‘Branding Nigeria requires professional input’

Mr. Ikem Okuhu, Analyst -in-Chief BRANDish

For Mr. Ikem Okuhu, Analyst -in-Chief BRANDish, Nigeria’s marketing campaign has not been successful over the years because of poor brand packaging. He told The Guardian that the challenge facing the country in its efforts to properly and profitably position itself could be likened to the same challenge facing Public Relations practice here.

“Everyone thinks he or she is capable of delivering on PR irrespective of whether they are professionals and have the experience and competence or not. When a country decides to market itself before the world, the very first thing to do is to conduct a thorough need evaluation research so as to identify the right proposition, or as it is said these days, the right purpose for the nation brand in view. It is not a matter of a few people sitting down in a room and choosing a theme that is no more than an emotional appeal to the citizens and the global community,” he said.

According to him, “just like other product and service, it is difficult to create a brand out of a nation without first of all building all the structures and fittings that are critical to delivering the promises and purposes ascribed to its brand. It is pretty much like selling a product that has not been created. I am not sure it is proper for a family to give names to an unborn child. You have to first conceive the child, run the nine months gestation, and go through all the maternity ante-natal processes before putting to bed and then give a name to the baby.”

Recalling that Nigeria has over the years struggled to find a fitting purpose. Okuhu said previous efforts failed because they were based on emotions that were clearly antithetical to the reality of the country.

Speaking further, he recalled previous exercises in this regard, he said, “At a time, there was this campaign that struggled to position the country as the Heart of Africa. But can you imagine the embarrassment that happened when it was later discovered that some other country had already occupied that proposition? This happened because someone was not patient enough to conduct the research that should have preceded this effort. Someone also came up with a proposition of Good People, Great Nation. As nice as this was, it was clear that we had a nation that was far from being great in the measurable sense of the word. The government at the time could not even sell it to Nigerians, not to talk of the rest of the world.

“We are now talking about the Change Begins with Me campaign, which, is essentially a national mobilisation project seeking citizens to change. Again, to what extent have the country’s leaders at all levels changed? Cases of corruption and nepotism are still rife and as we speak, there are very strong centrifugal forces seeking the fragile nationhood the country has been struggling to hold in place.

“Most of the rebranding packages were designed without full professional input and management. Secondly, they were designed as knee-jerk responses to the myriad challenges of corruption, nepotism, and poor leadership, among other ills, that have plagued the nation over the years. Thirdly, they were too emotional to make the real business of nation marketing happen. Another reason is that there was nothing on ground in terms of structures, infrastructure and even political will to make the campaigns live beyond political sloganeering, created probably to reward friends of government.”

He stressed that the Good People, Great Nation campaign was not taken seriously, because on daily basis, there were reports of corruption, armed robbery, advanced fee fraud in the media to further make it unbelievable and realistic.

According to him, “You cannot claim to be a ‘Great Nation’ when things as ordinary as roads and electricity have become rocket science. These are clear realities that must be in place before anyone believes you.”

On how Nigeria can create a good brand for itself, he noted, “We have to be sincere to ourselves by looking for anchors that strategically fit what we want to become. It is unnecessary to pretend that we are the greatest. It is also needless to struggle to be the greatest, when we know we are not. What is important now, especially, in the light of global competition, is for us to take a realistic view of where we are and then choose a purpose that suits where we have sincerely decided we are going. I keep citing the example of India. India is not one of the most loved nations in the world. There is a terrible caste system that ordinarily is enough to make the country unattractive to the world. They also have very ugly cities and traffic jams like we have in Nigeria.

“But India, over the years, invested in the IT space and did well to also build capacities in manufacturing. Having looked at this and the status of China as the factory of the world, India created a proposition known as Make in India, which is more of a message to the world that India does not even wish to be known as the country of brand origin. On the contrary, they targeted their appeal at global companies seeking low-cost places to make their products. And because the country has what companies are looking for, this campaign is looking like one of the most successful nation marketing campaigns in history. Copying something like this and creating a purpose that Nigeria can own is something we could look at.”

Looking at the challenge facing the country’s campaign effort, BRANDish started a conversational campaign aimed at changing the PR narrative, which is tagged Meetings of Minds. The first edition held some few months ago. The second edition will hold on August 4 with the theme, ‘In search of the right purpose for the Nigerian Brand’.

While commenting on the choice of the theme, Okuhu stated, “there is an urgent need to get professionals and experts to join the discourse geared towards finding the right, made-to-fit purpose for the Nigerian brand. We are not denying that we have challenges. But what can we create to ensure that the world does not see us as claiming what we are not? We are not the experts but we are convinced that those that will be lending their voices to the conversation are as experienced and knowledgeable as are capable of creating a framework that will help government adopt what will work best for us.”

Speaking further, “we decided to focus on the Nigerian banking industry for our very first edition of BRANDish’s Meeting of Minds, it was with a view to not just have another talk shop, but to find solutions to the challenges the financial institutions are increasingly confronting. By every consideration, that was a success. The two speakers selected for the event, Femi Awoyemi of Proshare Nigeria and Lolu Akinwunmi of Prima Garnet Africa were able to raise critical questions and solutions to the challenges and that is essentially what we are out to achieve with this platform. We want to be a part of the solution. The second edition is expected to hold on August 4, 2017.

On the role of government, he said, “you know in Nigeria, it is very difficult to talk to government. The bureaucracy is a bit unwieldy.  But what I can tell you is that we are not talking to government alone. We are talking to Nigerians, every Nigerian, with the belief that once we have a strong message like we did in the first edition, government will listen. I am aware that there have been serious conversations around the need to reform the Central Bank of Nigeria and this was a critical outcome of the first
Edition of BRANDish Meeting of Minds.”

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BRANDishIkem Okuhu
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