Advertising and brand management expert and Managing Director of HQSC, Mr. Nnanke Harry Willie spoke to Raheem Akingbolu on the challenges of brand management in the Nigerian market and his vision for the year-old Brandpower magazine. Excerpts:
What would you say is Nigeria's greatest brand building challenge?
I would say it is lack of appreciation of brand management, because a lot of people treat brand building as very tentative. Most people do not realise that there are brands you could be doing ten times its turnover, more than ten times its image value if they apply the principles of brand management adequately.
You see a one-man business that is doing more than his immediate expectation and the man is relaxed but that particular brand is a brand that if he takes it and gets a brand expert involved, they can take it and make it an international brand. When you have more capital, you are able to get greater talents and skill to add value to what you are doing and become maybe the major owner of an international brand rather than being a sole owner of an average brand.
I think the greater challenge is for people to accept the fact that this is what is relevant for me to do. If you look at Nigeria as a brand, one of the reasons we have all the challenges we have so far is because we have not look at issues from the brand management perspective. At every point in time; whether it is sports, trade and investment, agriculture or tourism, you must be asking; what is it that we must project about Nigeria? So if for instance we say in everything we do we must make Nigeria stand for excellence in all we do, it would simply mean that if is not excellent it is not Nigerian.
Unfortunately, a perversely negative sentiment is what is generally recalled if Nigeria is mentioned today. It's sad. Let Nigeria equate to a positive standard, just like we have Germans who are known for ruggedness in technology. The Asians from becoming imitators have made a brand for themselves as being technologically savvy. It means Nigeria has to find its own brand identity and build its brand infrastructure and architecture.
Your publication, Brandpower magazine, is a niche publication. What has the journey been like over the past year?
Very clearly our driving force has been our passion to build brands and make them better for all stakeholders in Nigeria. The driving force has also been the reactions that we have been receiving from our teeming readers and subscribers. The journey has not been a very smooth one as you would imagine, given that it's a new publication; you are faced with challenges of circulating and distributing your publication, developing a subscriber base and ensuring that you have the resources to publish every month like you just said.
Be that as it may, we have been sustained by a rare empathy and love from our readers who are completely sold on our style, presentation and vision so we are challenged to do something new and better with every new edition. That is why if you have noticed from the preview edition of the magazine till date, every edition produces something new. In the next few years you would probably not recognise the publication because we would keep ensuring that we improve.
Curiously, your publication seems to treat just about any subject, not just brand related issues and yet still seem to relate them to brand management. How did you come about this twist and what has been the response from readers?
That is the original mission of our team. When we first came out, many wanted to pigeon hole us as an industry publication. But we were quite clear in our mind what we wanted to do with Brandpower. The publication cuts across all gamut of issues and spectra of society. What we are saying here is that we have a publication where you can view everything under the Sun, whether it is ecology, banking and finance, family relationships, public service, consumer or personality brands.
We are saying that the new lingo in town is brand management. I believe strongly as a practitioner that if we look at all issues, if we treat Nigeria from a brand perspective, Nigeria will be a much better nation brand. If you look at some of the most successful brands in history, they have gone through a couple of things. They have a template and they work on the template over and over again to reinvent themselves and make sure they remain relevant even as history unfolds, as tastes continue to change, as the market continues to evolve.
Part of the challenges that we have as a nation is the fact that things that though the world has evolved over time we have failed to collectively reinvent ourselves. We have either been ill-prepared for them or prepared but like the will to execute strategies for our re-invention. So, if we look at it from this perspective, what we are doing is what you'll call news magazine with a specialised focus. We are not an industry magazine. Therefore you will not open the magazine and all you find there is news about brands and personalities in marketing. We treat general issues. That is, we have a general appeal to the social and political elite
You are about to organise the first edition of the magazine Awards. How is it different from other awards out there?
Just like the magazine is a niche publication, we are also about to do something that is new in the award segment of the market. We looked around and asked: what do other publications do and we decided on how could we refresh this segment of the business? So we said to ourselves, we need to look at it from the brand management perspective. We need to have key elements and criteria that will be different from others.
This year's edition for instance, we have a criteria. You would discover that with those criteria that we have, not all brands that you know or love would be there but by the time we open up on the awards, you would be left with no doubt that these guys deserve these awards. I would give you an example. I was just coming back from a state up North.
And you won't believe that this state is virtually unsung. But if you go up to this place and see what is on ground, it would amaze you to no end. It is exactly the transformation the President has been preaching about. And when you are talking of transformation, you are talking of the environment and the people. We are talking of developing human capital not only for the immediate but for the future.
You had to visit a state, why?
For verification of results. We need to test and gauge the impact of policies and projects on the citizenry. What we are actually doing is that we have created two levels of the exercise. One is the citizen impact assessment exercise while the other is the consumer impact assessment exercise. What we are trying to do is that from these two angles, which brands have most impacted on the consumers and the citizens; though they are both the same thing, we are only trying to separate them for the purpose of clarity.
So what we are saying is that of these two categories, over the years or in the short term, which political icon, which brand icon most provided or will provide the most value over a long stretch on Nigeria or Nigerian consumers. We came up with a list, and at the end of the day we had a panel which contained people out of our editorial board, but at the end of the day the editorial board had to verify some of these things that were sent to us.
That verification exercise is on and I can assure you that in the build up to the award proper, the editorial team would be making quite a number of visits to certain companies and states outside Lagos, because we don't just want to sit down and do armchair award presentations; they must be credible.
From what you have said, can the process of nomination or selection be thrown open to the general public?
For this particular edition, we have kept the criteria to our chest. We shall subsequently give out the criteria so that we can even have nominations from the general public; since we are doing impact assessment, perhaps it's best to get it from them.
But we decided for now to keep the criteria to our chest and the panel that came out with the nominations and selection. We would reveal this on the award night and I want to assure you that in subsequent editions, we would start early enough, throw it open to the public so they can have their say.
How many awards are up for grabs?
That will also be revealed at the event.
We understand that invitations have been extended to top brand owners, political icons, the brand management and marketing community and national media. Will every invited guest get an award?
Absolutely, not every guest that comes in would get an award. But I can assure you that every guest that comes in would have a great time, because this is a special media event and that means that we are going to have national coverage, both on print and electronic media. It is also going to be one of great corporate entertainment. Beyond that, the element of surprise is what we want to keep for this award so that when people come in there, they might not even know that they would receive an award.
However, it is also important to let you know that the beauty of what we have done is that the award itself is unique. It is worthy of note that those who do not receive an award this year, does not mean that their brands are not doing well. It just might mean that the criteria we have used for this year does not make them eligible to win the award. So I want every player in the brand management industry and the public service delivery system to feel free to come in and have a great time.
I assure you that there would be none like it because this is our style. If you look at our magazine it is unique in content, print quality and circulation. We are the only magazine that circulates regularly to the Presidency, National Assembly, diplomatic community and all top brand management personalities all over Nigeria. What we are trying to do is to ensure that those people who are very critical towards building brands be treated with a lot of respect and appreciation.
Going forward, what is your vision for the publication and how do you hope to sustain the momentum?
What brandpower is going to develop is citizenship or brand consumer awareness. We are going to develop a platform. We already have Brandpower online. We have a website, facebook page, a twitter account as well as the physical magazine. What we intend to do is create an intermediation platform so that consumers should begin to know that when they are not getting what they are paying for, they should not just complain to their friends; they should seek compensation and redress.
That is one sure way of keeping brand owners on their toes. If your state governor is not delivering on the expectations and promises that he made, you don't just sit down and complain in your room. You should find a platform to reach him so that something can be done about it. I can assure you that when people become more sophisticated on how they go about the issues surrounding the services they are getting from any brand owner, the brand owners would realise that the days of anything goes is over. Once they are aware of that, they would have no choice but to up their game.
Like I said earlier, perfection is not a destination; it is a journey. What was excellent in technology only ten years ago is obsolete today. So we must ensure that at all times, we keep following the bar because the bar is not being set in Nigeria; it is being set globally. So what obtains globally should be obtainable in Nigeria.