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Unlocking new markets in a new world

A changing paradigm presents new opportunities for SA Inc.

Brand South Africa is currently engaged in an effort to understand contemporary geopolitical and global economic patterns of change and how these impact on the organisation’s international marketing strategy. It recently sought input from the private sector when it convened a forum to discuss how to inspire innovation and business excellence in an era of emerging markets.

“These proactive initiatives are the result of exhaustive work Brand South Africa undertakes to research and analyse the way in which the country is perceived as well as to understand how the world is changing,” says Petrus de Kock, general manager of research at Brand South Africa.

This work has produced some fascinating insights. Post the global financial crisis, analysts point to the fact that dwindling global trade, and rising nationalism and economic isolationism in Western jurisdictions has put globalisation in retreat. “Just recently, the right-wing Alternative for Germany secured 90 seats (12.6%) in the German parliament. In other countries, including the United Kingdom, nationalism is on the rise as seen in the Brexit vote. Arguably, the whole economic agenda of US President Donald Trump has been based on wanting to isolate the country economically and demographically from the rest of the world. So, what can we conclude?

Globalisation and free trade that was being driven by Western governments and financial institutions are now in retreat.”

But this may not be the case for the increasingly influential emerging markets, as led by the BRICS. In a strange turn of events, Chinese President Xi Jinping emerged from Davos as the spokesperson for global free trade. This has led Brand South Africa to conclude that it will be emerging markets led by the BRICS that are going to become the drivers of globalisation and integration moving forward. It is for this reason that Brand South Africa called on participants in the recent Nation Brand Forum to share strategic insights on how the organisation can better market the Nation Brand in dynamic emerging markets – particularly in the rest of Africa, Latin America and Asia.

The Nation Brand’s stance must adapt and prepare for this. “We need to understand these phenomena. How will emerging markets increase trade with one another, and where are the opportunities for us? And most importantly, how do we position ourselves to exploit them?” says De Kock. These questions and others were confronted at a panel De Kock chaired titled “Positioning the South African Nation Brand in an era of emerging market globalisation”.

Research conducted by Brand SA has identified the ten-member Association of South East Asian countries (Asean), which includes fast-growing economies like Vietnam and Indonesia, as a special opportunity in which to develop stronger trade ties. “The regions’ GDP has grown by 15% over the last decade and by 2019 the collective GDP could be as much as $3 trillion.

While we need to keep the status quo with Europe and North America, it is in Asia where we want to be knocking on doors.”

While Asia presents major opportunities, the Nation Brand’s international investor perceptions research shows that the country generally encounters low levels of familiarity there. “This points us in a very specific direction – we need to do a lot of work to understand those markets and how we can increase our familiarity to entrepreneurs and decision-makers in the region,” says De Kock.

Not only does the organisation track investor perceptions of South Africa, but, as a marketing organisation, it interrogates the way investors access information in order to make investment or trade-related decisions.

According to De Kock, each country has its own unique method of engaging. “In China, companies use their own embassies abroad when they embark on expanding into new markets, but trade shows and exhibitions are the main way in which they love to interact with potential business partners, products, and services. Contrast this with the Germans for instance, who prefer using research and analysis followed up with one-on-one meetings. For us, it means knowing how to market and communicate information about South Africa to them.”  

The work requires a high level of coordination between government departments that include the likes of the Department of Communication, the Department of Trade and Industry (dti) and the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco).

“We recognise we must become much more language savvy. Interested parties find that South African websites don’t have modules to allow for translations. So, government websites and even major metropolitan city websites need to enable that functionality because language is such a massive barrier to doing business,” says De Kock.

Using South African corporates that are expanding into new markets is also another important lever to assist in strengthening trade ties. Called the “country of origin” effect, it relies on shaping the reputation of the country as it is carried outward by South African corporates, universities and media.

In the African environment, Brand South Africa’s research finds that South African brands, products, and services – and most importantly the perception thereof, play a major role in shaping the reputation of the Nation Brand. It is for this reason that the Nation Brand Forum opened a much needed in-depth strategic conversation with corporate South Africa to find new and inspiring ways of opening opportunities in emerging markets.

“We need to understand how the reputation of the country is being shaped by the business practices of South African companies in these markets.  It means we need to understand the corporate strategy and how they engage when they enter these markets,” says De Kock.

Brought to you by Brand South Africa.

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