Branding Made In Aba
Finally, “Made in Aba” is looking like a brand. How reassuring! We are told Aba produces 800,000 shoes and 90,000 bags per day. I have seen the advert on CNN and I am quite impressed. I have known “Aba Made” since my childhood days. Those days the term “Aba Made” was a synonym for “fake” or “inferior”. Today, that is no longer the story. Decades of continuous improvement and a readily available market across West Africa has given the shoe makers of Aba a gradual but painful leap forward. I say gradual but painful because the story has been developing in spite of government neglect. It is similar to what we have witnessed in Nollywood. At the start, skeptics dismissed the home videos being churned out weekly as “rubbish”. But Nollywood persevered. I am familiar with many of the pioneers of Nollywood and glad that the industry finally came of age and is now a force globally.
As a speaker at the recently held Lagos International Festival of Animation, LIFANIMA, organized by USP Brand Management, I told the group of young and hugely talented animators in attendance that they should resist the tendency to dismiss some of the works being produced as “rubbish”. I reminded them about the story of Nollywood and the fact that perfection is a process. As they say, the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement. Successful pioneers and innovators know this. Successful brand builders know it also. People will poke fun at you. Skeptics will dismiss your efforts. But you must keep going and keep getting better. Look at CNN today. When Ted Turner launched his vision of 24-hour news broadcast, CNN was dismissed and derisively described as “Chicken Noodle News”. Where are those skeptics today?
If you want to be successful, please learn how to derive joy and motivation from critics and skeptics. This is one of the secrets of successful brands. It takes great strength of soul to keep going when people tell you it is not possible. That spirit of perseverance is one of the sterling qualities of Nigerians. This is one of the qualities we should celebrate about our country and our people. Nigerians living abroad hear all the negative stories about Nigeria and they ask “how do you people survive?” While some may see this as meaning that Nigerians are docile (and there is some truth in this), I prefer to see that ‘never say die sprit’. I prefer to celebrate that determination in our people to always find a way when it seems there is no way. While that spirit has been held down for too long by appalling governance, I know it is just a matter of time before our full potential erupts!
Beyond Aba, a lot of Nigerians are making good shoes. I know a brand called Mona Matthews. Beautiful designs. Excellent finish. Mona Matthews is one of the beneficiaries of the USP Brand2Wealth Program, which offers branding support to SMEs. It is a brand I am immensely proud of. I was at the Chike Okoli Foundation Heart and Soul Gala a couple of weeks ago, where bags by a proudly Nigerian brand, Morin O were auctioned for between N150,000 and N250,000. The bags are beautiful.
With what is coming out of Aba, brands like Mona Matthews have a lot to smile about. Proudly Made in Aba is good news to those who are trying to build brands in shoes and bags. Because it means you can engage a contract manufacturer in Aba and focus on design and marketing. Nike needs no introduction to most of us. It is easily one of the biggest brands in the world and Nike shoes are worn by some of the top stars across different sports. But guess what? Nike doesn’t make the shoes! Nike doesn’t own shoe factories. The company focuses on building the brand, through design and marketing. When you wear a pair of NIKE, it’s not about the shoes. It’s about the brand name. That is the power of branding.
I know that long ago, some Aba shoe makers put the “Made in Italy” label on their shoes. I hope this is no longer the case. The “Made in Aba” logo should be worn with pride. I commend Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, who has vowed to proudly wear “Made in Aba” throughout his tenure and beyond. And I dare say beyond wearing the brand, he should do everything possible to build one of Africa’s largest manufacturing hubs out of this initiative. Just as global brand owners go to China, Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan and other countries in Asia and Eastern Europe, we should build an industry that attracts investors form around Africa and the rest of the world.
Thankfully, we have a huge local market to begin with and if we serve this market effectively, it can have a transformational effect in the economy of Abia State and you will have people from other parts of the country going to Aba to seek employment. Beyond the publicity and the advert on CNN, the governor should get down to serious business and build a phenomenon. That advert I see on CNN doesn’t show me 21st Century factories but low level shoe making workshops. This is what the governor should focus on. Create a 21st Century industrial cluster that the rest of Africa will emulate!
I guess the makers of the adverts could not resist the urge for grandstanding hence their description of Aba as “the Japan of Africa”. This is ridiculous. It is not necessary. You cannot position Aba as the Japan of Africa. Aba is Aba and proudly so! When you make such fatuous claims you belittle the brand you are promoting by unnecessarily raising expectations beyond what is realistic. If you are talking leather and garment which are the focus of “Made in Aba”, Italy, not Japan has always been the bench mark. Even then, it is an unnecessary comparison.
Branding is about being unique and being proud of your identity. I remember one governorship aspirant in the South East promising to make the state the Taiwan of Africa! Successful branding is about being yourself and not trying to be like another person or brand. Now that we can finally be proud of Made in Aba, let us build a uniquely and proudly Nigerian brand rather than try to be like someone else.
Muyiwa Kayode is CEO at USP Brand Management