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THE ISSUE: Is there sufficient use of branding as a financial and economic tool?

Shawn Cumberbatch

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Efforts fall short
Barbadians are constantly surrounded by brands. Without even realising it, the food they eat, clothes they wear, and car they drive are the results of a decision to choose a uniquely named item.
And, of course, there is the usual discussion about Barbados’ ability or inability to attract “brand name hotels” and the benefits of having such entities here is largely recognised.
So that whether it is a hugely popular soft drink or fast food brand or a company or country,  this normally equates to earning large sums of money for having “a name” and backing this up with high quality.
“A brand usually carries a logo or trademark by which it is recognised. Many shoppers can easily identify a Heinz can or a Kellogg’s packet, for example, and it is the brand which is drawing them towards the product. Developing a corporate brand is important because a positive brand image will give consumers, and other interested stakeholders, confidence about the full range of products and activities associated with a particular company,” was how British organisation Business Case Studies described the issue.
“The product range and service package associated with a company must fit with the corporate brand. This fit will come through product quality and performance, as well as in the consistency of advertising and packaging, and in customer service. Company image is not confined to product branding. All of the organisation’s activities need to be carried out and presented in a consistent and desirable way. This will help to create a strong positive image of the company,” it added.
About six years ago Barbados’ 100 per cent Bajan campaign, which tried to get Barbadians to buy local ran into trouble at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) when it was suggested that as a member of that body to make such a statement or have such a programme was against the WTO rules.
Speaking in October 2008 at a post Cabinet media briefing, then Minister of Foreign Affairs Chris Sinckler said concerns were expressed during a WTO meeting in Geneva that Barbados was in violation of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs Article III, which speaks to national treatments.
Noting that there was some “validity” to the complaint, Sinckler said that notwithstanding, Barbados was a small vulnerable economy, and needed to “retain within its management the ability to make adjustments”.
“We were asked about the basis of the programme, what it intended to achieve, those kinds of things, when we were going to bring it into concert with the WTO rules, which we gave a commitment to do so,” he explained.
The 100 Per Cent Bajan campaign was instituted by the Barbados Manufacturers’ Association to raise the profile of exports, encourage Barbadians to buy more local products and encourage manufacturers to export more. In 2006 an apparently more WTO palatable Brands Of Barbados initiative has been undertaken –with the same objectives in mind. This was not only to get Barbadians to buy local, but to have pride in Bajan brands, thereby ensuring that thousands of manufacturing jobs were secured while saving vital foreign exchange.
But branding is not just a Barbados issue, since the concept of Caribbean branding has been a hot topic of discussion for some time, primarily by those voicing the view that the region should market itself as a single tourism destination.
Recognising the importance of branding, Caribbean Export Development Agency executive director Pamela Coke-Hamilton is one of those on record saying the region has not done well enough in the area of branding.
In fact, she believes “substandard branding continues to be one of the major challenges hindering Caribbean products from dominating world markets.
This was specifically in an increasingly globally competitive environment where special preferences are becoming part of the past, the need to improve in this area is becoming more critical.
“It’s a big challenge . . . the type of packaging and branding we have of most companies, they tend to be substandard, tend not to meet the requirements that people nowadays want to see. If you walk into any store in Limegrove, you can see the difference in terms of branding. What the brand does is that it gives you an identity, and that has to be something that people want to go back for or be associated with,” she said.
“What we are trying to do . . . [is] to put people in a position to package and sell that product in a way that will enable them to have the niche market that we think they would be able to at least fill.”
All hope is not lost, however, as Barbados does have brand recognition in some areas. For example, the island is recognised internationally as the home of rum and, for some, the home of cricket.