Why Nigeria must deploy brand, communication experts to boost reputation
Ikem Okuhu is a journalist with a bias for brands and marketing reportage. His love for the media and brands made him resign from jobs at ExxonMobil, United Bank for Africa (UBA) and Ecobank Nigeria where he headed the External Relations Unit. His company Reliks Media Limited, birthed brands and marketing magazine, BRANDish. In this interview with MARGARET MWANTOK, he spoke about the dearth in marketing communications writers and how the government could deploy the services of branding and marketing experts to rebuild Nigeria’s image. He also spoke about his new book set for launch next month and many more.
Have we really tapped into the potential of what marketing communications can do for the country when you look at it from the image and brand-building benefits?
This is a very important question. I’m one of those that believe that Nigeria has not even scratched the surface in terms of deploying professional marketers in managing the country’s image. The closest we came was during the era of the late Prof Dora Akunyili as Minister of Information. Nigeria has been paying lip-service to the country’s image management and that is why most of the time, you find a disconnect between what the country’s leaders are saying with what our overall national interests and needs should be. It was in reaction to this challenge that I devoted an entire chapter to address the issue of nation branding in the book.
The chapter is titled, “Every Nation is not a Brand,” and there I used the examples of India, South Africa, and Rwanda to demonstrate how nation-branding works. But we cannot achieve this in a regime where political leaders make deliberate efforts to avoid professionals. Do you know that since this government came into power in 2015, the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) has not had a proper Council constituted? Do you know that the Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, has not met with APCON for once? I am sure the situation is the same as the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations and the Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria. This is not how others who wish to positively impact the world and its citizens with strong country-brand proposition works.
There seems to be a dearth of technical writers, who are specialists in writing books of this nature, what do you think is responsible for this lack of writers?
Again, let’s say that part of what inspired this book was the dearth of Nigerian content in marketing literature. I spent years buying and reading books authored by Al Ries, Jack Trout, Martin Lindstrom, and many others. Somebody like Al Ries has tonnes of books out there and having read many of them, I discovered that he virtually says the same thing over and over again, in different books and using different languages.
When I read Jim Collins’s ‘Good to Great’, I was inspired, but the frustration of reading about companies and individuals I have never heard of slowed my understanding of the book a lot. The problem in Nigeria is that most professionals; and I do not mean those who teach in our universities; are so consumed by the rat race to care about documenting what they do every day for posterity. Generations of professionals have lived and gone in Nigeria and they left with all the knowledge they gathered.
Even the current generation of practitioners are caught in the same trap. Do you know the type of knowledge hidden in PowerPoint slides inside the archives of a company like Insight Communications for instance; knowledge from many years of being Nigeria’s biggest Marketing Communications Group? I mentioned Insight because, in the course of writing this book, I needed a copy of an advert this agency did for Bank PHB in those days but not one person I spoke to in the agency was able to recover what in my estimation was one of the best campaigns ever produced in this country. Practitioners need to start writing. This is important, not just because we need to leave or the future generations some clear examples to learn from, but also because foreigners who wish to have anything to do with Nigeria should rely on data and research works done in Nigeria by Nigerians in order to shape their ideas on how best to navigate the market here. We all must find it unacceptable for insights and data on Nigeria to continue to come from some armchair writer abroad. We must retake our narrative and tell our own stories. That is what I believe.
How do we now deploy the services of marketing communications experts to help re-brand the country?
The very first thing to be done is to show the sincerity of purpose in the quest to ‘rebrand’ the country. I’m, however, one of those that believe that Nigeria has not even been branded at all. So the question of ‘rebranding’ should not come in now. I also discussed this in the chapter I mentioned earlier.
Nigeria has been pretending to be branding and rebranding. But what has been happening is mere national orientation and reorientation programmes, designed mainly to keep the front doors clean. Nation branding is quite intricate and involved a whole lot. In the book, I drew extensively from the 12 Pillars of Competitiveness laid down by the World Economic Forum. Any nation that wants to strengthen its brand proposition but ignores any of these pillars is bound to fail.
What this means, therefore, is that there are a whole lot we should put in place before bringing these professionals in marketing communications to harness them into sellable propositions to the world. As challenging as the country is at the moment, even the few positive collaterals we have are being mismanaged because there are no professionals advising and harvesting these on behalf of the government and the people.
Tell us about your book, Pitch: Debunking Marketing’s Strongest Myths, is it this your first publication?
What I tried to do with this effort was to examine certain strongly held views and trends in the wider marketing world in the context of their relevance and impact in the realities of everyday effort to facilitate exchange. A number of these views and trends have been with us for years. Some just became the rule as a result of practice and because they have been left unchallenged, certain levels of myths shrouded them, making people consider them ‘no-go’ areas. But I took a look at them and though there are no longer the needs to sustain these myths for the overall good of the market. The title was chosen, therefore, in the reflection of the central goal, we set out to achieve, which was to straighten a few things and perceptions about the business of advertising, public relations and management of the sales process.
What does this book seek to address?
There are no indigenous books on the subject of marketing. The ones we have are mainly academic books put together by lecturers and sold to students, most of which are not even as original as they should be. In my journey in the industry, I have read a lot of books on brands and marketing and I always found some sort of dissonance in most of the case studies and examples used to drive home points by these authors. These case studies and examples are always about companies and individuals that are not Nigerians. I, therefore, wondered why we shouldn’t have well-written books that discuss brands and marketing with Nigerian examples and cases? This, in my view, will facilitate uptake because these brands and projects and individuals are people we see every day. I was convinced it wouldn’t be a bad idea if we begin to read the giant strides of companies in Nigeria in books, the same way we have been reading about Apple, HP, General Motors, General Electric, Samsung, Virgin Atlantic, IBM, and so many others. So this book, apart from addressing some issues long held sacred, also seeks to infuse what I may call the ‘Nigerian Content’ in the body of marketing literature.
Do you have any last words for the readers of your book that is about to be launched?
There are a few messages that I wish to pass across but they are all subsumed in one central message, which is that the book is all about the need to put the Nigerian story forward. Besides trying to argue against certain norms in the marketplace, I’m also trying to push the strengths and values of the Nigerian story and wit this book, I am working to send a message that looks capable of making global headlines could come from this part of the world. While could not cover every ground, I was able to document some classical marketing projects and milestones of a number of our achievers to ensure that for the Nigerian reader, they enjoy the proximity to these examples, and for the foreigner, they have the benefit of appreciating the way the ‘Nigerian mind’ works. This is important, especially for those with an erroneous globalised view of marketing. There is nothing like Globalisation, at least in the context sold to us by the west.