Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Timeless Continuum of Lord Lugard Stereotype in the Nigerian brandspace

How do we explore the fifty years of post-independence Nigerian brandspace without referring to our collective past, represented by Lord Frederick Lugard? How can we document the litany of our brand management best practices without deferring to the Nigeria’s first Brand Manager? Yes, Lord Lugard was the Brand Manager who had the singular honour of crafting Nigeria’s positioning and brand identity process that culminated in how the geographical descriptor line “the area around the River Nigermetamorphosed into Nigeria’s brand name. The foundation laid by Lord Lugard’s brand management best (or worst) practice seems to have become the parametric boundary that continues to shape the evolution of our indigenous brands . This write-up shall therefore attempt to explore this similitude whilst setting hypotheses for our collective interrogation.

Was Lord Frederick Lugard a military colonial ruler on expedition or an archetype of our modern day brand managers you may ask? I think he was more of the latter because his 6-year reign was spent creating imagery, meaning and acceptance around a geographic contraption that had significant economic returns both in the short and long term. He spent most of his time winning the various market clusters of ethnic groups and putting in place “indirect” channel system to return maximum value to his superiors. A diagnostic review of this dynamic might actually provide an insight into the current state of his 85years old nation brand (currently undergoing a rebranding process) and what timeless learning we can glean on how the foundation of a brand often make or mar its future.

As the first Attorney General, history has it that Lugard merged the North and South protectorates in 1914 as part of Europe’s scramble for the African continent. This hastily executed brand merger must be one of the quickest in history as attested to by the inverted outside-in model that he deployed in defining the collective national stance from a coerced aggregation of varying and dissociated entities with little or no organic solidarity.

Lugard’s strategic intent was to forge a monolithic template that all the disparate clusters can be homogenized into whether there are strategic commonalities or not. The marriage of strange bedfellows that characterised the Nigerian banking consolidation in recent time is a classic example of Lugard’s approach. This is however antithetical to modern brand theories that “shared interest, communal passion and converging aspiration” are the basis for defining a brand’s point of view in order to have a mutually reinforcing, wholesome and collective proposition.

The “Human Energy” proposition from Chevron taps into this truth because the brand is identifying with a commonly shared environmental concern to deepen its relevance as the custodian of the friendlier alternative energy sources of the future. Procter and Gamble’s Always “Being-a-girl” initiative is creating a virtual world of young female teenagers where they can live their lives, discuss their worries and build collective intelligence on how best to manage the stress of puberty. These are examples of brands that appreciate the power of identity partnership around user-communities anchored on common aspiration that each citizen “brandtizen” can believe, own and live by. This is perhaps the first strategic error that “the Lord” failed to deliver on.

The many fine details of Lord Lugard’s brand management practice were aptly captured by his fellow countryman Mr. Ian Nicolson in a twist of revelation that unveiled the mind of our national brand creator/strategist. Some of these and others shall be explored in this article as I attempt to interrogate the foundational basis of a Brand Nigeria and how Lugard’s model continues to benchmark how we run the business of branding in Nigeria.

This piece shall draw attention to 4 critical milestones in Lugard’s brand management school and highlight scenarios and learning applicable to our time.

Boardroom or Bedroom:

Brands are like living things and their survival is inextricably linked to a natural habitat. No brand secures relevance outside the domain of the people that live the brand culture through its value continuum. Successful brands consider their degree of partnership with the end-users as the most important factor in securing long term endearment. Hence, brand naming starts and ends with the consumers whose perceptual frame of reference provides the sufficient mental bandwidth for memorability and resonance.

Nigerian brands often miss this critical, just like Lugard, who delegated the business of brand creation to a bedroom chit-chat that made Mrs. Flora Lugard (Nee Shaw) own the patent to our national identity. I surmise hers was a “spark” based on the limitedness of her understanding that made her focus on the physical geography rather than established socio-geographical truth that could have evoked populist ownership of their collective destiny. I opine that Flora’s feeling was a cumulative sum of all she has written and heard as a one-time colonial correspondent of The Times of London. Her location-based descriptor did not take into consideration the diversity of a nation of over 250 ethnic groups.

When you explore names like United States of America and how the robustness of the nomenclature succinctly captures the inner dynamics of a nation that genuinely appreciates its diversity. It is no surprise that this clearly crafted template continues to provide an inspiring dais for American governance and the consequent global dominance.

Products are not made isolated from the consumer’s reality or else it will be dead on arrival. Any brand marketer who cares less about how much its brand name evokes positive feeling is doomed for an early demise. Ford will never forget the failure of its Pinto car in Brazil because it was rather too late for the company to act on a name that meant ‘tiny male genitals’ in local language and same for the popular “Schweppes Tonic Water” campaign in Italy which on translation was “Schweppes Toilet Water”.

This lackadaisical attitude explains the dearth of proactive and pre-emptive consumer-focused research in Nigeria. We seem to think that we are still in the Industrial era boasting about how our mega advertising budget will force the consumers to buy a product that was not well researched as solutions to current consumers’ need-state. I have long observed that the use of pre-marketing researches were more of tactical obligation rather than top-level executive intervention to create breakthrough lighthouse that the business can rely on to win the larger share of the future. Nigerian brand custodians need to progress beyond our old recipe of bedroom guts to integrated collaborative intelligence that puts the consumers at the centre of the business.

The manifestation of this is obvious in daily interaction with Nigerian MDs who downplay the role of collective intelligence in critical brand-related decision-making. The Nigerian MD will rather make the television commercial to look like what his wife saw during her last shopping trip to Paris, even though the cultural nuances and market context are thousands of miles apart..

The future of Nigerian brands is bleak if we continue to triviliase brand management decisions to neophytes who are completely detached from the users’ aspirations, need-state and lifestyle. I remember an instance where a Chairman of a company threw away a well-crafted route-to-market plan presented by a team of brilliant strategists because his undergraduate son who was on holiday and was invited impromptu to review a body of work that he never knew what the foundational marketing issues were. Expectedly, his U.S. perspective won and his “superior” perspective continues to lead the company to an untimely comatose.

Does this suggest that great brands do not come from family business? No. I am aware that 35% of Fortune 500 companies are family-controlled and even account for 50% of American GDP. However, researches have proven that the critical reason for success is “decision and collaborative thinking beyond family sentiment”.

Amalgamation For Segmentation

Several commentators have suggested that the pre-independence scramble for Africa was a territorial quest for economic domination and that size of coverage was a key performance indicator. Lugard’s success was to be measured by how large his contraption was irrespective of the heterogeneity of the amalgam in behavior, attitude and belief. This may be the bane of brand practice in Nigeria. The one-size-fits-all strategy that has made most Nigeria brands to diffuse and over-extend out of their core competency areas, thus diluting their overall brand equity. It is alarming that only few Nigerian brands have clear, well-defined and distinct market definitions. It defeats logic when a brand manager insists that his primary target is urban dwellers and that is all. He often rationalises this with an excuse that he is seeking for the largest addressable market forgetting that it is more valuable to seek for “available and serve-able market” instead. A lot of our brands that could have secured positions in history as regional champions died exhausting their marketing prowess in a quest to be everywhere and everything to everyone.

Nigerian brands should realise that consumers are not numbers or statistics that we flaunt on our dashboard but clusters of emotional variables that can only be better profiled through multi-dimensional matrixes within defined cultural contexts.

A recent independent research conducted by a global research firm on Nigerian brands showed that more than 60% of brands in Nigeria are either over-positioned or under-positioned and a significant percentage are without a clear and convincing basic stance.

Lugard failed to properly articulate the basis for aggregating his market opportunities. Was his segmentation by geography valid or could he have considered a deeper dimension of consumer ethnography? The later breaks out of the lines of least resistance and provides leverage to a profitable future.

Indirect Rules Do Not Build Brands.

Lugard’s over-reliance on the middlemen and intermediaries created a market scenario where the top echelon were largely insulated from the consumer’s reality, and had to rely on diluted feedback mechanism that is definitely out of touch with the market situation. This created an hour-glass grotesque where the consumer is squeezed into a tiny space within the value delivery equation.

In order to grow a brand that is true to its constituency (i.e. people), we must seek not to over-decentralise power to local “chiefs” and “native authorities” in the distribution channel because it does not take long before they weaken the brand flow optimization for greed of profitability. This is the Nigerian quagmire.

Many Nigerian brands are plagued with channel-induced artificial scarcity that exploits the consumers, browbeating them to pay 30-40% additional above the recommended retail prices. These acts weaken the brand’s proposition because a brand is not delivered until it gets into the hands of the end-users “unadulterated”. It is even saddening that most of these channel members fail to invest in the logistics of brand support. The most affected are brands on dealership arrangements with international companies who will rather convert the referred marketing support budget to their personal bank account. It is therefore no surprise that an international economic Group has reported the high incidence of price arbitrage in Nigeria as one of the highest in the world with correlated impact on consumer overall spending value.

British American Tobacco Nigeria’s organisational structure of focusing on core marketing and integrating with Great Brands Nigeria Limited to deliver on its distribution imperative is a key learning for any company that wants to genuinely focus its marketing on research and development. It is rather alarming that most brand-oriented organisations that ought to focus on developing differentiating propositions have created an operational distraction through an in-house creative agency. Predictably, no great works that can disrupt consumer’s choice come from this aberration, as no brand manager can be the coach, player and referee in the same match. I know every creative mind is disturbed when a brand manager reviews a creative work with feedback like “I do not feel this works”. Yes, you are not meant to feel it because it was not developed for you but for the consumers on the street whose precious time we are attempting to interrupt and the first rule is to make those seconds worthwhile before pushing our brands on them. The same applies to the brand Nollywood whose stunted growth will continue for as long as we see instances where the lead actor “triples” as the Producer and Director of the same movie.

Outsourcing through strategic alliances remains an area where Nigerian brands score a big minus. It is only in this part of the world that channel members will never initiate localised promotions or invest in warehouses, deport or sales centers. The best example we need to learn from is the Japanese keiretsu model built around an integrated vertical distribution networks of buyer-supplier alliance. This is the model that transformed Japan post-war and made Toyota the global success we adore.

Involvement or exploitation

The brand management philosophy of Lugard is better appreciated by the controversial book that described him as a schizoid personality who believed less in Africans. The book had quotes that expressed his biased, exploitative and unbalanced view of the people he was leading for economic gains. Whether this is verified or not, the learning is that Nigerian brand owners can only secure the best of the market through genuine identification with the people and not just profit making. I believe that we must touch their lives before we reach to touch their pockets.

I recently had a priviledged access to a global route-to-market strategy of a multinational and was really embarrassed when I read a page that described their drive to Nigerian market. It read “we are going to exploit their ignorance of the category to skim in the first 5 years of operation”. I was disappointed and was once again reminded that capitalist exploitation will only work in developing countries like ours if it is genuinely combined with social entrepreneurship proposition. C.K. Prahalad in his “Bottom of the pyramid” thesis had advocated that companies that want to make profit from the “poor” must be genuinely involved in helping them to generate buying power. Nigerian brands must be willing to sow in order to reap. Corporate social responsibility must go beyond the opportunistic PR-led Christmas visit to the motherless babies to a genuine intervention aimed at uplifting the lives of the community where they do business.

Nigerians brands must build social capital and demonstrate their commitment to their future sources of revenue beyond the over-flaunted paltry projects whose total cost is less than the cost of advertising used to promote them.

We need a blended value business model that combines a revenue-generating business with a social-value-generating component. Do we have brands that have proactive interest in wind energy, renewable energy from the remnants of DMT toilet, local agricultural brands from our massive arable land etc? Nigeria’s Public Private Partnership (PPP) strategies need to reflect this genuineness.

In summary, it is obvious that we have very few brands that are strategically positioned for the long haul, in meeting and exceeding the consumer expectations both for today and for the future. If our brands continue to score below average on metrics of global competitiveness, then we can predict how much value our brands can translate to in terms of nominal GDP both in the short and long terms.

I know that we have brilliant brand builders who have read a lot about successful brands and even attended world-class business schools but the challenge remains our inability to translate these into localised actionable template to ensure global relevance. Of a truth, we cannot afford to play a “LORD” Lugard, but we must genuinely stoop low to serve the needs of the over 140 millions that are trusting us with their needs. Remember that was why it was called “Protectorate” i.e. to genuinely protect the interest of a group of people.

(Picture copied from Google Image)