Brand Intelligence

Who Says Branding Is Irrelevant?

By Agbo Agbo.

It is no longer news that Muhammadu Buhari is now President of Nigeria. What may be worth considering is how it happened in a country where the power of incumbency and money work wonders. But to this columnist, what  happened was not strange, but a well thought out plan by world class strategists who plotted their strategies long  before the battle line was drawn.

The phenomenal rise and popularity of Buhari in this dispensation is quite instructive. The opening paragraphs of this column in the April 2013 edition titled

“The Power of Perception and Positioning” started with this quote below. “Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) is a well-known public figure in Nigeria. He was a former Head of State, Military Governor, Petroleum Minister, General Officer Commanding

(GOC) and three-time presidential candidate, first on the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and later the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). He is held in high esteem by the masses because of his impeccable public and private Spartan character and whenever he speaks those in authority listen with rapt attention.

“But despite his illustrious public service and accolades, there is a ‘sore thumb’ somewhere. The corrupt political elite in the country were able to pin a badge on his unblemished and impeccable lapel that has unfortunately remained to date. They dubbed him a religious fanatic and bigot with Jihadist tendency bent on ‘Islamising’ Nigeria.

“They say Nigerians should not trust him because behind his perceived patriotic mien, a demagogue lurks in the shadows. Anywhere he goes, all they have to do is say the ‘magic word’ and his image and reputation will collapse like a pack of cards. As a result of this perception, most non-Muslims would not attempt to come near him even with a ten foot pole.”

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I also wrote: “His adversaries succeeded in their strategy because they fully understood the power of perception and that it takes a long time for people’s perception to change, and sometimes, it does not change. For the records, his adversaries did not tell Nigerians that Buhari’s cook and driver – two most trusted aides anyone can have – are Christians who have been with the General for  years; would a “Jihadist” employ Christians?”

The tide has since changed and the perception today is different. It was the French poet, novelist and dramatist of the Romantic Movement Victor Marie Hugo (1802-1885) who wrote: “All the forces in the world are not as powerful as an idea whose time has come.”

There is little doubt that this is Buhari’s time and his handlers did a good job rebranding the lanky people’s ex- General. So what changed? The entire communications ecosystem was overhauled. His handlers honed in on the importance of PR and positioning by controlling his brand identity and not giving room for the opposition to do this as was the case in the past.

First, they countered, dissected and rubbished the religion toga. By repositioning Buhari through comportment, mannerism, photo-shoots in pan Nigerian attires – and even in suits – they were able to downplay a trait most people say is rigid. The fact that he won the APC primaries in a democratic convention where an experienced politician with national spread like Atiku Abubakar was defeated transformed him into a national figure.

Secondly, they were tactical in handling the certificate issue by allowing the school and the authorities of Cambridge examination board to be the arrowheads. The “perjury” case that also emanated from this lost its flavour after some time. Other road blocks were placed on his path, all of which he surmounted with strategic communications. In perception and positioning, it is vital that a brand reflects its mission, market and positioning strategy. For instance, if a brand chooses to position itself as the foremost provider of expertise in an industry, it would develop tangible and intangible ways of expressing that position. This could be through the mix of products, logos, the way staff dress, their comportment and even how they answer the phone!

These combine to position a brand in the minds and consciousness of its target market – This is your brand! This is what the rebranding of Buhari has2315 achieved – a strong brand that has clearly differentiated itself from competition and has defined itself in the marketplace of emotion. This then enabled them to clearly communicate their mission, increase their awareness and visibility and created a favourable impression which united Nigerians behind their cause.

The truth about a product, service, or company can matter very little in the long-run if the perception of the brand is bad. The same is true in reverse, too. The handlers asked and answered some critical questions. For who is the product designed? A product that does not have a clear-cut strategy of the end users of such product has already failed before hitting the market.

A brand should come out clean on its attributes. What kind of product is it? It will be foolhardy for a product handler not to divulge information about what his product is all about. If he does not, competition will do that for him.

Branding is therefore, a way to distinguish a specific product or service from the rest of market and create a perceived value in the mind of potential customers. The first key to successful branding is to define the types of customers you want to attract. There are key issues to deal with in this regard, but I will zero in on five. The first is to study the market and customers. In this instance, Nigerians are the ‘customers.’ A good brand handler will find out what is important to the customers he want to attract. If he already has some customers, he still needs to research on them by looking at demographic information and other studies done that provide information about his target customers. Once he knows what’s important to his target customers he moves in to address them.

Buhari’s handlers knew well what the “customers’” want. They want to see an end to corruption and impunity; they want a credible and functional educational and health sector in addition to jobs, a functional economy and infrastructure. These and other issues formed the superstructure on which the Buhari brand was built. His personal integrity, which took decades in building, fits perfectly into this superstructure.

Secondly, it is imperative that consistency of brand position is maintained after describing what the brand stands for.  Brand Positioning can be defined as an activity of creating a brand offer in such a manner that it occupies a distinctive place and value in the target customer’s mind. It also refers to “target consumer’s” reason to buy a brand in preference to others. It involves identifying and determining points of similarity and difference to ascertain the right brand identity and to create a proper brand image.

In order to create a distinctive place in the market, a niche market has to be carefully chosen and a differential advantage must be created in their mind. I believe Buhari’s handlers must have sat down to ask themselves critical questions:

Is our brand unique and distinctive from competitors? Is it significant and encouraging to the “market”? Is it appropriate to all major geographic “markets”? Is the proposition validated with unique, appropriate and original products? Is it sustainable – can it be delivered constantly across all points of contact with the “consumer”?

They answered by hinging their campaign on three pedestals that research showed the customers’ yearn for. These are corruption, the economy/jobs and security. These answer the questions raised in the previous paragraph.

Thirdly, it is imperative to create the brand personality. This refers to a set of human characteristics that are   attributed to a brand name. A brand personality is something to which the consumer can relate, and an effective brand will increase its brand equity by having a consistent set of traits.

[ad id=”169″]This is the added-value that a brand gains, aside from its functional benefits. There are five main types of brand personalities: excitement, sincerity, ruggedness, competence and sophistication. There are also the physical elements that make up the brand, including logo, tagline etc. In this case, the tagline “change” tallies with the time.

Next, and perhaps the most important is to market the brand. The key to successful branding is reminding the customer of what a brand want them to remember.

To this end, every contact with customers and potential customers must reinforce how it is different from the competition, and the benefits the customer gets from the product or service. It naturally follows that a successful brand must have a “Brand Story.”

A brand story is  more than content and a narrative; it is more than what a brand tells people. It is what they believe based on the signals the brand sends. The story is a complete picture made up of facts, feelings and interpretations, which means that part of the story is not even told by the brand, but by customers. And what story brand Buhari was able to tell.

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