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Nation Branding & Marketing, a New Perspective.

By Bola Akingbade.

“Advance Fee fraud …also known as 419”, “Election Rigging”, “Perennial Infrastructure deficit”, “Failed Banks”, “Endemic Corruption”, “Armed Robbery”, “Oil Subsidy rip-off”, and lately, “Terrorism”. We can go on and on with the different negative characterizations that have gained currency over time, all over the world, about Nigeria and Nigerians. Even though none of the above social ills were invented in Nigeria or by Nigerians, and even though they are not limited to the shores of Nigeria, our dear country has somehow come to be more strongly associated with them than with any other country in the world!

There is no telling the uncomfortable impact which these negative associations have had on the citizens of Nigeria, both in and out of the country. There is also no telling the cost to the Nation, of divestments from this economy and the loss of investments that could have come to Nigeria, but which have been taken to some other African countries with much less business growth potential relative to Nigeria. It is however gratifying to note that successive Governments have made attempts to address this unfortunate challenge through various, albeit unsuccessful campaigns. The “Heart of Africa” campaign did very little, if anything, to solve the problem. The latest in the series, the “Nigeria Re-Branding Project” also did very little, if anything, to induce any less damaging perception about Nigeria.

To many informed observers, these attempts failed, not because the “slogans” they came up with did not sound good enough to the ear, but they failed because:
1) the approach adopted in each case consistently fell far short of the dictates of “professional Nation Branding and Marketing” on issues of this nature.
2) There was an erroneous belief that the “crafting of a nice-sounding slogan” is what is needed to address the problem.
Unfortunately, the approach and the slogans/expressions that resulted therefrom, tended to raise more questions than answers!

Take for instance, the “Good People, Great Nation” slogan. Many are still wondering whether the expression is a “statement of who we really are as a People and as a Nation – in spite of what some Nigerians and some other nationals think - or whether it is meant to embody the aspirations of our Government on “how Nigerians should be perceived, both as a people and a Nation”. Many also wonder who the target audience is – Nigerians or the International Community or both?
In the face of the very strong reservations held by many people about Nigeria, many cannot recognize the “reason(s) to believe” the message that the slogan was intended to convey.

Going forward therefore, any new attempt at finding a solution to this crippling challenge must recognize the need for the professional management of the entire process. Crucially, it must recognize the need to facilitate the involvement of Marketing and Marketing Communication experts. While the former is expected to dwell on “what should be done, and said, to induce fresh perspectives about Nigeria” amongst clearly defined target groups, particularly in its present circumstances, the latter will go on from there to establish “how to say it” on all relevant media.

In order to ensure that the exercise is professionally managed, it is important, first to have a good understanding of what a Brand is, and what it is not, particularly within the context of National aspirations. It is equally important to understand what should be done to promote the Brand, either for the creation of very positive perceptions or for the inducement of reversals in prevailing negative perceptions or both.


From a professional standpoint, a Brand is an entity that speaks to, and satisfies, the NEEDS and ASPIRATIONS of clearly defined TARGET AUDIENCE in ways that must be:
1) Exceptional/(Unique);
2) Experiential;
3) Exciting; and
4) Endearing.

It must stand for “something interesting and strongly relevant” from the perspectives of its Functional, Emotional and Self-Expressive “benefits-delivery potentials”.
In this regard, the “Brand” must be spontaneously evocative of the larger “PURPOSE and PROMISE” which is inherent in the “substance” of these benefits.By extension therefore, a “Nation Brand” must represent a “concrete promise” for its target audience. This is usually a strong mixture of the “Nationals/Citizens” of the country as well as foreigners (be they Individuals and/or institutions).

The questions that are therefore crucial for a country embarking on a “Nation Branding or Re-Branding” exercise are:
1) What promise does the country hold out for its citizens and for current and would-be stakeholders within the international community?”

2) How relevant is this promise to the deep aspirations of these stakeholders?
In the specific case of Nigeria, which currently suffers from very strong negative perceptions, the adapted questions should be as follows:
“What promise can the country (i.e. Nigeria) hold out for its citizens and for current/potential investors, if positive reversals in these negative perceptions are to be strongly induced within the shortest possible time?”
It is crucially important that answers to these questions are developed through a professional process that can guarantee enduring success.

ESTABLISHING the BRAND PROMISE is therefore arguably the most important process, not just in Marketing, but also in any Nation Branding or Rebranding effort. It is like laying the foundation of a tall and complex building. The building will stand for all time if the foundation is appropriately solid. Conversely, the building will come crashing down in no time at all, if the foundation is weak or if it is not strong enough. It is therefore important that the process is well understood by would-be Managers of the exercise. The first thing to note is that the process has two main dimensions:

1) “Target Customer” profiling dimension and;
2) “Brand” profiling dimension.

The whole idea is to establish, in a special way, the NEEDS of the target customer, which the relevant “Brand” must “SATISFY” In order to gain a central position in the minds of the target customers. The second point to note, is the adoption of a tested and proven technique, that seeks to help unearth the “hidden truths” about the target customer – i.e. who he really is, and crucially, the motivations underpinning his visible and established habits and attitudes. Towards these ends, a MOTIVATIONAL study, rather than the more traditional “Habits and Attitudes” survey, is absolutely necessary.
Pioneered by Dr. Jan Callerbaut and Professor Hendrick Hendrix of the Censydiam Institute in Antwerp, the special thing about the “Motivational study” being referred to here, seeks to establish and unearth:

1) the “hidden truths” about identities and;
2) the underlying reasons for observed customer behaviors.

If professionally managed, the outcome should manifest in UNCOMMON INSIGHTS into who the target customer is, and also the following important information about him:

1) His Functional Needs;
2) His Emotional Needs;
3) His Aspirations; in the form of a guided description of what he wants in life and why, plus what he does not want and why not.
4) The Underlying Key Insight, which is a short and simple statement or phrase encapsulating what the target customer really wants in any new offerings or solutions within specified and relevant Market Spaces.

Ultimately, the technique crucially facilitates the establishment of:
1) The “new strengths” which the “Brand” needs to manifest, if it is to be uniquely placed to satisfy the established needs of the target customer; and
2) What should now ideally characterize the identity of the “revamped Brand”.
This piece of information is then employed to update the contents and characterizations of each one of the following “4” pillars of the identity of the Brand:

1) The Brand Heritage – i.e. its Roots and Origins;
2) The Product landscape of the Brand;
3) The Personality of the Brand; and
4) The Signs and Symbols of the Brand –i.e. the Graphic Illustrations of the Brand Identity.

Necessarily, such updates must adequately position the Brand as an entity that can effectively “represent the promise” that can strengthen the faith of the target customer in the renewed Brand.
The outcome of this effort should result in the ability of the Managers of the Brand to:
1) Redefine the appropriate profile of the renewed Brand; and
2) Establish the appropriate "PURPOSE and PROMISE” which the renewed Brand can credibly and creditably demonstrate.

The approach outlined above has been tried and tested for the more regular Brands. It is also relevant within the context of “Nation Branding/Rebranding”.
Simon Anholt , a Nation Branding expert, has provided the framework – the “Nation Brand Pentagon” - for successful management of the task of “Nation Branding” and/or “Re-Branding”. The “Nation Brand Pentagon” features “5 components” which are conceptually similar to the “4 Pillar” framework, which has been widely adopted for traditional brands. The elements of the “Nation Brand Pentagon” are as follows:

1) “Culture and Heritage” – this seeks to establish cherished values and value – systems that can be creditably associated with the Brand.
2) “Governance”
3) The “Opportunities” Dimension
4) The “People” Dimension
5) The “Products” Dimension.

Following the same process outlined above for Products/Service Brands, it is possible to establish the exact nature of the appropriate “Purpose and Promise” which the Nation Brand can and must represent.
After the ideal “Purpose” and “Promise” of the ideal “Nation Brand” have been clearly established, the follow-up actions should ideally progress as follows:

1) Clear articulation of what changes MUST be made manifest for each of the 5 Brand Identity Pillars?
2) Development of the “Implementation Road Map”, complete with appropriate dates and identities of those who will be responsible for implementation.
3) Establishment of stretching, but realistic and measurable targets;
4) Development of the framework for monitoring the implementation process and for the review of performance;
5) Development of the programme for periodic enlightenment of the relevant target groups via Road shows to highlight relevant achievements as they unfold.

Dr. Christopher Kolade, one of the most knowledgeable, credible and experienced Nigerians granted an interview that was published in the latest edition of Brand iQ. Therein, he expressed the view that “Nigeria needs to be rebuilt before we start talking of Rebranding”. My understanding of his position, is that any attempt to revamp “Brand Nigeria” must necessarily commence with the creation and development of a credible “platform” on which the renewed “Brand Nigeria” can speak, with respectable authority and gusto. I subscribe wholeheartedly to this interpretation. The implication, though, is that the “Re-Building” process that Dr. Kolade has called for, would have to feature as a key component of a professionally managed Re-Branding effort.

In line with the process already outlined in this paper, the starting point should be the Customer; which in this case is present in two forms:
1) The citizens of Nigeria; both at home and in diaspora:
2) Foreign Nationals, Governments and other Institutions who show interest in developments in overseas countries such as Nigeria for all sorts of reasons:

a) Investment in different sectors of the Economy;
b) Bilateral Trade opportunities
c) Tourism; etc.

1) Profile of the Citizens of Nigeria:

Over the years, International Research Companies like Censydiam, and later Synovate (the Company that acquired Censydiam) and, more recently, by Ipson, who acquired Synovate just over a year ago), have conducted various “Motivational Research studies” focusing on Nigerians – who they are and their general dispositions on a number of issues. From these studies, it has been possible to establish a picture of who the typical Nigerian is, the aspirations they have as a people, the likes and dislikes about Nigeria, and crucially, insights into what would motivate them to push harder in their desire to realize
their aspirations. According to these studies, Nigerians come across as self-confident people who are ambitious and even
gregarious. In some of these reports, Nigerians have even been described as a people who can pass as the “Americans in Africa!.”

In spite of their admission of a whole lot of shortcomings as individuals, Nigerians are nevertheless proud to be Nigerians and they would go a long way to promote and, if necessary, also defend her interests. They take personal joy in its
achievements, particularly those that happen on the world stage (e.g. the recent victory of the Golden Eaglets at the recently concluded “Under 17” World Cup). Given the abundance of wealth creating natural resources in various parts of the country, and given the undeniable resourcefulness of the average Nigerian, they believe Nigeria can be a great country, but are disappointed in the seemingly incessant failures of their leaders to make it so. In the face of the absence of welfare programme initiatives from Governments at all levels, they feel compelled to be “their brothers’ keepers”, particularly
in situations where there is need for communal action to give relief to their kith and kin who are reeling under the potentially devastating impact of poverty.

The desire to be successful sums up their aspirations. This is particularly so from the perspective of material wealth. They strongly subscribe to the notion that “respect is earned only when you are wealthy”.
They lament the paucity of gainfull employment opportunities and the seriously constrained access to non-crippling finance to set up businesses. Emotionally, they also desire to enjoy developments that would result in enhanced “natural confidence levels” and “pride” from being seen as citizens of a progressive country.

Overall, Nigerians are in dire need of being successful or being more successful than they are, currently. They believe they are citizens of a country with vast resources and potential to accommodate these aspirations. They currently have worries about a future that currently looks bleak! They will however, be motivated to push harder to realize their aspirations in ways that are honest and honourable, if they have unfettered access to “Opportunities for a Bright and happier future”.

2. Foreign Nationals, Governments and Institutions:

Members of the International Community (Foreign Nationals, Governments and International Institutions etc) constitute the other group of “target customers”. To them, Nigeria belongs to the 3rd world, even though they also believe that the country should ideally qualify . to be seen as a lead country in the league of ‘Developing Economies”. However, given the lack lustre performance of Nigeria on key indices of National Development, this is sadly not the case!
They believe that Nigerians present not unity, but the face and images of a set of people in dysfunctional relationships; people with different value systems and purposes! These, and the growing incidence of terrorism, have prompted them to harbor doubts about the continuing existence of the country as “Nation State” in the medium to long term.

They believe Nigerians are smart and self-confident people with a lot of Energy; virtues which are oftentimes unleashed via disingenuous acts! They doubt the efficacy and sincerity of purpose of her Governance structures and systems, and strongly hold the view that there is a very urgent need for institutional reforms in all areas of her national life. They believe that these MUST be underpinned by re-orientation of attitudes and mind of the Nation’s citizens, from top to bottom.
Their interest in Nigeria is largely prompted by economic considerations. With her large population and the abundance of natural resources, Nigeria is seen as a potentially lucrative market that should not be ignored. Thus, their overriding aspiration is opportunity to become major players in the economic affairs of Nigeria. The only condition precedent is the introduction of institutional reforms that can guarantee a good future for their Business interests within the country.
At the emotional level, they would like to enjoy “the satisfying and re-assuring confidence in the future of their own economies”; in other words, they would like to “Secure the Future” of their National Economies via access to non-constraining economic opportunities in Nigeria.

BRAND NIGERIA – The Ideal Purpose and Promise.

Given the above insights, Nigeria needs to evolve into a Brand that would clearly manifest:
1) a Brand Purpose that seeks to “secure the future” of its stakeholders and
2) a Brand Promise to bring about “Transformations for a secure future” for its target stakeholders.
However, a review of the state of each of the 5 pillars on which “Brand Nigeria” currently stands, shows that the “Brand Nigeria” of today, is not currently demonstrating this purpose and therefore, not in a position to deliver on the above promise. The 5 pillers are:

1) On the subject of Culture and National Heritage, what you will see are creditable values that are strongly shared across the length and breadth of the country. These are values that have no space or tolerance for the ills that currently bedevil us as a people.
2) On the Governance dimension, the corrupt society we have become, should not have been, if we have allowed our Culture and Heritage value systems to guide our individual and collective decisions and actions.
3) The Opportunities dimension simply presents Nigeria as a “Land of Opportunities” in every sector of the Economy. Our natural endowments and variety of wealth creating resources are so huge and diverse that it beats the imagination to see our poor showing on all key indices of National Development.
4) The People dimension does not reflect the picture of the intelligent and hard working people that Nigerians can be. It certainly does not present the presence of structures that can support the re-creation of the world class achievements of very many Nigerians. A rating of 153rd out of 187 countries on Human Development index does not reflect the existence of strong and reliable capacity building structures. In the same vein, a per capita income of USD 1,624.00 does not reflect existence of structures and systems that support wealth creation aspirations.
5) Even though the Products dimension is replete with the vast array of Natural Resources and the availability of arable land across the country, the relevant statistics show our inability to translate this huge strength into wealth creating and investment opportunities for Nigerians and interested members of the International. We even import refined petroleum from Senegal, a non-oil producing country with just one refinery!

Going forward, these pillars need to be completely rebuilt to reflect the above purpose and promise. These tasks should form the basis of our new National Planning efforts. It is heartwarming to note that the Federal Government has recognized the need for Reforms through their “Transformation Agenda”. They should now go on to set up a task force to quickly review the “Agenda” along the lines of the ideal scenarios that should feature on each of the 5 Pillars.

It is expected that this task force would be composed of experts in all areas of National Development and supported by accomplished Marketing and Marketing Communications professionals. Countries like Singapore, South Africa, Malaysia, UAE (Abu Dhabi) and India have successfully re-branded. We can also do it in Nigeria.
We should go ahead to re-visit the Re-Branding Project without delay.

The newly developed “Good People, Great Nation” slogan should be seen as relevant only to the extent that it represents a vision of how we want the world to perceive us after the vision for the new “Brand Nigeria” would have been firmly realized. The only other thing, about the slogan, which has some significance, is the “Nike swash” that underlines its visual presentation. This has an inherent message which I believe beckons us to “JUST GO DO IT” the professional and winning way!

Bola Akingbade, a veteran marketing and brand management professional, was the Chief Marketing & Strategy Officer at MTN Nigeria. He delivered this paper at the 2013 Advertising Day organised by the Advertising Practitioners Council Of Nigeria (APCON) in Lagos on 15 November, 2013.


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