Where are the Nigerian Superbrands?

By George Thorpe

For the purpose of this 10mins presentation, may I ignore the fact that my word processor keeps underlining the single word ‘superbrands’in red (as if wrongly spelt) and proceed to adopt our host’s definition of the noun superbrands as follows: ‘A superbrand is that brand that has established the finest reputation in its field and offers significantly better emotional and tangible benefits over other brands in its category, which( consciously or unconsciously) consumers want, recognize and are willing to pay a premium for’.

Before attempting to answer the question, where are the Nigerian Superbrands, may I make a fine distinction between superbrands as defined and megabrands as we know them. For sure megabrands are big. They dominate the market landscape and can boast of the one thing that matters most to management people in general and accountants in particular – brand equity. Brand equity – the net present value of projected earnings is a reality that is bankable and shows on the balance sheet as ‘goodwill’. But is brand equity not also a reality of the marketplace- often the result of being first to market (an accident of history), imperfections in consumer knowledge and choice (so much for the consumer is king concept), aggressive head-to-head or ‘follow-follow’ type competitive activities that leave consumers stranded as spectators, price wars designed to snuff the life out of a new entrant, consumer cost of and reluctance to switch, failure of new products to boldly serve unmet needs etc. It is arguable that these activities that tend to marginalize the consumer in the jungle called the market would smoothen out over the long run but brand equity and its managers cannot wait and continue to draw on the benefits of being a megabrand. For consumers, the word ‘field’ in the phrase ‘finest reputation in the field’ is too often narrowed to one brand, the megabrand on account of high spontaneous first mention in a consumer crowded daily life. Not all competitive activity serve the consumer even if and when they build megabrand status. In short, megabrands may be big but they don’t always serve the consumer so well after all. This is not to equate megabrands to ‘the big, the bad and the ugly’ but to admit to a new dimension of brand values that the single word superbrand commands. There is a hint of greatness in the word superbrand. It is as if superbrands defy all odds to emerge victorious as a result of brand leadership never forgetting their consumer stewardship role. The leadership credentials draw from setting new standards and managing change. It is this relentless commitment to anticipate and fulfil changing consumer needs and expectations in the increasingly fragmented marketplace and into the long term that make even small brands achieve greatness and their victory so sweet. Their lack of mega-size does not in any way detract from their superbrand status. Superbrands are the result of total dedication to researching, testing, producing, delivering, servicing and after-sales support of truly distinctive products and services that earn the finest reputation in markets and territories where they play.

What lessons from this fine distinction between a megabrand and a superbrand? There is more to branding than brand marketing communications. Those with custodial responsibilities for building to a superbrand need to pay far more attention to uncovering unmet consumer needs and expectations and testing out new product / service propositions. Consumer would be happier for the significantly better emotional and tangible benefits that flow from these efforts. As markets fragment, brand managers need to learn to see the trees in the forest. Consumers are becoming increasingly unequal, so it is time to discriminate. As the means for precision marketing become available, customer level profitability and loyalty would come to the fore. In short there are many uncontested territories within the mass market ‘forest’ where superbrands will thrive. Managers of megabrands need to learn a thing or two from superbrand managers in the area of brand leadership – setting standards and managing change. The end does not justify the means. The processes for marketing, planning and brand management can only be justified by consumer – ends i.e. fulfilling consumer wants and the recognition and willingness to pay a premium for well differentiated beneficial products and services. There is only one place to throw ones weight around and that is in terms of consumer delights and the processes that deliver these again and again. When megabrands are glorified in consumer impact terms, not just sales volume/market share and probability, they become superbrands and are rewarded by consumers with the finest reputation in their chosen fields. A rededication to consumer needs and wants sounds like Marketing 101, but given some megabrand behaviours and the dangers of professionalizing marketing beyond consumer satisfactions, it is worth reiterating for focus. Now what was the topic? ‘Where the Nigerian Superbrands?’ Ladies and Gentlemen, Since my time is up, may I answer by saying that the millions of Nigerians who will quietly and confidently swear by the few superbrands they use and aspire to, over and above the cacophony of megabranding noise, are in a better position to say.

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