Leadership brand not an option in nation branding


When people think about brands, they often think about products. But people are brands too. In fact, some of the world’s most successful business and political leaders are individuals who have a clear personal brand. Think of Professor Wangari Maathai, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi; they had strong personal brands which reflected their philosophies and beliefs and aligned strongly with their values. Their brands enhanced their leadership status in the society.

We all thrive in environments with leaders who inspire us, lead by example, are caring, inclusive and engaging, share their wisdom with us and support us in seeing how our work makes a difference and in getting things done. Indeed, the concept of leadership brand is becoming more important as the need for nation branding grows.

A nation’s brand generally refers to the common images, perceptions and association’s people have with that nation. Cabinet assignments, policy changes, diplomatic relations, legislative policy, economic policy and political systems are some of the ways through which nation branding is seen and communicated.

Every nation brand has a story. When this is not consciously told, any story will be told in its place.  This often creates gaps between a nation brand’s perception and performance in the eyes of its audiences. And who would tell the story better, than the leaders of a nation?

As the Executive leader of a country, it is the leader’s responsibility to keep a nation’s brand strong. As spokesperson for the nation brand, a leader must also ensure that brand perceptions align with brand performance. President Uhuru Kenyatta has done so with grace. He is telling Kenya’s story across the nation, within the region and on the global platform.

At the recently held US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington DC, he graced the meeting as Kenya’s top brand ambassador, as he focused on strengthening ties between the US and Kenya in trade, capital investment, infrastructure, energy and security. While on the tour, President Kenyatta was the first Kenyan President to be interviewed by the Cable News Network (CNN). He was also interviewed by Reuters. He had earlier on attended the European Union-Africa Summit where he represented Kenya’s case on a number of global issues, and also represented the East African Community, in his role as current chairperson on infrastructure, trade and regional integration matters.

President Kenyatta’s leadership brand was also enhanced by a Gallup International opinion poll, which ranked him as the third best performing leader in sub-Saharan Africa. This made news in local, regional and international media.

He has set a good precedence in matters nation branding; his leadership brand offers credibility and believability to the Kenyan brand promise. He is a nation brand champion. Positioning a country as an investment and destination requires the active participation and support of all leaders. Therefore, all leaders across the board should assume an ambassadorial role in building the nation brand. As leaders, they should be a trusted and authoritative voice in sharing positive information about Kenya in all forums locally and abroad. Their informed opinions will then shape perceptions about Kenya and enhance the nation’s status in the region and in the global market place.

Whether a country’s brand creates economic opportunity through investment and tourism, or supports a national rally cry to unite citizens, it is an asset that must be managed by leaders. A brand that is well managed creates efficiencies in capital and resources.

When aligned with a strategic vision, it can enhance a nation’s status and reputation. Even in times of uncertainty, a country’s brand is an asset that can unite government and business alike to encourage travel, trade and tourism. For that reason, all leaders in government, religious organisations, private enterprises, Non-Governmental Organisations must play their role in building Kenya into a top brand.

All leaders need to ask themselves; “what is my brand”? What thought or feeling leaps to mind when people think about you? Your brand, which is essentially your character, is already well-formed. Look at the story of your life for clues to the values you hold. These character-shaping experiences are the foundation of your brand and they have made you the leader you are today. So, walk the talk and build our nation brand.

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

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