By Charles O’Tudor
Without doubt, globalization has intensified competition not just among industries, markets, and investments but among nations. In the wake of the issues of cyber crimes, drug and human trafficking, piracy, money laundering, embezzlement and all forms of corruption that have marred our national identity, we cannot fault the idea of rebranding.
The recent emergence of a “Rebranding Nigeria Campaign” under the Prof. Dora Akunyili led Ministry of Information and Communications has generated a flurry of reactionary postures from professionals, brand and communication consultants, other stake holders and patriotic Nigerians alike.
The campaign, anchored on a sensational logo and slogan competition thrown upon to the public has been hailed by some as the magic wand that will propel Nigeria to Brands Paradise while also attracting opprobrium as simply another blind step in the wrong direction. For me, the issue is not with the idea of rebranding Nigeria and not so much with the Minister being out of her depths. While her initiative might be borne out of a genuine naiveté, the methodology has thrown up a myriad of inquiries about our nation’s core essence.If the process is flawed, all that follows is futility. As a professional and having dedicated a major part of two decades of my existence to the study of brands and branding, and having also had the opportunity to pioneer one of the foremost indigenous brand consulting firms in Nigeria, I feel a sense of duty and obligation to respond to the issue at hand. Branding cannot be conjured or invented by mere logos and sloganeering.
A brand is built through an internal processing of its brand’s DNA based on empirical research. As a country, we need personal, corporate and institutional reformation to achieve a transformational repositioning of our national brand identity. The internal process is what automatically reflects in the external processes. A good case in point, an ophthalmologist does not go ahead to recommend corrective lens for a patient with an eye defect, without first finding the nature of defect; say is it myopia, hypermetropia or astigmatism? It is based on such findings that he recommends appropriately. Everything outside this process is blind therapy. Thus, the modus operandi of the ministry under the present dispensation is flawed as professional consultants were not factored into the build-up process.
There should be a team of selected brand professionals, who will dissect components of the Nigerian brand DNA from the standpoint of its cultural and socio-eco-political realities and then make recommendations to government on the way forward. Here, it is pertinent to note that external projection will not be the first step in the way forward. Whereas the effect of ignorance has heightened the misconception of branding as simply an issue of logos, graphics or pay-off lines, it is far from that! Only very few Nigerians have an in depth understanding that the processes are deeply scientific, and that same scientific approaches must be employed in the processes of branding.
The strong scientific intricacy involved is what guides rationales and professionalism. It is then expedient to ask; is rebranding Nigeria the function of a mere logo or slogan? How will this resuscitate the battered image of Nigeria? Is it in the name of the campaign or the processes and strategies? How do we as a nation hope to sweep the decay of several decades under a beautiful carpet of logos and catchphrases? What happens when another Minister comes and jettisons the current rebranding project for a new one? How long should we continue revolving around a vicious cycle of ineptitude or defunct? We talk about rebranding a country where corruption still holds sway in all segments of our individual and corporate beings. We talk about rebranding when the most basic amenities of life continue to elude government’s delivery capabilities. Is it not funny how we want to rebrand Nigeria when citizens of our country cannot walk the streets safe and secure from hoodlums and sometimes even the law enforcement agents that ought to protect them? Before rebranding Nigeria, we ought to perfect the internal processes that constitute the brand DNA.
A good product sells itself in the marketplace, but at the moment, Nigeria is still a hard sell, even to its own people. Let somebody tell government that countries of the world that ever ran successful branding campaigns did not just wake from slumber to initiate a campaign of logos and slogans. Before India began its national branding campaign, they had put in place impressive infrastructural standards. Their educational system is today regarded as one of the best in the world. A country like the United States of America has been branded as a successful nation by the successful products associated with it; from Microsoft software and Boeing airplanes to MacDonald’s hamburgers and Coca Cola drinks. Japan is associated with quality products produced by global brands such as Sony, Toyota and Nikon. The strength of these brands and the economic power they have delivered to their owners have propelled these nations to leadership of the global economy.
Before we begin to rebrand Nigeria, we should first ask ourselves, what is left of our national heritage that we can first sell to ourselves, and the world at large? Is it Corruption? Infrastructural decay? The Niger-Delta crisis? Electoral malpractices? Every nation, quite like humans have their peculiar struggles and issues. As they coast through their life cycle of vulnerabilities and triumphs, they must ensure they manage the delicate image balance, by evolving ways to reinforce the acceptable identity and seek ways to address the unacceptable ones. A country’s failure to strengthen its identity means that it gets submerged under the fast expanding frontiers of national greatness.
Today we are not just combating the negative perception, but the years of inaction, insensitivity and negligence to our national identity. We have lost potential investors, business opportunities because perception as they say is reality. Branding is not a one run-off campaign, but a continuous evolution, hence every individual, organization and nation must keep seeking ways to differentiate, upgrade and evolve by asking the question, does my brand name connect with the consumer? What are my brand assets? What is my position on the consumer sync? What should we reposition? What should we perfect and translate into the external? Does the brand resonate with the changing salient needs of the consumer? These leading questions can only be established by empirical factors and research not so much as elitism and the delusional grandeur of creativity. A good nation brand must have longevity. It must transcend election cycles and special interests by capturing the core of a country and its people and what they offer the world. It must engage citizens and national organizations at home while winning recognition and respect abroad. Basically, nation branding like global branding must be taken from three prolonged perspectives, Meta branding, corporate branding and personal branding. A report by the World Press Institute on Transparency stated that Nigeria was spending about $35 million every year on image laundering in the US Media.
The new approach must first be experiential - the economy of brand strategy for survival. Brands need a more evolving strategy that stays as close as possible to the needs of the market. The “Rebranding Nigeria Campaign” might just be another failed attempt, if what we say is not in synergy with what we are. Internal and external rebranding machineries must synergize. This further buttresses several aspects of my thoughts on the essence of nation branding succinctly captured in a series of articles I have written in the last few years while writing on the Nigerian brand renaissance in the column – BRANDSARISE on BusinessDay. These articles, already being compiled into a compendium will soon be unveiled to the Nigerian public after a series of BRANDSARISE empowerment seminars across selected Nigerian campuses. These empowerment seminars are anchored on the philosophy behind the BRANDSARISE compendium which asserts that when individuals rise, the communities will rise, and when the communities rise, the nation will arise. Still on the essence of nation branding, I observed in the forthcoming BRANDSARISE book, that “Branding, for countries, it must be noted, only works if truthful. For example, to attract investment, in general a country must be governed by the rule of law, must protect private property, must have modern infrastructure, etc. If it lacks these ingredients, it cannot expect a branding campaign aimed at enticing investors to be successful.
The result of this recognition should spur the creation of conditions conducive to investment.”On the personal plane, a strong national brand is a collection of strong personal brands. As was experienced on Wednesday, February 18 at the University of Lagos where the likes of Chief Dele Momodu, Uche Nworah, TY Bello, Sammie Okposo among others joined me to inspire hundreds of young Nigerians who converged on the University’s Main Auditorium for Season II of the BRANDSARISE Youth Empowerment, the clarion call is for us as a people to arise to our full potentials. Indeed, it is upon the strength of personal brands that a great nation is built. The quality of a nation derives from the quality of the people that constitute that nation. Here, leadership is a critical factor. Our leaders must come to terms with the true essence of leadership. Leadership is not as titular as it is attitudinal. Furthermore, we must conspicuously redefine and retrieve our drowned cultural values. A major part of our national identity is embedded in our diverse cultural heritage.
Meanwhile, as we allow imperialism to submerge or culture, we lose not just the moral fabrics that are married to our cultural heritage but our national identity derived from it. Having become a society that prioritises wealth over integrity, our youths upon whom our nation’s future rests, have embarked on a wild goose chase for the Golden Fleece, crushing our collective identity in their lust for materialism. We must return to the roots – the family circle and begin from there. How do we raise our children? Do we forget that paradoxically, the child is the father of the man? When Abraham Lincoln said, “I don’t care who my grandfather was; I only care about who his grandson will become” it was an introspection into the past in order to lay the future’s foundation in the present. It is instructive to those who care enough that we cannot change Nigeria from the outside.
We must begin to harness the power of thinking towards the internal – that which is locked inside of us. On the other hand, people in government must understand that rebranding Nigeria starts from the top. There is still a sightless continuum in the relationship between ‘Nigeria’ and ‘the Nigerian’. There is a loud absence of a social contract between government and the people. This is as a result of the dearth in leaders who execute the business of governance with transparency and selflessness. We need true tested leaders in our country. The domino effect of this will become a citizenry that looks up to its government as a reliable leadership structure that holds in dutiful trust the well-being of the masses. In the light of this, the citizens on their part become naturally obliged to their nation. Developed economies of the world thrive on this Rousseauan philosophy. Patriotism is not commanded but earned. Nigeria must adopt more scientific approach in its rebranding effort or else we will end up with achieving nothing but what may be termed for want of better description – the doughnut effect. Let’s put in place proper structures that will accentuate the process from thought to finish. Not a free for all “Dugbe market” approach.
As I conclude, I leave you with the words of Howard Jeta, former United States Ambassador to Nigeria. “Some people say that Nigerians are brash and aggressive; I say that you hold your own down and some folks are intimidated by your self-confidence.” We Nigerians have a can-do-spirit that can conquer any mountain. We are not more corrupt than most developed nations of the world. We are a rich country that must channel its strengths in the right direction. Rebranding Nigeria is first a call for us to arise in all our internal structural processes. When we arise inside, we can then beat our chest to the world. We must not appear as whitewashed sepulchers with a corruptly interior. BRANDSARISE.
Charles O’Tudor is the Principal Consultant, ADSTRAT BMC Limited.