Nigerian Entrepreneurs and the Challenge of Branding

Times are hard in Nigeria. And the challenge of steering the country back on track has been a lot tougher than many expected. The forex crisis has so far defied solutions and manufacturers are lamenting its negative impact on their businesses.

Now, in the midst of the crisis, there is a growing campaign for Nigerian consumers to patronize made-in-Nigeria products as against foreign ones, as a way of cooling the pressure on dollars. Some brand experts have also stressed that the nagging dollar crisis offers an opportunity for Nigerian brands to warm their way into the hearts of consumers.

The narrative has been glamourized with a fancy catchphrase called buynaija or ‘buy Nigeria to grow Nigeria’, and there have been a lot of hypes and marketing glitz around the campaign. Interestingly, the unofficial campaigner-in-chief of the buy naija movement has been high flying media personality and now politician Ben Murray-Bruce. The senator has expectedly focused some of his common sense series on encouraging Nigerians to patronize made in Nigerian brands, like buying Innosson Motors Sports Utility Vehicles (SUV) as against Acura SUV or flying Arik Air to London, instead of British Airways.

But beyond the razzmatazz or patriotism of patronizing the Made-in-Nigeria brands, there is the more compelling issue of quality control and most especially branding. These issues were at the heart of a recent report by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics which showed that consumer confidence in made in Nigeria brands was very low.

Consumer confidence in Nigeria as at the last quarter of 2015 dropped to -3 from -1.9 recorded the previous quarter while business confidence stood at 8.3 per cent as at the end of last year, down by 6.6 per cent from 14.9 per cent recorded at the third quarter of 2015.One of the key reasons for the apathy by consumer towards Made-in-Nigeria brands is poor quality.

The Kaduna State Coordinator of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Alhaji Abba Bauchi, recently announced that 477 companies out of 561 inspected in the state failed the routine certification of the organisation. The story was the same in Bauchi where only 84 of the companies met the criteria for quality certification and this data paints a picture of how serious companies operating in Nigeria take issues of quality of products they produce.

However, it is not enough to produce quality products, because quality alone does not guarantee success. Brand experts have said that if the Nigerian brands must become strong and competitive, then they have to embrace and invest in marketing communications. “If you are doing something and the quality is good but nobody knows about it, you cannot generate the kind of volume you want,” Biodun Shobanjo, Chairman Troyka Holdings said.

The veteran adman insisted that once local brand owners are ready to invest in and support the brands that they have built, it is just a matter of time before Nigerians begin to take them seriously and patronize them ahead of imported brands. He noted that that brands like NASCO Food were dominant years back because of their effective and sustained marketing communications efforts.

“We have been through here before, anyway. I remember when I was still very much in active practice, which were the clients that gave us the head start that we wanted? They were indigenous clients like NASCO in Jos,” Shobanjo said.

“They created opportunities for us; we created opportunities for them as well. At that point in time, most Nigerian school children knew nothing but NASCO cornflakes; that was what everybody ate.”

And just like NASCO did in the 70s and 80, several Nigerian brands have over the years stuck up their heads in their segments through strategic branding and positioning, and they have become a force to be reckoned with even though they operate in the same market space with top global brands. Brands like Dangote, Glo, Oando, Zenith these brands have become synonymous with Nigeria’s identity outside of the country’s shores and they have earned their distinctiveness by a strong brand positioning and commitment to delivering excellent service quality.

Now in the midst of the dollar crisis, many more Nigerian brands have the opportunity to take the giant step forward and engage consumers through effective brand strategies that can give them a major edge in their market segment and engender customer loyalty, Richard Abiodun a brand analyst said. He noted that instead of just doing business to survive, they should adopt strong branding strategies that can give them a bigger market share and a voice in their segments.

A couple of hitherto unpopular Nigerian brands are already heeding the advice by investing more in proper branding and marketing communication activities. One of such is Innosson Motors, a Nigerian auto brand that has gained equity by its recent marketing activities, which involves direct engagement with top personalities, especially those within the political space.

In the last couple of years, the owners of Innosson Motors have rolled eye-catching auto products that have received rave reviews from auto critics and have been attested to as top quality. And so far Innosson marketing undertakings have worked, but if the brand must enjoy sustainable equity and continue to grow its market share, then it must do more than engage politicians, who are just a small fraction of the auto market. “They must engage the services of proper marketing communication agencies to design and drive their branding and market communications,” Abiodun said.

Another Nigerian brand that has soared in recent times is the ERISCO Foods Limited, promoted by Eric Umeofia, the President/CEO of the company. In a short time, Erisco has become one of the well-known brands in Nigeria using a combination of marketing formulas, and they have gained a strong foothold in the highly competitive tomato paste segment.

However, because branding is a long process, the challenge before Erisco, Innosson Motors and other Nigerian brands is to engage a long-term branding plan. They need to get experts to help them through the whole process of, first, determining and interpreting their brand strategies to the consumers and then begin to build the benefits around that brand; so that the consumers can now believe in the brand and a sustainable loyalty can be established. And there is no better time to start than now, before the dust of the dollar crisis settles and things get back to normal.


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