Time To Brand Nigeria

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Something I am very passionate about is the fact that we need to urgently brand Nigeria and change the narrative about the country. The majority of us know the bad perception Nigeria connotes in the minds of foreigners. We have heard of the security flags that go up when expatriates are billed to come into the country. Many of them have to go through stringent measures to be given clearance by the security personnel within their organizations.

One country I admire in the way they have rebranded their image is South Africa. We see their adverts on CNN always ending with “Proudly South African”. Those of us who have travelled on South Africa Airways hear the welcome on board in a local South African language and good bye message, in the same language. Though also translated into English, but the first message is in a local dialect. This portrays pride and nationalism, critical to country branding.

The question I have been asking for some time now is why we do not have a message to the world that brands Nigeria positively? Why can we not change the negative or indifference to the perception of the country’s brand with our messaging? It is possible it’s been done and I missed it? If I missed it, in my view, it means the messaging was not impactful.

Branding is all about perception and Nigeria’s is not where it should be by a long stretch. We can no longer afford to leave Nigeria’s branding in the hands of anybody with an opinion on the country. Is it that the government does not know we should brand the country? Do we not know that it has been proven that having a strong country brand, will enhance our respect in the political arena, give us more clout globally, give us a seat at the table to express our opinion on matters we feel strongly about and can enable us influence the implementation of these issues? Economically, branding the country will attract tourism, foreign direct investments and grow our economy now in the doldrums.

I know the country is currently looking at overhauling the Enabling Business Environment Indices across various enabling business touch points, which should improve its brand perception. Especially, as Nigeria is rated 169 out of 189 in the World Bank Enabling Business Environment ranking. The country is behind countries like Rwanda, Botswana, Kenya and others which is worrying in view of the fact that some were war torn in recent times.

We really need to see improvements in the country’s position compared to other countries in Africa, because some of these ratings are perception driven. Today, Nigeria’s ranking in the Country Brand Index 2014-2016 by FutureBrand ranks us as 75 out of 118 countries, which some will say is not bad, but why can’t it be good or excellent. You know as a people we like to “manage.”

We have to stop accepting mediocrity and change this perception and ranking. We must start to manage Nigeria’s brand with the best branding tools and put in the same amount of focus on the country the same way organizations manage their branding and messaging.

A good example by an organization, is Union Bank’s brand story. Its story is not new to many of us. My father banked with the bank throughout his career in the Army and started the relationship with the bank when it was known as Barclays. The bank went through a metamorphosis that in the last few years, I could not identify any individual in my generation with an account in the bank or wishing to open one, except those who wanted to tap into real estate opportunities in Union Homes or Youth Corpers, who compulsorily had to use the bank for their stipends. But when the new management took over, this reality and apathy to the brand changed and many of us noticed this change when the new brand was rolled out.

The first time I saw the refreshed brand image, I felt a connection to the message and contemporary images, which was very pleasant. The management succeeded in making the old new and fresh. You could relate to its history of being bold and strong with the new visual image. The bank has also succeeded in branding its customer touch points. These can be seen from the branding of their branches, channels and social media platforms. In fact their social media engagement is one I am actively following and can see how their followership is growing. A few weeks ago, they returned a profit, which shows how branding can also have an impact on the bottom line. This was a bank that did not have many professionals saying they would open an account in the bank but has managed to change its story through its brand messaging and positioning.

Nigeria’s story can change positively too. We need to take a lesson from countries that have succeeded in transforming their brands positively. Many countries in Africa are more socially, economically and security challenged but nobody remembers these issues when they talk about the countries because of their branding.

For us to continue to be able to attract investments, tourism, events and skills to drive exports in an increasingly competitive world we need to upgrade our ranking. To do this, it must be done through consistent and coordinated effort, communication and reputation management locally and globally.

Australia was able to transform itself from a penal country to the most popular property market with a successful economy. South Korea, a poor rural society before World War II, emerged as a rich economy and became identified with efficiency and quality. The same has happened with Rwanda, Kenya, Botswana and many other African countries. Why can it not happen in Nigeria?

It is imperative that as a nation we all work together and work with the various stakeholders to determine a visionary strategy to upgrade and improve Nigeria’s brand perception everywhere.