Mr Politician, brand yourself!
Question: What is the difference between Polution and Solution?
Answer: If a politician drowns in the river, it’s Polution and if all of them drown, then it’s a Solution!
That is from a cartoon I received on Whatsapp last week and one of hundreds of jokes aimed at politicians. There is a general perception of politicians as a gang of irresponsible, corrupt, inept and addle headed buffoons. Indeed, the pervasive perception is that politicians are a scourge and a swarm of parasites and vampires feeding fat on the blood of the masses. Worse still, our politicians actually seem quite comfortable with these negative perceptions! Because I have not seen or heard any of them coming out to attempt to correct these negative views.
It is quite obvious that our politicians urgently require classes in Personal Branding 101. It is an indictment on the state of our politics that the quality of people who get into public office is of such deplorable standard. This is even more tragic considering that we are a “Third World” country crying for urgent development and transformation. I find it laughable that when they think of personal branding they’re thinking in terms of what they wear. This is why many of them have created a particular style of dressing which has become their trademarks. They wear certain types of caps in a vain attempt to distinguish themselves. Meanwhile how many of them are able to differentiate themselves through the quality of their thought and philosophy? How many of them strike a distinct cord with the populace through the solutions they proffer to national challenges? Does wearing a cap that looks like a pyramid make you a role model and a leader of exemplary quality?
While appearance does matter, branding is not only about appearance. You must create value or substance before creating an appearance. You may achieve differentiation by way of appearance but if value creation is not in the mix, you are far from getting it right. When you are a politician, it means you are in a leadership position or you aspire to lead your people. Leadership comes with a huge responsibility and sacrifice. It also means that you must stand for something specific in the minds of the people. What brand of leadership do you offer? What philosophy do you propound? Let us look at a few examples.
It was Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim of the defunct Great Nigeria Peoples Party who promoted the idea of “Politics without Bitterness”. His position was that politics shouldn’t be a do or die. This was a relevant message in an age when our politics was populated by sore losers. The great sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo didn’t just wear a trade mark cap. The enduring legacy of his vision and ideas are still evident in the country till this day. The great nationalist, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe also had a trademark cap, but he also had great substance beneath his cap. A man of ideas and ideology, he published several books including Renascent Africa and Ideology for Nigeria. Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello was a great leader whose thought and vision inspired and still inspires the people. These leaders had their ideas and philosophy well documented while they had several books published as part of their legacies. They had strong personal brands because they stood and still stand for something positive in the minds of the people. MKO Abiola also had his trademark cap, but he also stood for the idea that Nigeria has no business with poverty and his message was “Farewell to Poverty”. How many of our politicians today stand for anything of tangible value? We now live in an age where there is a paucity of great ideas in our political space.
I know there are always exceptions and we can point to a few. Senator Ben Murray Bruce has been promoting what he calls “common sense”. His ideas are quite incisive, useful and refreshing. I like Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. After many years of leading the labour movement he became governor and stood true to his values and retained his labour attire while serving as governor. This is in stark contradiction to governors who dress up for parties instead of dressing up for work. As governor, he stood apart and he stood for something.
Having a strong personal brand does not mean everybody would love you. It simply means that you are principled and you offer value. It means you stand for something, because as they say, if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything. Quite sadly, we have a prevalent brand of politics today, in which most of the players don’t stand for anything. They see it as a game and they believe that the more crafty and cunning you are, the better a politician you will be. They believe in a complete lack of principles and ideas. No vision whatsoever. They don’t care about leaving enduring legacies. And they don’t care about what we think.
Mr Politician. Branding yourself is not about the type of cap you wear. Neither is it about the colour of your agbada, unless what you wear reflects a specific idea or philosophy. Many of you change your attire to align with that of whoever is President. When GEJ was there, you wore the “South South” attire he was known for. Now that PMB is there you wear babanriga! It means you stand for nothing. It means you need to brand yourself.
Step One to Branding Yourself: Ask yourself these questions. What do I stand for? What ideas do I bring to the political space that will have a positive effect on the lives of my people? What is my leadership philosophy? If you don’t have good answers to these questions, seek help and advice.
Step Two: Figure out how your appearance reflects your ideas and philosophy. For example if you are promoting responsible and prudent leadership, You are not expected to dress up like a fashionista or wear a wristwatch whose cost can deliver your entire village from poverty.
Step Three: Express your ideas and walk your talk. Say what you stand for and live by it! Let your actions and words tell us the same thing consistently. This is what makes you make sense to the people.
We need a positive brand of politics and each of you is a vital component of our politics. Your brand is not about wearing fanciful caps. It’s about what substance lies beneath the cap!
Muyiwa Kayode is CEO at USP Brand Management