The Okija and Ozubulu in your brand
Flashback August 4, 2004. Police uncover the Okija Shrine in Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State. They find more than 50 decomposing bodies and 20 human skulls while 30 witchdoctors (or priests), are arrested. Certain parts of the bodies found have been severed. Police Commissioner Felix Ogbaudu who led the raid sheds tears as he beholds the skeletal remains, decomposing bodies and skulls of fellow humans. Reports link the shrine to prominent politicians who engage the services of the priests there.
Fast Forward. August 6, 2017. Worshippers gather at St. Phillip’s Catholic Church, Amakwa Ozubulu in Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State, for the 6 am mass. Before they say the Grace, unidentified gunmen invade the church. Several people are shot dead. Many are injured and taken to the hospital. Within 24 hours, reports emerge linking the attack to a dispute between drug gangs.
The question is: do these events define Anambra as a destination brand? The state has produced some of the most iconic figures in our literary and political history. These include the world-renowned author, Chinua Achebe and several generations after him, Chimamanda Adichie. Other literary giants of Anambra origin are Chukwuemeka Ike and Cyprian Ekwensi. On the political front, there is, of course, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the First Governor-General of the Federation of Nigeria and the first black Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, the erudite Emeka Anyaoku. The state has a thriving industrial base and several natural attractions.
However, during the 13 years between Okija and Ozubulu, we have not witnessed a sustained programme to develop the state as a major tourism and investment destination. The result is that Anambra State, like much of the country, is grossly underdeveloped as a brand. When you don’t define your brand, other people or events will define it for you. Let us take a broader look at the Nigeria brand. Different things have defined the brand since independence. The Civil War and the hunger, disease and hardship that came with it. The images being beamed to the rest of the world about it were that of starvation and children suffering from kwashiorkor. Thereafter, it was military rule. We were projected to the world as a nation under the yoke of military dictatorship. This is what defined our nation brand until we changed to democratic rule. But under democratic rule, our brand has not been defined as the world’s largest black democracy. Rather, it has been defined by corruption on a mindboggling scale.
All these years, we have failed to define our nation brand. Rather, we have been trying to please the Western nations by trying to do things their way. So no matter what we do, they define our nation brand through their eyes and prejudices. If you don’t define your identity and project those positive values you possess, others will define your identity for you and they will portray you in a way you may even find offensive. This has been our experience with the Western world. No matter what we do, they constantly give us a bad name and their media portray us in a negative way. It appears they always find an Okija or Ozubulu in us, no matter what we do. If you don’t tell the world who you are, people will give you a bad name. Journalism loves bad news. For too long we have left our image at the mercy of Western journalism. It is common in literary circles to say we need to tell our own stories. And to a great extent, our creative industry is doing this. But the efforts will not achieve the desired effect if our government continues to operate below par.
In branding, it is essential to tell your own story and do so consistently. Because, naturally, people want to say negative things about you. It is the same with products. The competition wants to make you look bad. They look for your shortcomings to talk about. They look for the Okija and Ozubulu in your brand and make a festival of it. It makes them feel good about themselves and gives them the belief that they can be more successful than you.
The fact that successful brands remain successful over the long term comes down to their consistency. They maintain what makes them successful and keep their promises. They tell their own stories and do it relentlessly. They constantly redefine and reinvent themselves to remain relevant in an ever-changing world. And when an Okija or Ozubulu happens to them, they are able to quickly overcome. Such events do not define their brands, because they have created and sustained an indelible image in the minds of people. We are familiar with occasional situations when a brand is confronted with a major crisis. How the brand fares in such situations depends on how strong it is and how well it has been managed. In May 2004, word went out that the popular Indomie Noodles was poisonous, and some unidentified persons had died after consuming it. For months, the company battled hard to overcome the resultant crisis. Fortunately for Indomie, its owners had invested heavily in building a strong brand, which commanded a high level of brand loyalty among consumers. It is also important to note that the rash of social media platforms we have today did not exist at that time. Nevertheless, bad news spread very quickly. The brand eventually overcame that crisis and is today a much stronger brand, which continues to wax even stronger.
There is a time in the life of every brand when it is confronted by an Okija or Ozubulu. This is why it is important to invest in your brand and build it consistently over the long term. Many brands have crumbled as a result of crises. When a tree is not deeply rooted, it is easily blown away by a strong storm. In places where brand image and its impact on economic fortune is taken more seriously, Anambra State would have embarked on a sustained brand communications programme, after Okija, to say to the rest of the nation and Africa: this is not who we are; this does not define us! After 9/11, the City of New York embarked on a sustained image revamp and after a couple of years, tourism and business quickly recovered.
Whatever Okija or Ozubulu is confronting your brand, do not let it define who you are or what your brand stands for. Develop and sustain a deliberate brand building programme so that when crisis comes along, your brand is strong enough to overcome.
• Muyiwa Kayode is CEO at USP Brand Management and author of The Seven Dimensions of Branding
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