Bethel Obioma of Business Day Newspaper in conversation with Uche Nworah, senior lecturer in marketing communications at The London Metropolitan Business School and publisher of nigerianbrands.com on the state of branding in Nigeria.
BO: How would you rate the status of brand Nigeria Today?
UN: Brand Nigeria is currently an underperforming brand; it could be classified as a question mark/problem child on the Boston Matrix. Because of Brand Nigeria’s huge potentials and promise, further patience is required by all including Brand Nigeria’s managers and its various stakeholders.
Photo left: Uche Nworah
There is also a need for further and continued investments in the brand. Although Brand Nigeria is an overdue adult, but still, as a problem child, it has to be nurtured to the point where all Nigerians and friends of Nigeria would be truly proud.
Despite the challenges, the beauty of Brand Nigeria lies in its great potentials, Nigerians and foreign investors all know this which is why despite our constant wobbly steps, people are still reluctant to write it off because they know that if only the sleeping giant could wake up from its slumber, economic opportunities and prosperity would spread easily and fast.
With all the reforms of the Obasanjo government in the financial services and other sectors, we can see that economic activities have actually increased; we now see more foreign companies and global investors pitching their tent in various economic sectors, especially in the thriving telecommunications and financial sectors. Who would have thought that MTN could reach a subscriber base of over 13 million in Nigeria within 6 years? Using the MTN case study, one can safely argue that potentially Brand Nigeria could be a cash cow for other investors who chose to ignore its imperfections, and focus on its potentials and opportunities.
These are all positive signs, and hopefully the trend will continue, it is good for everybody, such activities attract further foreign investors into the economy and in the long term will greatly impact positively on the image of Brand Nigeria. At the moment FDIs into Nigeria stands at about $5 billion, according to figures released by the Nigerian Investment Promotion Council (NIPC), while this figure pales to that of South Africa which earned the most in the whole of Africa (51%) over the same period, but it is actually not bad considering that Brand Nigeria was still considered a no-go territory a few years back when it was largely regarded as a pariah state in the west.
BO: How does brand Nigeria affect the performance of Nigerian brands globally?
UN: The negative perception of Brand Nigeria used to be a major drawback for Nigerian citizens and businesses in the global community. Nigerian citizens have at different times fallen victims to such misconceptions, we are treated shabbily by immigration officers at international airports, genuine Nigerian businesses have missed out on lucrative business deals with foreign companies as a result of Brand Nigeria’s 419 baggage, social, political unrests and other issues. It has been a huge burden to bear but at the same time, one can see a light at the end of the tunnel.
If you go on the British Airways website, in their country guide section, they described or rather qualified Nigeria as being chaotic and even a little dangerous. They called Nigeria a challenging destination, while these comments may be hurtful, unfortunately they are the truth.
Photo left: BA Country guide on Nigeria
This is just an example of some of the baggage slowing down Brand Nigeria’s progress. Think about what potential visitors to Nigeria will say when they read such comments on BA’s website and on other websites. On the positive side, the BA website describes Nigerians as colourful and hospitable people. Remember also that Nigerians were declared as the happiest people on earth in worldwide poll a few years ago.
Recently, Nigerian banks such as UBA PLC, GTBank and a few other ones have been active in the international funds and bonds market, and the fact that there were western financial institutions willing to trust and partner with them in this area that is quite new to the Nigerian financial industry shows that the level of confidence the west have in Brand Nigeria is indeed increasing. It is early days still, but such deals that have already been done by these banks could trigger further deals and activities in the financial as well as other sectors.
The deals also provide immense opportunities for some of these Nigerian bank brands to grow beyond the Nigerian borders and be recognised as strong and viable financial institutions. UBA PLC recently relocated its New York office to a more central business district, Zenith Bank has recently opened an office in London with GTBank scheduled to follow suit. FCMB has also announced that it will establish a representative office at Prince George County in the United States of America as part of its offshore expansion programme. These are all good signs and I can tell you that they are exciting times as well for Brand Nigeria and those associated with it.
BO: What is the best approach to repositioning brand Nigeria both in the minds of Nigerians and foreigners?
UN: There is no such thing as a best approach in our present circumstances, what we have to do is to adopt incremental approaches to the issue of repositioning brand Nigeria. When Chief Chukwuemeka Chikelu (the former minister of information) launched the Nigeria Image Project, I sent him a position paper. At the time, I commended his thinking but at the same time warned that he was placing the cart before the horse.
The thrust of his strategy was media-based, asking known Nigerians such as Sade Adu, Akeem Olajuwon, Augustine Jay-Jay Okocha to feature in testimonial ads for Brand Nigeria in CNN, FT and other international media could have been likened to nothing but whitewashing, such public relations strategies are not sustainable in the long run, especially if the facts on the ground fail to sustain the interest and hype generated by the campaigns.
You can not run a national repositioning or rebranding campaign without carrying the citizens along, anybody advising otherwise is nothing but a rogue fly-by-night consultant. I told Frank Nweke who succeeded Chikelu at the ministry of information the same thing after I saw Alder Consulting’s strategy document on rebranding Nigeria. The strategies outlined looked good on paper but I took up issues with Nweke not only on the name change but also on the viability and timing.
Regarding the name change from Nigeria Image Project to the Heart of Africa project, I told Nweke that it was a ludicrous idea because Uganda, Libya and a few other African countries had in the past laid claim to the same phrase; I didn’t see the need to start selling Brand Nigeria as the heart of Africa when it is not, such a strategy confuses Brand Nigeria with other African countries which have made similar claims of being the heart of Africa in the past. This was not original thinking and does not in any way add value to Brand Nigeria’s image.
There are still fundamental issues in the polity that requires government attention before such a programme should be rolled out. Nigerians largely do not trust their government at the three levels hence the low patriotic zeal we show, corruption is ripe, unemployment is high, electricity is epileptic, transport and roads are almost non-existent, and the Niger Delta issue remains like a festering sore. Recently The NOI/Gallup polls showed that 92% of Nigerians are seriously concerned about the Niger delta issue. We can not be talking about nation branding and repositioning when our backyard is burning, daily news of kidnappings and unrests in the region are very damaging to the image of Brand Nigeria and may potentially undermine the little gains made so far in the sectors I mentioned earlier, as such huge threats to security of lives and investments play a key role in influencing investors’ decisions.
It is indeed a huge expectation from the government if they thought that Nigerians who are hungry will happily sing along with them as the various Heart of Africa project jingles come on air. This is not what nation branding is about.
Such a repositioning programme must start with the government putting its house in order, after all one does not invite visitors for a feast without first cleaning the house. The thrust of the programme should revolve around the area of internal orientation first before launching the external part. If you succeed with the internal part through sincerity in government and active citizens’ involvement, then the external part becomes easier because Nigerians would then feel proud to sell their countries to foreigners.
This would be quite easy because a recent report by Rena Singer of the Christian Science Monitor claims that about 12 million Nigerians live abroad, not all these Nigerians think positively about Brand Nigeria, imagine a situation where the government could convince these diasporas to change their thinking and get them to start representing their country where ever they are in a much more positive light, that would beat any CNN commercial as attempted by Obasanjo. The government should first sell Nigeria to Nigerians, if Nigerians can adopt Nigeria as their own brand, then the rest would be easy.
I was indeed surprised by an email I received from a potential respondent to an online research I conducted with some Nigerian professionals in the diaspora sometime in 2005. The gentleman who is a professor in an American college politely declined to participate in the online survey, and gave me reasons why he did not want to take part. He said that he no longer considered himself a Nigerian and has since lost interest in Nigerian affairs and listed a catalogue of his grudges against Brand Nigeria. There are many more like him.
Like they say, action speaks louder than words; there is no better way to convince foreigners to adopt Brand Nigeria as a favourite destination for tourism, trade and investment than through running a people oriented government, investing massively in infrastructure and increasing capacity and opportunities for citizens to thrive, this will reduce crime and re-focus people’s energies into more productive areas.
BO: In terms of economic value, how much have we lost to the negative perception about Nigeria and how much could be in the offing if our image improves?
UN: It would be difficult to put a definite figure to what Brand Nigeria has lost as a result of internal and external negative perceptions, anyone quoting hundreds of billions of dollars may not be far wrong.
We’ve got to understand also that not only has the poor image affected foreign direct investments (FDIs), but it has also limited inward direct investments (IDIs), poor enabling environment has seen Nigerians take their capital to neighbouring African countries where the infrastructures are much better and the costs of running business much lower.
We have to understand that we are now in direct competition with countries like Ghana and South Africa who remain the major beneficiaries of capital flight out of Nigeria by Nigerians. The jobs being created by Nigerian entrepreneurs in these countries could have been created in Nigeria for Nigerians, the taxes they pay could have been paid to the Nigerian government, so while chasing foreign investors we have to also ensure that we have the right environment supporting our indigenous entrepreneurs and see that they are not leaving. Take for example the way the federal government handled the SLOK Airlines issue, SLOK is now a successful regional carrier in neighbouring African countries and has even been adopted as the national airline of Gambia.
Otunba Michael Balogun of Globacom also suffered from such harsh political decisions in 2006 as his company had to relocate some of their operations to Ghana when the EFCC harassment became unbearable, at the same time we read a report that Globacom was planning to foray into India. While it is good for Nigerian brands to seek greener pastures and financial conquests abroad, however one would have expected that such companies would be encouraged to take advantage of the limitless opportunities that abound in the local Nigerian market, but we shouldn’t really blame indigenous entrepreneurs if they decide to broaden their outlook especially if they feel suffocated by the actions and inactions of the government, and the stifling business environment.
Obviously as the image of Brand Nigeria improves, and the economy really opens up in several other non-oil sectors, it would be safe to guess that Brand Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Gross National Product (GNP) would increase tremendously and would inch closer to those of some European countries, and may even surpass that of South Africa which at present stands at about $576.4 billion (purchasing power parity) compared to Brand Nigeria’s current GDP of $188.5 billion (purchasing power parity).
BO: What should be the roles of Nigerian leaders and other Nigerians in the rebranding project?
UN: We have to understand that rebranding a nation is a continuous process rather than a destination. Due to the dynamic nature of international tourism and investments, countries, cities and regions constantly rise and fall in their ability to attract tourists and FDIs. People will always seek out where their dollar or pound spend would give them much more value, for example people may flock to the beaches of Mallorca today, tomorrow they may move to Malta and next tomorrow it may be Barbados.
The same happens to investment capital, in the late eighties the Asian tiger economies held the most attraction for international investors because of the huge returns on investments, but today eastern European countries predicted to be the fastest growing economies are now increasingly favourite investment destinations.
The Nigerian government and its people should first understand that there is global competition for investments and tourism dollars, this is not about sentiments. It does not matter the number of adverts we take out on the pages of the Financial Times plugging Nigeria, people who make the decisions simply will place such adverts into context with the facts on the ground, and then compare the critical decision factors such as security, stability, infrastructural development and returns on investments (ROI) against those of competing countries.
The onus really is on the Yar’Adua government to lead the way, Nigerians are indeed good followers but we need good leaders to bring out the best in us. The new government should show honesty, sincerity and compassion in all their actions, if Nigerians can sense a real desire in the government, then they may follow suit in turning the bend. Convincing Nigerians to tag along for the ride won’t be so much a problem and in so doing the government would have achieved their internal re-orientation objectives. There is no sense in asking people to be honest and not to take or give bribes when they see the same government officials chastising them doing the same thing, it can not work like that because baby goats learn how to chew chord from their mother. Take for example the news coming out of the Federal House of Representatives over the past weeks, the ‘Ettehgate’ and the rumble amongst honourable members in the house, these are disheartening tales.
Rebranding Nigeria shouldn’t just be in the pages of newspapers or on CNN like we saw Obasanjo try to pull off in that infamous CNN debacle. Governments at the three tiers should show the people that they really mean business, genuine efforts at national reconciliation and healing should be made, and every Nigerian should be made to feel that they really have a stake in a united, peaceful and democratic Nigeria. The charade that reportedly took place during the April 2007 general elections has not helped matters either; it has instead increased people’s mistrust of government and its institutions.
All those clamouring for separation from Nigeria are only doing so because of the perceived injustices in the system which the government is not really trying to address, despite the experiences of the Nigeria/Biafra civil war, the causes of which are still evident, one is really surprised at the lackadaisical manner the Niger delta issue is being handled.
During the PDP presidential campaign in the run up to the April 2007 elections, President Obasanjo accepted that there has been neglect of the region at both the federal, state, local governments and at oil companies levels, but disappointingly did not give any indication of any sustained strategy at addressing the issues and concerns of the militants. A Marshall plan for the region at this point is imperative, constructing bridges all over the region as the government is proposing would have hardly addressed other core issues, neither has the billions of naira poured into the NDDC annually yielded much results, we can see that something is not quite right somewhere. A dancer should learn to change his steps to the change of the beats.
How can a government dependent on oil go to sleep every night when its chief source of revenue is constantly under serious threat? Such ‘I don’t care’ attitude really makes the job of repositioning and rebranding Nigeria a tough one because how does one start telling the militants to lay down their arms and embrace peace when the issues at the heart of their campaign have not been addressed? Gas flaring and oil spillages still continue in the region causing environmental degradation, waters are polluted, farmlands wasted and people’s source of livelihood permanently destroyed, how can you speak the grammar of nation branding to such a people?
Brand Nigeria must heal first, starting from the top, and maybe then the people would wholeheartedly tag along for the journey, anything other than this is just plain talk, and talk we know is cheap, very cheap.
BO: Can you critically appraise the Heart of Africa project?
UN: The concept of nation branding is potentially beneficial to countries that understand and apply it the way it should. It has benefited some countries that have implemented it and which still do. There is a seminal work on this by Eugene D. Jaffe and Israel D. Nebenzahl in their book - National Image and Competitive Advantage: The Theory and Practice of Place Branding.
Uganda was able to refocus its citizens and also win some sympathy in the international community following the Idi Amin era with its Gifted By Nature campaign, the state of New York has been very effective with its I Love New York campaign, successive mayors have through various policies helped to reduce crime and increase the profile of the Big Apple state as an international shopping and business centre. The United Kingdom through its UK: OK campaign is helping change the image of the United Kingdom from that of a conservative and dour European country to that of a vibrant, stable and democratic country.
South Africa was able to rise beyond the ashes of apartheid which clouded its past, buoyed by a government determined at driving the economy forward and reconciling South Africans, they launched the Proudly South African campaign which has indeed paid dividends, but the interesting thing is that their campaign wasn’t just only gimmickry, there were real efforts in the social, economic and political system to move the country forward. They established the Desmond Tutu - chaired Truth Commission which helped in the healing process.
Surprisingly, Brand Nigeria blew its own opportunity with the Oputa - chaired Human Rights commission which could have kick started our own healing process. They say that fish rots from the head, many people are still walking around Nigeria aggrieved because there has been no closure to the sad past visited upon Nigerians by previous brutal and wasteful military regimes.
Such beclouding shadows actually make the Heart of Africa project in its present form a doomed adventure.
BO: What should business organisations be concerned about most in their quest to build their brands
UN: To build a brand, you require a thorough understanding of the principles of branding, a brand in itself is doomed if it has no soul and fails to connect to the target users or stakeholders of the brand, do your customers wear your lovemarks proudly? Does your brand excite them?
You must know your brand inside out, its weaknesses and strengths, the brand opportunities and threats it faces. Every marketer should know the DNA of their brands which stands for the brand’s distinctiveness, novelty and attributes.
Brand building is a process; it is something that requires care and attention. You must see your brand like a baby and babies should be nurtured round the clock. Your brand is your most valuable asset and you must guard and defend it jealously. Who would have thought that a company with zero name recognition 10 years ago will now top the list of top 100 global brands now, but google has demonstrated that in today’s global business world, only brands that stay the branding course survive and add value to shareholder investments while also satisfying other stakeholders.
Organisations should move away from thinking just in terms of products, such approach is limiting and does not take into consideration the total picture. Everything is about image in today’s economy, you must not only be seen to be the maker of top quality products and services, but you must hype what you do as well. We have a different type of customer today, they are sophisticated, educated and in a hurry. It is the reality television generation, hence brands which fail to stand intense public scrutiny in their life cycle fall by the way side.
Marketers who still think Product Life Cycle (PLC) rather than Brand Life Cycle (BLC) may soon be extinct, the phrase ‘innovate or die’ is already a reality. This should have been the fate of PHCN, NITEL, Nigerian Railways Corporation and other such corporations whose continued existence despite their poor showings is only through the mercy of the Nigerian government and tax payers’ naira. When the Nigerian economy finally opens up, I doubt if we will still have such wasteful brands around.
You can see what MTN is doing in the telecommunications industry; theirs could be described as nothing but a brand revolution in Nigeria. You can not fault their aggressive branding philosophy; Globacom is doing well too, likewise GTBank, UBA, Oceanic Bank, ThisDay and Silverbird which are gradually evolving as strong and viable Nigerian brands.
BO: Tourism plays a great role in the branding of nations. How can Nigeria take advantage of this sector?
UN: To answer this question, I will suggest that you take a drive around 4 PM from Oshodi to the airport and tell me what your impressions are. Is this the type of impression you will like first time visitors to have about you? On coming back through the same route at night, if you were a tourist, the first thing that will hit you is the enveloping darkness around you as you drive through the airport road, this may trigger a feeling of doom inside you. But it is not supposed to be so, our first impressions of a country start form from the airport, from the kind of reception we receive from security and other agencies, from the drive into the city etc. Recall that Tuface Idiaba, the Nigerian artist was short by unknown assailants recently along that dark road on his way from the Murtala Mohammed international airport. There may be hope though judging by comments about the newly opened local wing of the airport. Such world class facilities should also be extended to the international wing.
Despite my long years of living abroad, I was stilled bowled over recently when I attended a conference in Munich. The Franz Joseph Strauss international airport was simply breathtaking, and was built to impress visitors and tourists. We really have to modernise our airports and increase capacities as well.
To attract tourism, we should also make our beaches usable, the kinds of things that go on in our local beaches at night may even scare the most adventurous tourists, there is no security at night so even the few tourists that come here end up being holed up in their hotel rooms at night.
Though Brand Nigeria is blessed with beaches, but we have to also harness other tourist attractions such as what Donald Duke has done with the Tinapa project. Each of the states is endowed with different natural resources, we hear about Olumo rock, Ogbunike cave, Nike Lake, Oguta Lake Etc. What are the conditions of these sites? Are they well maintained? And are the state governments actively marketing them using Nigerian embassies abroad?
BO: What do you think the future of branding will be in Nigeria?
UN: The future of branding in Nigeria is bright definitely; there are some upcoming marketing communications agencies and practitioners doing great things in Nigeria. Leke Alder of Alder Consulting sure is doing his best to improve branding practice in Nigeria; I also admire Udeme Ufot of SO & U Saatchi & Saatchi who is a bit like a bridge between the old guard and the new guard. There are also the likes of Charles O’tudor, Dr. Phil Osagie, George Thorpe and the rest of them.
The major challenge for marketing professionals is their ability to make that transition in thinking and embrace the new branding paradigm. In the days of Biodun Shobanjo (Insight Grey), May Nzeribe (Sunrise D’Arcy) and the rest of the old guard, practitioners only thought of advertising and later integrated marketing communications, but this is now the era of brands and branding, only agencies who are able to see the total picture will survive.
I believe that with the internet and the emerging technological applications, marketing communications professionals now have the opportunity to increase their services to clients, and bridge the knowledge gap with their counterparts in the west. We must be able to exploit the benefits of the global village concept by accessing branding know-how on the internet which would reinforce our practice.
Emphasis should be placed on new talent development, as well as on staff training and skills upgrading. Branding should be a key feature of the business curriculum in our universities. I believe that if we can help our clients’ brands to do well in the market and thus increase the clients’ bottom line, then the clients will in turn adequately compensate us for our services.
We are not at this stage yet in Nigeria but sooner rather than later, there will be an expectation from marketing and branding professionals in Nigeria to show how their professional practice contributes to the S.E.E (social, economic and environmental)
Triple bottom line, are we ready for this yet?
Bethel Obioma (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Uche Nworah (email@example.com)