Nigeria: Strategies and tactics for rebranding

By Akinwole Osewa

THE campaign slogan of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN); “One Nation, One Destiny” aptly captures the sentiments of Nigerians when it comes to supporting the national football teams against any op-ponent, either at the friendly or championship levels. As Nigerians, we not only forget our differences and challenges but also pre-championship preparation or the lack of it thereof by the national team. Once the Eagles are on the field of play, every Nigerian wants them to beat their opponent silly. Every Nigerian assumes that the so-called “god of soccer” (sometimes nicknamed Luck) is a Nigerian by birth, and has no right to double nationality and therefore duty bound to be on the side of Nigeria always.

So was the mental state of most Nigerians when the Super Eagles left for South Africa for the first World Cup to be held on African soil in 2010. The team was sent forth by the then number one citizen, President Good-luck Jonathan. Fans of the game and the press also joined to hype the optimism of Nigerians. Relying on “providence or the good luck of the president to rub off on the team; Nigerians expected the Eagles to per-form well in S.A. Some even hinged their optimism on the eleventh hour qualification ticket presented to Nigeria by the result of the last match between Tunisia and Angola to conclude that God had a special place for the Eagles at the Mundial. After all, the bible says “it is not of him that willeth or him that runneth but of God that showeth mercy.” We, all keyed into this and similar lines in our various religious camps.

However, because we did not do the right thing at the right time, god of soccer appeared to have changed nationality without notice and favoured those who planned well for the championship. I have gone through this long “story” to remind us once again that failure to plan is as good as a determination to fail. We do not just have to do things right we must do the right things at the right time. The lesson of the dismal performance of the Super Eagles in 2010 (in my view) is a serious warning and a wakeup call to the country on how not to expect without investing the required time and resources in planning. For world cup soccer outings, there is always another chance every four years but we have only one opportunity to make a lasting first impression when it comes to branding. The consumer may be turned off for a long time or permanently if the first experience with the brand leads him to suspect a gap between the claim and reality of the brand offering and experience.

When a brand essence is hinged on human people (behaviour or character), such a brand exposes itself to being held respon-sible for the behaviour of the individual or group of people who are its ambassadors as long as the association lasts. In my view, the slogan “Good People, Great Nation” places on Nigeria the avoidable burden of explain-ing any deviant actions of every Nigerian. Every society or nation has its fair share of “Judas”. Can you imagine what level of damage the condemnable action of Abdul Mutallab did to our “Good People, Great Nation?” We had to be making desperate efforts to convince the world that the boy was not a typical Nigerian boy. We were forced to more or less “disown” a Nigerian. We had to put strategies in place to manage the crises rather than building brand Nigeria. For as long as we hold on to the slogan, we have to set budget aside for cleaning such a “spillage.” The unfortunate aspect of the issue is that the scar of such an incidence, like the impact of a big oil spillage on the environment, never leaves the brand for a long time. It is always very difficult to forget even when the customer tries to forgive.

At the risk of being given uncomplimentary names, let me say it again that we cannot achieve significant success with the rebranding project unless we go back to the drawing board to plan our strategies based on a Big Idea (the DNA). In spite of what we think we have achieved so far, a student from Poland who was writing his thesis on nation branding has this to say to me in a mail in 2011, “In my research I am covering Switzerland, Sweden, Poland and Nigeria. Unfortunately, there are only few bits of information on Nigeria. I would like to know whether there are specific documents concerning the DNA of the brand Nigeria, like Poland has its “Creative Tension” core and Sweden has “Progressivity.” The points being made here have been made in my previous write ups on the subject. I only hope the power of repetition will compel the brand managers of brand Nigeria to listen and act appropriately.

It is in the interest of all Nigerians that at last, the rebranding project should succeed. Fully convince of the kinetic potential in Nigeria and Nigerians, some of us cannot afford to keep quiet, “siddon look”, or “waka pass” until we are sure the Nigeria project is on the road to success. That was why I led my firm, Landmark Exposures Ltd, to bring the world renowned brand and focusing experts, Al and Laura Reis to Nigeria for a stimulating workshop titled: Building Global Brands out of Nigeria: The Challenges of Vision 20/20/20 in 2009. For those who may not know and by way of introduction, Al Reis and his friend/co-author, Jack Trout positioned the concept of POSITIONING in the advertising world and popularised the concept. Al Reis and his current partner and daughter, Laura Reis showcased unique and creative ways we could rebrand Nigeria that no person can fault at the workshop but the brand managers of our country then were too busy to attend such an intellectual gathering! Close to a decade after the workshop was held, we are yet to figure out the best way to leverage the comparative advantage of Nigeria to give the country a brand with emotional associations, relevant mind share and differentiation! Branding is not what you do in an uncoordinated manner. There must be congruency between all what you are doing because you have a big idea in mind.

As a self appointed apostle of the rebranding project, I believe I have put my money where my mouth is on the project and it is too late for a retreat for me, hence my seemingly uncompromising stand on the subject. I do not want my country to become a laughing stock on the rebranding project; the status we seemed to have earned in some aspects of life.

The Most Recent Rebranding

Attempt When the then Honourable Minister of Information and Communications, Late Professor Dora Akunyili, unveiled a new rebranding agenda to reposition and reinvent Nigeria in 2010 or thereabout , her ef-forts attract both wide criticism and at the same time applause within the country and even beyond. She was criticized because most people felt the timing was wrong and given the challenges of the global financial meltdown at that time, they felt it was inauspicious for the government to embark on another spending binge in the guise of rebranding ( for me, a sign of deep-seated distrust of government and the ruling class). But those who applauded her say no time could be more auspicious to rebrand than under a civilian regime after a decade of uninterrupted civilian rule. Besides, they felt Nigeria needed urgent repackaging in order to attract investors into the country. However, before analyzing more the merits and demerits of those for and against the minister’s initiative, I would want to take a look at the examples of some countries that have successfully rebranded and identify what they did right to reinvent their countries.

Lessons from Abroad

Despite the fact that the United States has one of the highest crime rates in the world, the country successfully rebranded and is today seen (perceived) as an epitome of transparency socially, politically and economically. The emergence of a Blackman in the Whitehouse in 2009, best exemplified how successful and workable America’s rebranding project is and can be. Yet, indeed there are still a lot of things wrong with America. Like every society, there are corrupt businessmen and corporate players who cook the book in the US. The failed Enron executives are a classical example. Ditto the mortgage and crooked investors who brought the global financial meltdown pandemic of the last turn of the decade were mostly found in America. Despite these shortcomings, America is still called, ‘God’s own country, beacon of democracy and human right’. But WHY? PERCEPTION! But again, strong character of its leadership, honesty and good governance coupled with the faith of the followership in their leaders have made America to be seen as one of the best places to live in the world.

Also, Americans use every available opportunity and medium to sell and market their country anytime and anywhere in the world. It may be difficult to have a conscensors on the style of the current U.S. president, Donald Trump, a more dispassionate look would show that his actions are somehow still hinged on making America great.

Also, countries like Dubai, Singapore, France, Malaysia, India, China and even Ghana have successfully rebranded and repositioned on the global plain. However, I will use Singapore as another case study in successful rebranding. To tell the Singapore story I will quote a few lines from the book, From Third World to First, The Singapore Story by Lee Kuan Yew. Prior to independence in 1965, Singapore was just a small British colony of just 2 million people and it had practically nothing. But under the leadership of Yew who was Singapore’s first prime minister, Singapore emerged the 8th richest country in the world in 1997, with per capita GDP rising from $400 in 1959 to more than $12,200 in 1990. In fact, by 1995, Singapore’s per capita GDP of $26,000 surpassed that of Britain at 19,700. But how did Yew do it? Let’s hear from the horse’s mouth: “My experience of developments in Asia has led me to conclude that we need good people to have good government. However, no matter how good the system of government, bad leaders would bring harm to the people. When we started in 1959, we knew little about how to govern, or how to solve our economic and social problems. All we had was a burning desire to change an unfair and unjust society for the better. I sought out able men and placed them in positions of authority to administer an honest, efficient system and be responsive to the needs of the people. We learned on the job and learned quickly. If there was a formula for our success, it was that we were constantly studying how to make things work, or how to make them work better. I discovered early in office that there were few problems confronting me in government that other governments had not met and solved. So I made a practice of finding out who else had met the problem we faced, how they tackled it, and how successful they had been”.

“A precondition for an honest leadership is that candidates must not need large sums of money to get elected, or it would trigger off the cycle of corruption. We made sure from the day we took office every dollar in revenue would be properly accounted for and would reach the beneficiaries at the grassroots. It is easy to start off with high moral standards, strong conviction, and determination to beat down corruption. But it is difficult to live up to these good intentions unless leaders are strong and determined enough to deal with all transgressors and without exceptions. After several years in government, I realized that the more talented people I had as ministers, administrators and professionals, the more effective my policies were, and the better the results.” And listen to this clincher, despite the fact that Singapore had no single drop of oil, it became the world’s third largest oil refining centre. Does a country like Singapore offer any branding lesson for Nigeria? I am sure it offers useful lessons for us. That for a successful rebranding effort to occur, there’s an urgent need for the leadership to be focused, sincere, transparent, disciplined and humane in all strata of the society. Besides, the political leadership too should offer exemplary conduct and enabling environment for entrepreneurship and investment to blossom through the provision of basic infrastructural amenities like electricity, good and effective communications network.

Reinventing Nigeria

Although the aforementioned story of Singapore is difficult to replicate within the short term of a particular government in Nigeria, I’m convinced and I believe that they’re achievable with determination, discipline and with God on our side (He has always been anyway). What is required is the will to start by putting in place enduring institutions and processes for subsequent governments to build on. This year 2018, Lee Kuan Yew is no more but that did not halt the prosperity of Singapore as it is now rightfully called the global commerce hub, and has moved up in GDP per capita to number 4 in the world with $90,530 per capita, behind only Qatar, Macau, and Luxembourg in that order by IMF ranking. The institutions and processes succeeded the pioneer president; he is no more physically but immortal in the minds of his citizens.

To get a credible hook for repositioning or reinventing Nigeria, we need to do two things. We need to identify what Nigeria can legitimately offer the world to give it a space in the mind of the consumer in this over-communicated era of the information age. Besides, we need to divert attention from the negative activities of a few bad eggs giving Nigeria a bad name and extol our virtues. My basic marketing training and experience over the years working on consumer brands and products convinced me that the rebranding communication programme must all start and end with the consumer. We must communicate with the consumer using her language whenever whatever and wherever we want to communicate to her. There is no doubt that Nigeria is abundantly blessed with a lot of human and material resources. Perhaps more than most African countries, Nigeria has heroes and heroines in different areas of human endeavours who have done the nation proud in diverse areas of their calling. Also, Nigeria is abundantly blessed with a lot of tourism sites that if well harnessed, Kenya and the Gambia, acclaimed to be tourism havens in Africa, would look like Lilliputians. Besides, Nigeria is so blessed agriculturally that no crop cannot be planted or grown in Nigeria. Our brand workshop in 2009 revealed this much and more when Al Reis dissecting the Nigeria brand DNA said: “Nigeria is the only country in Africa that has huge land mass suitable for agriculture. With 304,000sqm of arable land and with its huge population of over 140 million people, the obvious and logical position for Nigeria is “The Largest and Greenest African country.

• Mr Osewa is founder and CEO, Landmark Exposures Ltd.

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