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Why brand Jamaica won't work for us

Henley Morgan

Wednesday, February 06, 2013    

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The made for Super Bowl Volkswagen commercial depicting Jamaicans as carefree and happy, proves once again that we are a people enamoured more with the nine-day wonder of imagery than we are with the substance of nation building.

Watched by an estimated global audience of close to 100 million viewers, the advertisement triggered a euphoric outpouring of articles on the pages of this and other local newspapers declaring the Jamaica brand the panacea for all our ills. There are two false assumptions that drive even intelligent people to such a conclusion.

The first false assumption is that being happy has economic value. That Jamaicans are happy is not in doubt. In a January 2008 opinion poll, respected pollster Bill Johnson asked the question, "Are you happy or unhappy with your life in Jamaica?" The results of the poll were as follows: 59% said they were happy; 35% said they were not happy, and 6% said they were not sure. In 2009, the New Economics Foundation ranked countries based on what it calls their Happy Planet Index (HPI). A country's HPI, the think tank claims, is a function of its average life satisfaction, life expectancy at birth and ecological footprint (eg greenhouse gases) per capita. Of 150 countries in the survey, Jamaica ranked the third happiest place in the world. The United States came in dead last. So much for the view that happiness has any validity as a key economic indicator.

The second false assumption, and the one with which this article is preoccupied, is that brand automatically translates to economic value. Brand is a principle that is not easily understood or appreciated. I will use a practical example with which I am familiar to remove some of the mystery surrounding the topic. A few years ago, Interbrand, a firm with expertise in brand value assessment, determined that the United Way's name and logo enjoy 90% and 60% recognition respectively among the American populace. Using a complicated formula, the consultants estimated the brand value of the organisation to be a whopping $34.7 billion. That year, the United Way raised about $13 billion, about the same as the size of Jamaica's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), through its campaign. The thing to notice here is the gap between the value of the brand and the economic results the organisation was able to produce.

For ease of making the case, let's assume that Jamaica's brand value is conservatively valued at $34.7 billion, the same as for the United Way. If we could fully tap the value in the Jamaica brand, per capita income would move from the present lower middle income US$4,200 to a more respectable US$12,000 plus, or just about where Barbados currently is. The question to be answered is: What's standing in the way of us leveraging this tremendous asset?

To sum up a complex issue with a single word, that word would have to be governance. The Research Department of the World Bank developed the World Governance Indicators (WGI) to measure the quality of governance in over 200 countries. The WGI measures six dimensions of governance. Four that are especially problematic for Jamaica are encapsulated in the interest of space. Government effectiveness: The quality of public services and the civil service, and the degree of independence from political pressures. Regulatory quality: The ability of the government to formulate and implement sound policies and regulations that permit and promote private sector development. Rule of law: The extent to which people have confidence in and abide by the rules of society; the likelihood of crime and violence. Control of corruption: The extent to which public power is exercised for private gain.

Without addressing the fundamental governance issues, the idea of brand Jamaica will remain as illusionary as fool's gold; promising much but delivering little in terms of wealth creation. We can learn from one of our own, Sandals Resorts International, the power of brand to transform a company, a sector and even a country. Sandals has achieved super-brand status, having been ranked among the top 500 consumer brands based in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.

Adam Stewart said in an interview on CVM's The Naked Truth, that this home-grown Jamaican company spends upward of US$70 million annually on advertising. But he would be the first to tell you that name recognition does not a brand make. It's the experience that the guest has when he or she steps on to one of the company's properties that delivers on the promise in the brand and value proposition. Butch Stewart has stopped referring to Jamaica as damaged property. Thank God. But hardly has there been a truer statement.

I have experienced this same thing that inhibits Jamaica on a smaller scale with Trench Town. In our sales pitch we like to say, "Trench Town is one of a few communities the world over whose name is more recognisable than the name of the capital city in which it is located". Yet, the tour buses are lined up in front of Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley in Memphis Tennessee, not Culture Yard, the home of the iconic Bob Marley, and the release of the block-buster documentary on his life last year failed to produce a measureable up-tick in visitors, despite the fact that crime is no longer the major issue it once was. That's why a good amount of my energy goes into discussions and actions toward building the Trench Town brand as the go-to place, and I have turned to Island Routes, the tour destination management subsidiary of Sandals, to help make it happen. Trench Town: the MAKER (MEKKA) and MECCA of Reggae.

If this article succeeds in making the future prospects of Jamaica seem ominous, it would have failed. This week is being recognised as Diplomatic Week in Jamaica. There are non-resident ambassadors and other diplomats from around the world here. As the Honorary Consul representing the Republic of Botswana, I get to hear first-hand their views of our island home. The views are diverse, but I will sum them up with a single statement. If only we could see in ourselves what others see in us, we would have made a first but big step towards brand Jamaica working for us.

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