauritius, Seychelles, Djibouti, and now Somalia, which beat us in football the other day!!!.
The term 'Place Branding' made its appearance, largely due to Simon Anholt, who is at the fore-front of place marketing Africa. We are not the only child and our strategy needs to change or we perish, because many others are competing for the same market.
The struggle for attention and preference is not limited to the contest between countries and cities; even within cities there is a fierce competition between city centres vs. neighbourhoods, big-box retailers vs. main streets, shopping malls (like Village Market vs. Nairobi's crowded Central Business District, which is slowly becoming a "no go zone").
A place can be branded when the right tool, the identity, has been chosen which makes it stand out from its competitors, as was Nairobi in the 60's 70's and 80's. However, one of the biggest problems in place marketing is that the marketed place can be replaced by others.
More and more places are striving to apply different branding methods to differentiate their destination and to emphasize their uniqueness.
This heightened competitive environment makes it important for places, no matter their size or composition, to clearly differentiate themselves and to convey why they are relevant and valued options.
There are stories about different places involved in successful and unsuccessful efforts to increase their visibility and attractiveness.
Seppo Rainisto and Teemu Moilanen produced a book, which will be one of the most valuable documents in the place marketing literature.
They tell the history of place marketing, not just place selling; they provide a framework that a place can use to build its visibility and attractiveness; and they describe many classic cases of success and failure in the areas of nation marketing.
"Great destinations, like successful brands are built by people who understand, embrace and follow a disciplined road map that outlines the essence of a truly distinctive experience from the visitors' point of view." So says Duane Knapp in Destination BrandScience.
Two decades ago, Philip Kotler made his first views on the subject, it has become self evident that place branding can neither be developed nor coordinated in one single direction but that there are many fields, for example education, agriculture, commerce, investments, tourism and technology.
As we devolve into counties, each county will have to be able to develop its own self-promotion to reach a desirable marketing level. Different counties will develop brands, just as companies do, and when brands are strategically implemented they can become the most central competition factor.
Each county in Kenya has unique features that it can proffer, each is original, no photocopies. A county can be branded when the right tool, the identity and the image have been chosen which make it stand out from the competition. In many instances counties will have to partner with others in order to economically viable.
A tiny country like Estonia has all its cities and counties branded. The USA has its states and cities branded (New York City is the Big Apple).
Similarly Canada has branded its provinces, and its cities - Toronto is referred to as the Switzerland of North America. Now it is our turn to brand towns, cities and counties. Homa Bay could be the "Delicious Fish County"; Lodwar could be "Big Fish"; Murang'a could be "the County Beyond"; Kiambu "the Handy City". Kitui would be "the Energy Within"; Meru could be "The Jewel in Crown"; Gusii could be "the Banana County"; Marsabit could be "Paradise City". Garissa could be the "Gate City" owing to its proximity to Somalia. The possibilities are endless.