A conceptual gap still exists in the understanding of the principles and practices of place branding amongst Nigeria’s many state and local government officials. Despite the efforts at the centre to promote this novel concept that has been described by branding professionals as one of the fastest growing knowledge sectors in global branding and marketing, it appears that place branding is largely only linked and associated with the various activities embarked upon by the federal government, aimed at improving Nigeria’s image in the international community, and to position her as a good destination for tourism and investment in sub-saharan Africa.
Since the Nigerian government launched the Nigeria Image Project in 2004, which was subsequently re-branded The Heart of Africa Project, not much has been seen from the respective local and state governments in the direction of formulating strategies to attract foreign investors and tourists to their various towns, villages and states. This overwhelming notion that place branding rests with the centre amounts to defeatist and faulty logic because according to Tom Traynor & Ro Breehl ‘every place does have some distinction, some reason to live there, work there,vacation there, rather than some other place’. They also argue that finding that ‘true compelling claim of distinction’ can be hard work which lots of tourism boards, city councils, business improvement districts aren’t prepared for, ‘preferring instead to move directly to (inevitably drab) advertising execution’. This line of least resistance appears to be the one towed by Nigeria’s state and local government officials.
There are many benefits to states and local governments who make conscious efforts to market their regions both to internal and external stakeholders. If the governments in these states and local governments can institute sound fiscal policies and invest in infrastructures, the job of selling their places becomes easier. The starting point would be the development of a branding framework and strategy encompassing their distinctive cultural, tourism, human capital, economic, educational and personality assets. The second stage would be the implementation of the strategy by appointed marketing communication professionals working closely with the commissioners of information and strategy; the local governments could also do a similar thing by appointing qualified supervising councillors to head the information and communication units of the local governments.
The respective state governors and local government chairmen having recognised the strategic importance of managing their brand assets could also set up small committees headed by marketing communication professionals, to coordinate their various place branding efforts. Appointing non-professionals to such positions purely on political grounds is actually counter –productive and could undermine their prospects of reaping the benefits of economic development which strategic place branding may attract.
Donald Duke, the saxophone playing governor of Cross River state provides a good model for other states and local governments in Nigeria to copy. He has consciously pursued a policy of shying away from controversy since he became the governor of the state. This has helped ensure that his reputation remains quite intact as he has not been named or mentioned in any media report, nor by Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) as one of the corrupt governors. This is quite encouraging as the same can not be said about his colleagues.
The Tinapa Business Resort
Governor Duke’s admirers cut across different age groups and gender, not only because of his boyish looks, social savvy and bespoke fashion sense but also because he is one of the few governors that have actually implemented programmes that have directly impacted on the lives of his people. He has gone a step further with his Tinapa project (Africa’s premier business resort); a project which when completed would put his state and Nigeria on the map of world tourism. The state government has also set up well-designed and maintained websites – www.tinapa.com and www.crossriverstate.com which serves as its windows to the world. The calabar and Cross River brands have steadily improved as strong Nigerian brands during Governor Duke’s stay at the government house.
Nigeria’s many states and local governments should indeed take advantage of emerging technologies such as the internet and incorporate them as governance tools, many do not yet have functioning websites, and for some that do, their sites lack the professional touch that would help enhance their overall brand image.