Managing a nation brand during crisis

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BY MARY KIMONYE

The reputation of a country is comparable to the brand images of companies and products and it’s very essential for its progress and prosperity. The need to understand and embrace nation branding is therefore very critical. Subsequently, managing a country brand is about national, regional and international identity and the politics and economics of competitiveness.

But what happens when a nation brand goes through a crisis?

According to Simon Anholt, a branding expert, building the reputation of a country takes between 5 to 20 years. All countries have their brand images, and they get their brands from public opinion. Hence France is about style, Japan about technology and Brazil about football.

As they say, “perception is reality”. Perceptions are developed over time through events and actions. Often times, disastrous events take place, which if not well managed can ruin a country’s reputation. As Warren Buffet said, it takes five minutes to ruin a reputation. How nations manage these issues affects how the world views them.

Effective approach in managing a nation brand under a crisis
Communication
In a time of crisis, internal communications takes precedence. Communicating early is often the best strategy for mitigating a brand crisis. Those impacted by the crisis want answers fast. Channels of communication include websites, social media platforms, media releases, testimonials and endorsements.

Dissemination of Positive Content
Dissemination and sharing of positive content with citizens is very critical. This applies to traditional mass media and social media as well. Capitalizing on the brand strengths helps to guard the status of the brand.

Harnessing the power of mass media
Media forms an integral part of nations. They have power as a trusted source of information and therefore ought to be viewed as allies. It’s important to harness this power. In a time of crisis, a variety of media outlets and tactics must be used to reach various audiences to maximize reach and frequency of the message. A blended approach that incorporates digital and print ensures that audiences are reached strategically via their preferred channels of communication.

In a crisis, citizens take their cue from the local media. Subsequently, the international media takes a cue from local media. Engaging the media is therefore not an option.

Social media strategy
Social media makes it easy for users to share and shape opinions. When a crisis occurs, it is human nature to want to connect, offer support and heal together. That’s the power of social media; it provides a place to congregate and share comfort, a virtual “community centre.” This provides the opportunity to react in real time to crises, correcting any reported mistruths and managing bad word of mouth.

Engaging the critics and encouraging positive dialogue
It is crucial to deal directly with critics. Lying low until the heat blows over is not an option. Today, the Internet gives visibility to critics, it’s much better to deal with criticism as it arises. Strong Brands will always have defenders among its various stakeholders, including investors. These supporters should be provided with platforms space where they can express their views on what the brand means to them. Encouraging positive sources of information about the brand ensures that positive opinions are sustained.

Harnessing opportunities to rebuild the brand’s image
Looking for opportunities, locally, regionally and nationally to showcase the nation, helps to rebuild a reputation. Mega sporting events, business forums and cultural exhibitions offer classic platforms to engage the world.

Government’s Role
Proactive strategies are the best solution to managing a nation brand under crisis. The role of political leadership during a crisis is to rally citizens together and unify them towards developing a solution for the challenge at hand. Leadership can come from political, economic or even social leaders.

Citizen’s role
As the government plays its role, all citizens have an equally important role to play. Citizens are the most powerful ambassadors of a nation. Thanks to digital media, citizens can participate in the building and rebuilding of a nation brand. During a crisis, they should lend support to government’s efforts and spread good will across all communication platforms.

Crisis Communication Strategy
Planning ahead is critical. Crises can’t always be predicted but by identifying potential risk areas and putting plans in place, it is possible to take control and manage an emergency efficiently. Developing a robust crisis management procedure prepares a nation, before a crisis strikes, leaving it better able to deal with an emergency that might arise. Successful crisis management depends largely on developing a planned, integrated solution and a sustained communications approach. A Crisis Management Team must be in place at all times. The more prepared a nation is, the easier it is to execute the strategy calmly and confidently when the need arises.

(Mrs Kimonye is the Chief Executive Officer, Brand Kenya Board)

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