In recent times, Ghana has attempted to brand and position itself on the international destination market with the setting up of the Brand Ghana office under the leadership of the late Mathias Akotia. However, it seems the brand building process has been curtailed.
According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), tourism generated US$7.6 trillion (10% of global GDP) and 277 million jobs (1 in 11 jobs) for the world’s economy in 2014 with major destinations attracting approximately 70% of the global tourism market. Davidson (2005) argues that there’s a symbiotic relationship between country branding and tourism inflows and as such emerging economies need to advance their position through distinctive country branding.
Morgan et al (2003) also argue that all the leading tourism destinations offer excellent locations and every country claims to have unique culture and heritage. As a result, the need for destinations to portray a unique identity is more critical than ever. They further pointed out that the battle for customers in tomorrow’s destination marketplace will be fought over hearts and minds, and this is where place promotion moves into the territory of brand management.
This article focuses on destination brands and discusses how Ghana can build a compelling and credible brand identity to position itself on the international destination market.
What is destination branding?
Destination branding basically relates to creating a distinct image in the minds of the target audience about a place. Gnoth (2002) sees destination branding as a management process that leads to a strategic plan to build a brand identity based upon destination attributes. This is selected on the basis of competitiveness, uniqueness and desired identity.
Hall (1999) also defines the core objective of destination branding as the production of a consistent, focused communication strategy, based upon the selection of core intangible values existing in the mind of the consumer.
In general, to build a compelling brand, there must be a source of differentiation which must be supported by consistent and integrated communication to create an image in the minds of the target audience. However, it’s not enough to have a source of differentiation; that differentiation must be relevant and supported by tangible and intangible values and attributes. Therefore the need to develop any brand strategy for Ghana must be driven by relevant brand destination attributes or proposition.
The key question then is; what is Ghana’s brand destination proposition? This will be addressed later in this article.
How different are destination brands from corporate brands?
In Ghana, the setting up of the Brand Ghana office received some level of resentment from various stakeholders and is still quite a divisive issue. Therefore, the multiplicity of stakeholders involved in destination brands as well as the complexity of their needs is the key difference between corporate brands and destination brands.
Morgan et al (2002) also note that destination marketing is often constrained by limited budgets, the external environment, the destination product, the difficulty in creating differentiation, politics and lack of sufficient funding.
A destination Branding Approach
There are various elements that should be explored in developing an effective destination branding strategy for Ghana.
Identifying the brand vision & Stakeholder Management
Various destination authors argue and rightly so that the starting point for any destination brand strategy is the strategic vision. The vision needs to be translated into the brand promise and that brand promise needs to be clearly communicated to all stakeholders to gain their acceptance and commitment (Trueman et al., 2004).
Balakrishnan (2009) proposes that countries can identify six vision drivers for their destination branding strategy. These vision drivers include; Services, Economic, Transit Hub, Trade, Retail and Tourism.
A key issue therefore is to clearly identify Ghana’s vision driver for its brand building efforts to ensure brand credibility. For example, we cannot position ourselves as a transit hub when we have only one international airport with very poor infrastructure.
Therefore for a country like Ghana, the most viable vision for our destination brand strategy will be to focus on tourism since we don’t have the infrastructure needed to compete on the various drivers.
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), Ghana is currently ranked 107 in absolute terms out of 184 countries in terms of the size of its tourism market and 137 in terms of tourism’s contribution to GDP. Global tourism accounts for about 10% of the world’s GDP and in Ghana, it contributed about GHC7, 668.4m in 2014 (6.7% of GDP) (WTTC, 2014). There’s therefore opportunity for growth and Ghana should develop a conscious brand strategy to tap into the international destination market.
However, the implication for adopting Tourism as a key brand driver will require a more integrated and co-ordinated approach between the Brand Ghana office, the Ministry of Tourism and the Ghana Tourism Authority.
Various authors like Kotler (2004) and Anholt et al (2002) argue that Tourism cannot be delineated from branding and that a tourism strategy should be developed within the broad context of a national branding strategy. Probably, this disconnection or lack of integration is one of the key factors that have militated against the effectiveness of Ghana’s branding effort.
Identifying unique brand destination proposition (UDP) and Visual brand identity anchors
A key issue after the development of the vision is to identify a UDP. The UDP is not only about identifying a proposition; it’s about identifying attributes (both tangible and intangible) that are relevant to the target audience.
Destination brand strategists deploy various models in their quest to identify relevant attributes to anchor their brand strategy. One of these models is the Importance-Performance Analysis (IPA) Grid which can be used to identify attributes that are important to the target audience and then rank the country’s performance on those attributes to help determine key attributes to be used to anchor the brand strategy.
Published research by Braimah, Kesse and Bulley (2012), using an IPA grid indicates that key attributes that can be leveraged to create unique destination propositions for Ghana include; friendliness of local people, personal safety, diversity of culture and availability of historic sites. Most of these attributes are also soft or intangible and thus cannot be imitated easily in the short term.
Intangible attributes like “friendship”, appeal to the emotions of the target audience and as such it can help the target audience to develop strong brand affinity. Unique destination propositions can encompass just one or a combination of positive attributes. An example of a single attribute proposition is: “Ghana, the world’s friendliest country”, “Ghana, home of the world’s friendliest people” or “Ghana, come make friends!”. A multi-attribute proposition combines various positive attributes. Examples could include; “Land of peace, rich traditions, opportunities, friendship n more…..”
The research also indicated that visitors had various images of Ghana. The most frequent descriptors were; “friendly”, “hot”, “safe” “vibrant”, “fun”, “opportunities”, “hospitable”, “peaceful”, “culturally diverse”, “full of life”, “relaxing”, “laid back”, “progressive”, “chaotic”, “affordable”, “interesting”, “paradox”, “amazing”, “dirty”. Out of 19 impressions only three of them were negative.
There must also be the development of brand identity images to communicate the destination proposition. Recently, a “made in Ghana logo” was launched but it should have been launched within the framework of a more co-ordinated and integrated brand strategy to give it the needed impact and traction across various stakeholder contact points. The effort feels isolated and less impactful.
All brand themes and unique destination propositions should be integrated across every potential visitor contact point to ensure that they transmit a single, coherent and consistent image. Currently, digital marketing has become a critical and cost effective tool for communicating destination propositions on the international destination market and it will be a key tool in implementing a brand strategy.
Whilst word-of-mouth (WOM) recommendations are critical for choosing tourist destinations, web-based resources are used to narrow itinerary (Future Brands, 2006). As part of the communication’s strategy, Ghana also needs to explore the possibility of identifying individuals who can act as destination brand ambassadors amongst others.
It’s important to note that it’s not enough to develop and communicate UDPs; there must be tangible efforts in the areas of infrastructure to complement the positioning strategy and to build credibility.