Outdated Ethiopian Brand Needs Facelift

Branding is the art of persuasion. The service provider has to “persuade” the consumer that whatever product it sells to you, is a better fit to your needs than any competitor can deliver. Branding is the mother of modern day marketing. That is why even countries decided to brand themselves to attract investment. In globalization; there are two major non-state actors that each country is desperately trying to draw in; multinationals (MNC) and tourists.

MNC now have more wealth than most of the world countries combined. The MNC Apple, for instance, had more money than the United States government. Countries understand in an ever competing, neo-liberal world market; they need to do everything they can to attract and hold on to MNC; Ethiopia is no exception. From the Grand Renaissance Dam to the billions of dollars investment on roads, and industrial parks are all done to primarily attract MNC’s to come and invest their money. In turn, they create jobs that will help Ethiopia fast track into industrialization.

But then if all nations of the world are competing for MNC attention; how does a country “win” its pitch in attracting MNC?


The “Ethiopian brand” for MNC in the past 10 years has been impressive. Every article speaks of the “New Lion” of Africa with the government determined to show MNC’s that Ethiopia is open for business by showcasing stability, attractive tax incentives, young demographic population and flexible labor laws.

However, there are major challenges to attracting MNC investment in 2017; such as lack of understanding the competitive nature of globalization and lack of awareness by the government on how branding plays with the end-consumer of MNC.

A decade of double-digit growth had given the state leverage in dealing with MNC. However, the slowdown in the economy due to the decline of exports goods, credit crunch, and extension of State of emergency are all eventually going to create issues for MNC’s. Usually, countries which have a strong brand for investment can weather through such storms because their relationship with MNC is solidified due to their long lasting relationship that has created mutual trust, codependence and a reliable partnership. The country has to tread carefully when dealing with MNC, for it has lost some of its leverage it had in the past. It cannot be seen as demanding as it wants to be; especially regarding restructuring of profit sharing, tackling youth unemployment and eroding tax incentives. It has to maneuver carefully keeping in mind in a globalized world; MNC can take their business elsewhere with ease.

Moreover, it also has to understand some MNC are sensitive about how they are perceived by the global consumer. When the government is accused of environment degradation, land grab or inhumane treatment of its workforce; the government has to do a better job in dealing with accusations it feels are unfounded. It needs to hire PR organizations that can better articulate the government’s position; rather than a very confrontational tone taken by some policy makers.

One sector of the Ethiopian brand that is facing crises mode is the Tourism sector. The Ministry of Tourism & Culture is trying to put up a brave face. Its performance and the target of revenue set out to achieve under the second edition of growth and transformation could not be further apart; even if the recent unrest in some regions and the extension of the State of Emergency is factored in. The Ministry of Tourism has been quite defensive when being criticized for its shortcomings.

As much as we want to think the structure Ministry of Tourism has developed, the fact is that in its core, it has been pretty much the same from its modern inception under the late Emperor Haile Sellasie. At that time, 50 years ago; the Ethiopian brand in relations to tourism capitalized in three main areas; history and religion, natural scenery and Cuisines. From these three elements, it created Brand Ethiopia. To promote the brand, the Ministry used what was the latest trend at that time, outbound marketing.

Outbound marketing promotes a brand to a broad base of potential clients, in the hopes that within the broad base, a sufficient percentage will be persuaded to invest in the brand. This included television commercials broadcasted abroad; coupled with international bazaars and expos in which Ethiopian cultural shows of coffee ceremonies conducted by women wearing habesha clothes will be displaced. Then some traditional dancing groups and handouts of literature on Ethiopia to guests who attend the show. Moreover, through Ethiopian Airlines; in-flight literature will showcase the Brand Ethiopia to passengers.

After the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie and coming to power Derg; the structure of “Brand Ethiopia” of the 1960s was still kept in place. Even though some positive additional tourist sites and religious ceremonies were added (such as Irreecha); not much has changed. However, what contributed to the lack of competitive nature of the Ministry is less on what other sceneries Ethiopia can showcase, rather it’s because it still operated under the structure of outbound marketing while the rest of the world has advanced to a more effective, complex system of marketing; known as Inbound marketing.

Inbound marketing simply put, is a system whereby the promoter of the Brand has to first identify a sub-group from the public; then tailor (focus) on drawing in this selection by using content the subgroup can personalize (relate with) and then use the content to interact with such a group, through a medium that is most convenient.

When on one hand, outbound marketing is “telling” you what you need; inbound marketing listens and delivers what” you want”. Even though the Ethiopian Brand still uses the modern medium of communication such as websites and social media, which are elements of inbound marketing, it has not really developed any tailored based content marketing. That is a major problem why Brand Ethiopia is not attracting as many tourists as we ought to be.

For instance, while the Kenyan brand is “Magical Kenya”; Ethiopia official brand for tourism is “Ethiopia: Land of Origins”. This is where the problem starts. When in one hand Magical Kenya is a brand; “Ethiopia: Land of Origins” is not a brand but a fact. Yes, Ethiopia is the land of origins where modern humans set out throughout the world, where the source of the Blue Nile is, and the origin of coffee. But these “facts” should have been transformed into a brand. For instance, when someone sees the brand Magical Kenya, he or she knows there is no real “magic” for it’s a metaphor; whereby the experience of visiting Kenya would equate to the experience of magic.

Branding is the reshaping of facts into an experienced tailor to tourists, by focusing on marketing the facts in a shape and form a tourist can be drawn into. That’s how facts are turned into brands. That is why it is confusing when someone looks at “Ethiopia: Land of Origins” the official web page for brand Ethiopia. The web page is structured as more of an information page than a promotion page about Ethiopia. With maps of Ethiopia, general information about places to visit, some history information and emphases on how Ethiopia has the largest registered UNSECO sites in Africa (equal to that of Morocco); it does very little to draw in the viewer of the page. This same information could be found on Wikipedia or random book about Ethiopia anywhere else in the world.

Such generic information makes the tourist “feel” as if the brand is stating “we have all these places to see; choose the one you like and drop by”. Rather, it ought to have created a sense, that brand Ethiopia has researched what sub-groups of tourist he or she belongs to and taken the time to develop a personalized content packaged tailored towards the tourist needs and wants.

That is why even though Ethiopia has surpassed Kenya and Tanzania in terms of visitors; with the highest UNSECO registered sites in Africa, over 2,000 years of recorded history, the political capital of Africa (Addis Abeba), Adwa, Origin of Humankind, Blue Nile, and Coffee, Ethiopia ought to had been by this time top 20 tourist destination in the world. That is why the Prime Minister’s Office and the community set up to look into the Ministry are baffled as to why Ethiopia had only been able to attract between one to three million visitors annually, even before the unrest took place.

We can critique the Ethiopian Brand in relations to MNC, looking at its strength and challenges and suggesting mechanisms to address these challenges; brand Ethiopia in relations to tourism needs a complete overall change. That is why, as much as tourism is trying to promote Ethiopia daily through Ethiopian Airlines, workshops, training, and usage of digital media, it continues to never reach its full potential.

No matter how innovative and modern the tools of marketing could be (using Facebook, Twitter, and the Internet); as long as the structure in which it operates is outdated; the results will always be below what it can achieve.

By Niftalem Fikre
He is a certified digital marketer. He can be reached at neftalemfikre@gmail.com

Published on Apr 14,2017 [ Vol 17 ,No 884]



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