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Rebranding Nigeria: Myths and realities

By Charles O'Tudor

Without doubt, globalisation has intensified competition not just among industries, markets, and investments but among nations. In the wake of the issues of cyber crimes, drug and human trafficking, piracy, money laundering, embezzlement and all forms of corruption that have marred our national identity, we cannot fault the idea of rebranding.

The recent emergence of a "Rebranding Nigeria Campaign" under the Prof. Dora Akunyili - led Ministry of Information and Communications has generated a flurry of reactionary postures from professionals, brand and communication consultants, other stakeholders and patriotic Nigerians alike.

The campaign, anchored on a sensational logo and slogan competition thrown upon to the public has been hailed by some as the magic wand that will propel Nigeria to Brands Paradise while also attracting opprobrium as simply another blind step in the wrong direction. For me, the issue is not with the idea of rebranding Nigeria and not so much with the minister being out of her depths.

While her initiative might be borne out of a genuine naivety, the methodology has thrown up a myriad of inquiries about our nation's core essence. If the process is flawed, all that follows is futility. As a professional and having dedicated a major part of two decades of my existence to the study of brands and branding, and having also had the opportunity to pioneer one of the foremost indigenous brand consulting firms in Nigeria, I feel a sense of duty and obligation to respond to the issue at hand.

Branding cannot be conjured or invented by mere logos and sloganeering. A brand is built through an internal processing of its brand's DNA based on empirical research. As a country, we need personal, corporate and institutional reformation to achieve a transformational repositioning of our national brand identity.

The internal process is what automatically reflects in the external processes. A good case in point, an ophthalmologist does not go ahead to recommend corrective lens for a patient with an eye defect, without first finding the nature of defect; say is it myopia, hypermetropia or astigmatism? It is based on such findings that he recommends appropriately. Everything outside this process is blind therapy. Thus, the modus operandi of the ministry under the present dispensation is flawed as professional consultants were not factored into the build-up process.

There should be a team of selected brand professionals, who will dissect components of the Nigerian brand DNA from the standpoint of its cultural and socio-eco-political realities and then make recommendations to government on the way forward. Here, it is pertinent to note that external projection will not be the first step in the way forward. Whereas the effect of ignorance has heightened the misconception of branding as simply an issue of logos, graphics or pay-off lines, it is far from that! Only very few Nigerians have an in-depth understanding that the processes are deeply scientific, and that scientific approaches must be employed in the processes of branding.

The strong scientific intricacy involved is what guides rationales and professionalism. It is then expedient to ask; is rebranding Nigeria the function of a mere logo or slogan? How will this resuscitate the battered image of Nigeria? Is it in the name of the campaign or the processes and strategies? How do we as a nation hope to sweep the decay of several decades under a beautiful carpet of logos and catchphrases? What happens when another minister comes and jettisons the current rebranding project for a new one? How long should we continue revolving around a vicious cycle of ineptitude or defunct?

We talk about rebranding a country where corruption still holds sway in all segments of our individual and corporate lives. We talk about rebranding when the most basic amenities of life continue to elude government's delivery capabilities. Is it not funny that we want to rebrand Nigeria when citizens of our country cannot walk the streets safe and secure from hoodlums and sometimes even the law enforcement agents that ought to protect them? Before rebranding Nigeria, we ought to perfect the internal processes that constitute the brand DNA. A good product sells itself in the market place, but at the moment, Nigeria is still a hard sell, even to its own people. Let somebody tell the government that countries of the world that ever ran successful branding campaigns did not just wake from slumber to initiate a campaign of logos and slogans.

Before India began its national branding campaign, it had put in place impressive infrastructural facilities. Their educational system is today regarded as one of the best in the world. A country like the United States of America has been branded as a successful nation by the excellent products associated with it; from Microsoft software and Boeing airplanes to MacDonald's hamburgers and Coca Cola drinks. Japan is associated with quality products such as Sony, Toyota and Nikon. The strength of these brands and the economic power they have delivered to their owners have propelled these nations to leadership of the global economy.

Before we begin to rebrand Nigeria, we should first ask ourselves, what is left of our national heritage that we can first sell to ourselves, and the world at large? Is it corruption? infrastructural decay? The Niger-Delta crisis? Electoral malpractices?

Every nation, quite like humans have their peculiar struggles and issues. As they coast through their life cycle of vulnerabilities and triumphs, they must ensure they manage the delicate image balance, by evolving ways to reinforce the acceptable identity and seek ways to redress the unacceptable ones.

A country's failure to strengthen its identity means that it gets submerged under the fast expanding frontiers of national greatness. Today, we are not just combating the negative perception, but the years of negligence and insensitivity to our national identity. We have lost potential investors, business opportunities because perception as they say, is reality.

Branding is not a one run-off campaign, but a continuous evolution, hence every individual, organization and nation must keep seeking ways to differentiate, upgrade and evolve by asking the question, does my brand name connect with the consumer? What are my brand assets? What is my position on the consumer sync? What should we reposition? What should we perfect and translate into the external? Does the brand resonate with the changing salient needs of the consumer? These leading questions can only be established by empirical factors and research not so much as elitism and the delusional grandeur of creativity.

A nation's brand must have longevity. It must transcend election cycles and special interests by capturing the core of a country and its people and what they offer the world. It must engage citizens and national organizations at home while winning recognition and respect abroad.

People in government must understand that rebranding Nigeria starts from the top. There is still a sightless continuum in the relationship between 'Nigeria' and 'the Nigerian'. There is a loud absence of a social contract between government and the people. This is as a result of the dearth in leaders who execute the business of governance with transparency and selflessness.

We need tested leaders in our country. The effect of this will be a citizenry that looks up to its government as a reliable leadership structure that holds in dutiful trust the wellbeing of the masses. In the light of this, the citizens on their part become naturally obliged to be good citizens. Developed economies of the world thrive on this Rousseauan philosophy.

Nigeria must adopt a scientific approach in its rebranding effort or else we will end up achieving nothing but what may be termed for want of better description – the doughnut effect. Let's put in place proper structures that will accentuate the process from thought to finish.

Charles O'Tudor is the Principal Consultant, ADSTRAT BMC Limited.

 

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