By David Jessop
The year 2012 will be an important one for the Caribbean. It is the year when both Jamaica and Trinidad celebrate fifty years of independence and the one in which the Caribbean is expected to demonstrate at the London Olympics its spirit and success.
These events are important in themselves, but offer too an opportunity to build a national brand in a manner that can create social and economic benefits.
Jamaica in particular has recognised this, is planning and has already launched an extensive range of events around the United Kingdom. It hopes, as it track stars shine, to have its name, image and values resonate at home, around the world and with its Diaspora.
In March it launched the first phase of ‘Meet Jamaica 2012’. Sponsored by the Jamaica National Building Society, this involved its participation in the International Food and Drink Expo, the UK’s largest food and drink trade event; a UK Investment Forum hosted by the Jamaican Government’s investment promotion arm, JAMPRO; and an official ‘UK Meets Jamaica’ launch in Birmingham, the city where its Olympic team will be in training. Other planned events include a Taste of Jamaica where Jamaican cuisine will be showcased, plus activities aimed at increasing greater global awareness of what Jamaica has to offer.
The objective is to create greater awareness of the Jamaican brand in a manner that involves the Jamaican public and private sector promoting goods, services and investment.
Trinidad too is adopting a high profile approach. It is setting up its national training camp in Cardiff, raising the nation’s profile during the Notting Hill Carnival and establishing a ‘village’ in London to showcase the Republic. Other nations, from the British Virgin Islands to the Dominican Republic have also begun to unveil their plans to make use of the global spotlight that the Olympics offer.
In this context, unusually, and it is fair to say, not to universal acclaim, Trinidad and Jamaica have additionally suggested that they will partner to promote the Caribbean region during the 2012 Olympics. The idea is that major groups and organisations from both countries will participate in a ‘Caribbean Calling’ campaign aimed at enhancing the region’s international profile in tourism and business. The initiative is open for other Caribbean countries to join.
What all this suggests is that there is now greater Caribbean recognition that nations need to promote themselves as brands to enhance their competitiveness, and that through developing a positive and well honed image that reflects all that is best, can influence, enforce or change the way in which a country is perceived.
So important has this become globally that huge sums are now invested by nations from Singapore to Namibia in advertising national images on cable and other television networks and through an ever increasing array of social media.
To understand the value - real and perceptual - that branding brings, an interesting recent case study has been the rise of Grey Goose vodka, a product that sells at a considerable premium, comes from France, a nation with no tradition of producing vodka, and which in the space of a few years has risen to become a hugely valuable multinational brand.
Grey Goose is distilled in Cognac, from French wheat and exported globally. It began life in 1997 when a self-made billionaire, Sidney Frank, decided to enter the premium vodka market to challenge traditional producers. He took the idea that a French origin suggested high quality, decided on a name, developed a marketing and branding strategy and then set about finding a production facility. In doing so he created a product with unique brand characteristics from its replaceable cork stopper to its frosted artwork bottle. The product achieved brand differentiation, gave up-scale consumers something new and in doing so created a 'super premium' category of vodka for which some consumers were willing to pay a premium price.
A country of course is not a product. Its pre-existing good and bad features continue alongside each other. But the product, culture and consequent image of a nation can like a manufactured item also be branded in a way that significantly enhances its economic opportunity.
What Jamaica, Trinidad and others will be doing next year is leveraging up their national assets and attributes and showing them to the world. They will be doing so in a manner that will not just encourage awareness of their exports, cuisine, music and other aspects of their culture but in doing so intentionally raising national consciousness and pride while enhancing tourism, investment and economic growth.
Boosting success whether relates to investment, tourism or trade negotiations depends to an extraordinary extent upon perception. When nations and regions are competing they are to a significant extent measured by the way they present themselves and the level of confidence they engender.
Creating country awareness means conveying positive messages about for example security, taxation, cultural achievement, education, the environment, political probity and stability. It requires government, the business community, those in the arts, education and the media to all be confident and joint owners of a ‘product’ about which they care.
This is not to suggest that style should take precedence over substance. Rather it is note that an element of the region’s future and competitiveness is likely to come from the way in every country presents their uniqueness to the world.
All Caribbean Governments, industry and those who own intellectual property need to be much more aware of value of national branding. They need also to defend jointly their intellectual property and the origin of the region’s unique products if they and the Caribbean are ever to benefit from the enormously valuable and desirable assets that they possess.
A few years ago the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association and Caribbean Tourism Organisation came up with a positive multicoloured logo using only the word Caribbean to express the spirit of the region. It was intended to be used promotionally on all Caribbean products and services but for the most part has been applied to tourism products.
At a time when regionalism is failing, yet the desire for Caribbean identity remains strong, one small but additional way to ensure that the region too is visible in 2012 would be to apply this logo to all that Caribbean nations will be doing in and around the Olympics.
David Jessop is the Director of the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at email@example.com
Previous columns can be found at www.caribbean-council.org