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ON THE RIGHT: Consistent message important

Alex Pratt

ON THE RIGHT: Consistent message important

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Barbados is not in the rudest financial health, is labouring under a combined burden of debt, deficit and dysfunction, and is more fearful about the future than it is used to. Given the tsunami of sea changes in the global economic order, this retrograde and painful revised economic position for such a small island economy should be both understandable and to an extent be expected, although it is completely unnecessary in the case of Barbados.
While the trading conditions in which we must now all operate, and the behaviours you need to exhibit have changed beyond recognition, who you are, and what you stand for as an island people remain intact and unaltered. They form the underlying essence of brand Barbados, and combine to form a formidable national asset that should in my humble opinion be better deployed in support of a more sustainable future for the island.
A few years ago, having led work on rebranding Britain (dubbed “Cool Britannia”) I invested some time helping Invest Barbados and the then Government investigate how to leverage a reputation for the island that would help underpin a more prosperous, more balanced, less vulnerable economy of the future.
At the time, the island was riding high and there seemed insufficient pain or hunger to take this important but complex cross-societal challenge forward, and I can’t help thinking now that had we pushed on, Barbados would today be in a more comfortable place.
The first point worth noting is that there is a link between tourism and investment. This is why there is so little investment in Alaska and so much more by comparison in the Caribbean. Your location is an asset.
The second point is that the sea, surf and sand imagery is now just a visual cliché for the Caribbean that offers no differentiated positioning to Barbados. Pictures of palm trees and beaches simply lump the island in with the region as a whole.
The third and most critical point is that what people perceive of you has less to do with what you say about yourself, and all to do with the consistent experience others have of you. This is the basis for TripAdvisor, which answers the question in a prospect’s head “yeah I see the hype, but what is it really like?” No amount of me telling you I’m thin and good-looking will ever trump the reports from those who have met me and formed and shared their own opinions. Your reputation is earned, not created today and ever more than before.
The trick in effective nation-branding that can deliver long-term economic benefit is to find and occupy a position in the minds of those in whom you are most interested, that genuinely reflects who and what you are, and then make a major long-term cross-party commitment to maintaining this position over decades not by sticking to the same promotional message, but to behaving in a consistent manner.
The longer Barbados waits to grasp this priority, the more will it become less noticed, less relevant, less important, and less able to sustain the fine lifestyle to which it would like to remain accustomed.
Alex Pratt is a Barbados Entrepreneurship Foundation founding director.