The French are recognised for their perfumes, the Italians for their fashion and design, and the Germans for their great engineering. Similarly, Ethiopia must strive to have its coffee recognised as a brand as it would bring many economic benefits, write Misgana Gobeze and Sintayehu Girma.
Consumers in our globalised world, overloaded with information, are placing increasing importance on brands. The average person relies on heuristics, lessening the amount of data required to reach a conclusion and reducing uncertainty, by means of brands.
Every country is a brand. Some places do a better job at branding themselves to the world than others. Each of us has specific associations that come to mind when we think of different countries. This is known as "place branding". Many brands "borrow" these common perceptions and transform them into differentiating elements that help them compete locally and internationally.
France is "perfumes", Italy is "fashion and design", Sweden is "simple and functional design", Germany is "great engineering", India is "spices", Argentina is "tango", Switzerland is "watches", and China is "low-cost manufacturing".
What if Ethiopia became "coffee"?
It is past the time that we start working on coffee as a global brand for our country. The nation is the original home of the coffee (Arabica) plant. Kaffa, the province in the south-western highlands where the plant originated, gave its name to coffee. The formal cultivation and use of coffee as a beverage began early in the ninth century. Before that, coffee trees grew wild in the forests of South-Western highlands, and many of the region's residents were familiar with the berries and the drink.
Creating a global brand for the promotion of Ethiopian coffee in international markets is not cheap or easy. But it can, indeed, be worthwhile for the country, provided that we understand the ways in which we can make it worthwhile.
In the 21st century, the world has integrated to create robust market linkages. Many countries promote their brands to be competitive and win opportunities. Governmental organisations, the private sector and civil society, thus work collaboratively to identify one unique product or service that represents their country and gains acceptance throughout the world.
They build a system with all stakeholders to evaluate the branding process and its achievement. As professionals in the field argue, there is a prevalent but ineffective practice of using different brands for a country's products. This is ineffective because customers will not be able to identify them quickly.
For instance, tourism might be the brand of the sector but it cannot be the brand of the country, for it will not be effective. Take Egypt, where its attractions were promoted to include national and traditional dishes, to the discomfort of tourists. The discomfort was a consequence of not identifying the best product to represent the country.
In Ethiopia's case, that unique product or service is either coffee, Teff or athletics. We have to work with these and start applying the branding system in order to be a strong competitor in the world. But there is a strong case to be made for coffee as the iconic brand of Ethiopia.
To begin with, the nation is the origin of coffee. Further, the word Bunna, Amharic for coffee, is easy to pronounce and remember. Even further, Ethiopian coffee is unique for its taste and aroma, not to mention the published studies that show that Ethiopian coffee is good for one's health.
The consumer base is immense. Throughout the world, 2.25 billion cups of coffee are drunk every day, and coffee-related business transactions are worth 100 billion dollars. The drink is also known as a stimulant, making it highly sought after.
But to make use of its popularity, Ethiopian coffee must be well known and utilised around the world. There are many benefits to building and maintaining Ethiopian coffee as a strong brand. The first is customer recognition, consumers will be able to recognise the coffee quickly. Consumers are likely to choose a brand that they recognise over others that are unfamiliar.
Marketing it as a brand will also give a competitive edge in the market, an edge which is a by-product of familiarity. The more recognition it receives, the more competitive it becomes with other well-known brands. This way, loyal customers can be created, making it easier to introduce new products for testing before further investments are made.
For instance, Ethiopia has organic coffee that grows in different parts of the country including Sidamo, Harer, Yirga Chefe and Jimma. If consumers are interested in the Ethiopian coffee brand, the likelihood of them trying different elements of it increases.
Customers are drawn to brands that they share values with. When a firm brand is built, such values have to be conveyed to build an emotional connection with customers. Brand loyalty often lasts a lifetime and even transfers to future generations.
Everything goes hand-in-hand. Indeed, we find that a brand's credibility is directly related to the customer's likelihood of purchasing the product associated with that brand. Most of us want to buy from companies we know, like and trust. The economic benefits this will create are immense. As Bill Chiaravalle, author of Branding for Dummies, said, great brands build consumer trust and emotional attachments. As a result, they foster relationships between consumers and products that lead to many valuable benefits.
One of these benefits is premium pricing. Consumers pay more for branded items that they believe have higher value and lower risk than less known alternatives. Another benefit is a lower cost of sales, with consumers of valued brands making repeated and frequent purchases. As a result, customer-acquisition costs are amortised over a long-term relationship with the client.
Yet more benefits include lower costs of promotion and a higher market share. With regard to the former, consumers of valued brands become ambassadors who spread positive word-of-mouth at no expense to the seller. With regard to the latter, esteemed brands acquire loyal customers who recruit more customers to the brand, increasing the brand's share of the market while reducing customer-development costs and building immunity to competition.
But to get Ethiopian coffee the brand recognition it deserves, many public relation tools have to be put to use. This can start by having famous people and athletes promote coffee in the international media and by inviting reporters to come to Ethiopia and visit the coffee production process.
Organising huge events such as exhibitions that promote Ethiopian coffee would also help, as would engaging all governmental leaders and ambassadors to create global market linkages. Coming up with innovative marketing tools to support the brand in public and private media as well as social media would complement other efforts.
Working with international public relation institutes to promote Ethiopian coffee would also go a long way to realise it as a valued brand. It is critical that public officials, industry representatives, artists, educators and the media participate in coming to a common understanding of the brand that would be used to represent the entire country. Establishing a committee entirely focused on this would be prudent.
Researching how locals and non-nationals citizens perceive Ethiopian coffee would help to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of the country's brand. Significant effort, here, must go toward creating a brand that is easily identifiable and one that captures the nation's image.
The content of the message that is going to be put forth should be interesting and attractive to catch the attention of customers. It should be all-inclusive in its goals. The goal should not only be to sell the coffee, but also to make tourists want to visit its source, to attract investment and to improve exports.