Brigitte Sesu Tilley-Gyado, AllAfrica.com
Image from, under the headline: Any Nigerian Publicity Is Good Publicity. Just Ask Social Media.
Nigeria is in a state of crisis. The Nigerian brand has never been so bad. Recently Future Brands, a leading international brand evaluation agency, issued a Country Brand index. It ranked 75 countries in the same way they measure consumer or corporate brands - according to strength of global perceptions across association dimensions.
Nigeria came 75th out of 75 countries profiled in the Country Brand Index.
This means that to the outside world, Nigeria was perceived as the worst place on the planet to do business, to live, to invest, to buy from, and to visit. According to the index, Nigeria's reputation trailed far behind countries such as Iran and Zimbabwe, and numerous countries with far lower GDP. Whilst we may see this as undeserved and unfair, in the world of marketing the saying goes "perception is reality".
So our perception issue should not come as a surprise because there has never been any management of the Nigerian brand. Nigeria has suffered from a void of national branding since its loveless creation by a British Colonial Administration in 1914, after its bloody Post-Independence civil war in the 1960's, through the decades of erratic military dictatorships, and its more recent well-documented corrupt democratic regimes.
And in the absence of a grand meta-narrative, or sustained communicated identity, the rest of the world has simply filled in the gap and imagined the Nigerian brand and come to its conclusions about Africa's biggest economy.
Sure, there have been glimmers of singular national brilliance out of Nigeria, periodic wafts of the promise that the rich land and people possess, but there has, in over a hundred years of its existence never been a cohesive and consistent narrative, or brand. Not one. Not once.
Nigeria has never introduced itself to the world, in its own words, in its voice.
I asked several people to mention words that they associated with Nigeria - the words 'corruption', 'hope', 'future promise', 'terrorism', 'insecurity', 'instability', 'oil' were prevalent. These words are some of the most prevalent words associated with Nigeria in the foreign (and local) press. If we were to export those seven word associations, 'oil' is the only commodity appealing to other countries. While the oil prices were high, Nigeria could raise its misunderstood head on the world stage in pride - there was money to be made. But now the oil prices have fallen the other less valuable associations persist.
None of the people that I asked could mention any export other than oil.
So why is it vital to brand a country? A nation brand is one of the most important assets in the global marketplace, and an investment worth making for the sake of the nation's future. It is an invisible hand that governs macro-economic factors. Nation branding dictates perceptions of national competence, tourism, exports, governance, people, culture and heritage, investment and immigration, trade and even political relations with other states.
Through nation branding itself, countries can partake in "investment branding." Countries promote their infrastructure, favourable tax structures, or other incentives in an effort to lure foreign investment. The image and reputation of a nation can greatly influence its success in attracting tourism and investment, and can successfully transfer to the nation's exporting products, essentially as a representation of the nation that produced them.
The key drivers of a 'country brand' include having a reputation for producing high quality 'Made In' products and services. The two other main drivers are a desire to visit, live, do business or study in a country.
These drivers are based on global perceptions of good infrastructure, good regulatory environment, transparent political system, freedom of speech, standard of living, safety and security, skilled workforce, range of attractions, environmental friendliness, advanced technology, art and culture, natural beauty, historical points of interest, value for money. These three factors make the most difference between a country and a country brand, and demonstrate the power of consumer desire in country brand strength.
Nation branding is practiced by many countries, including the United States, Canada, France, United Kingdom (where it is officially referred to as public diplomacy), Japan, China, South Korea, Singapore, South Africa, New Zealand, Israel and most Western European countries.
Some nation-branding success stories include post-Yugoslav countries like Slovenia and Croatia, which launched marketing campaigns focused on their scenic venues and the cultural break from Yugoslavia following their secessions. These campaigns were wildly successful and both countries emerged as tourist destinations.
In the UK, the "Great Britain" campaign has branded all the key elements of the nation's offering from financial services to the English countryside.
Developing nations such as Rwanda, Tanzania and Colombia are creating smaller nation branding programs aimed at increased overall image and with the case of Colombia, changing international perception.
At our agency, LONDON Advertising, our team led the development of the successful country brand campaigns for America, Bahrain, Dubai International Finance Centre, Georgia, South Australia, Mauritius, and the Republic of Congo. Our work has been measurably effective in changing the way that these countries are viewed, and in the quality of investment and tourism opportunities that have flowed into the country as a direct result of our campaigns.
Dear Nigeria, it's time to tell our national story. If we don't the misperceptions which have us placed at the bottom of the heap will continue to keep us there.
Brigitte Sesu Tilley-Gyado, director of Africa Business at LONDON Advertising; recipient of the Rebranding Africa Prize by Cambridge University, 2014