The Chairman and board of TBWA Zimbabwe and Magna Carta Zimbabwe, Alex Marufu, recently hosted the inaugural Brand Matters Session, tackling an important issue for local businesses: The importance of reputation management in the new Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe underwent a transition in November 2017, and the new government that was ushered in adopted the mantra that “Zimbabwe is open for business.” The government has also gone on a charm offensive, to attract Foreign Direct Investment that could see many international businesses making a bee-line for Zimbabwe. The question therefore is: are Zimbabwean businesses ready for this competition?
Okoth Obado, MD of Redhouse Public Relations Kenya, unpacked the important reputational issues that local businesses must consider, sharing lessons from the experiences of Kenyan businesses over the course of the transitions in government. Over the years, reputation management has taken a back seat for many Zimbabwean businesses. As we anticipate new players entering the local market, consumers will have more power to choose which businesses to support, and will continue to be vocal about their purchase decisions thanks to social media. Organisations therefore need to ask themselves whether they have really earned a good reputation in the market, or have relied on the fact that customers come to them because of convenience or lack of choice.
Mr. Obado said that the call “Zimbabwe is open for business” should be backed up by action otherwise it just becomes a cliché. The Zimbabwean business community needs to understand what our values are as a nation, and conduct business along those values. Beyond this, on an individual level, businesses need to begin to take the measures to build their reputations in a credible way. “It’s important to note that the ultimate aim of reputation endorsement is third party driven,” Mr. Obado emphasised. “Third party endorsement builds a longer lasting perception. In the case of Zimbabwe it will be critical to proving that ‘Zimbabwe is open for business’ is true,” he added.
Mr Obado gave an example of brand Kenya and its communications as it prepared to host the 6th annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit, whereby the video advert was an emotionally evocative piece that highlighted Kenyan values and treasures on the global stage. He also shared a TedX Vienna talk by Alexander Oswald about Kenya’s widespread mobile money solution M Pesa- reinforcing the power of a third party to bring credibility to a brand.
Businesses must ensure they have a very clear positioning and branding roadmap, and be ready to sustain engagement with key stakeholders. Before engaging stakeholders, it is critical to engage in stakeholder mapping in order to identify the relevant stakeholders, pinpoint appropriate channels, highlight the type and frequency of engagement that is suitable, as well as create a feedback mechanism. Importantly, brands must be prepared to consistently engage with stakeholders. Consumers expect consistent engagement, and will drift to other brands that do so if your brand does not.
Organisations must ensure that not only does a crisis management plan for the organisation exists, but that the plan undergoes a regular pressure test including a crisis simulation. This regular review of the crisis plan ensures that it is fit for purpose. Mr. Obado also warned businesses against shifting corporate communications to become a function of the legal department. “Legal departments often disable communication, whereas it is critical that your brand communicates- particularly in a crisis,” he advised. Finally, businesses must remember the 3 Cs of reputation management: show Concern, show Commitment to addressing the issue so that it doesn’t happen again, and take Control.
The session was well received by the corporate leadership in attendance, and TBWA Zimbabwe anticipates the next Brand Matters session will continue to build on issues that are relevant to the local business community.