A speech delivered by Chude Jideonwo, Managing Partner of Red Media Africa, at the Exclusive Evening with Diamond Woman on Friday, June 26th 2015
The Extraordinary Factors that make the impossible possible & Key characteristics of those that achieve significant breakthroughs.
Text of Keynote Address given by Chude Jideonwo, Managing Partner of Red Media Africa (RED) and Founding Executive Director of The Future Project Africa, at the Women of West Africa Entrepreneurship Festival on 25 June, 2015 | Lagos Nigeria
“Our firms, Red Communication and StateCraft, have said to clients over and over again – people don’t want to know if you’re right or wrong, they want to know how much you care, or not.” – Chude Jideonwo
I joined Virgin Nigeria in 2008 as the assistant manager for media relations, and those were the rocky times when there was a lot of uncertainty about the future of the company and management was fending off wolves.
Every day there was a piece of bad news. Either the federal government had kicked us out of the international airport, or our planes had to turn back due to technical problems, or staff salaries were being paid late, or 5 members of management had resigned – at once. Or something.
You now recall those days now and think ‘My goodness. So those were the good old days!’
Sounds weird, but it’s true. If Virgin Nigeria existed today, it would have had to die faster, and I probably would have been out of job quicker.
Because, in these days of vibrant social media, the cycle from crisis to a loss in reputation and ultimately goodwill of most kinds is so short it’s almost incredible. No one has time to be patient, or understanding, or even reasonable. That’s the age of the 140-character brand.
The first part of this topic reminds me of the chorus of a song by Beyonce, and anyone familiar with her recent work may have similar thoughts. Hopefully, the person who coined this topic has sent her a small amount of money.
Unlike the chorus of the song ‘Sweet dreams’, however, there are no ‘beautiful nightmares’ when a particularly bad piece of news about your business or a brand you consult for gets on the internet. If, as the saying goes, a lie goes halfway round the world before the truth puts on its boots, then a negative tweet can circle the earth twice.
The internet and the social media platforms it enables have created a whole new class of businesses and unlocked entirely new avenues for value creation, avenues which we are only at the beginning of exploring here in Nigeria. From a crisis management perspective, it also presents entirely new challenges that many individuals and businesses are yet to come to terms with.
One of the primary effects of social media and the internet is disintermediation. This breaking of barriers directly connects companies to their customers, public officers to the electorate, celebrities and sports stars to their adoring fans. It is what makes businesses like Jumia, Konga, and a multitude of others which operate in this country, possible. It is what makes Uber, a taxi service barely 6 years old, valued at around $40 billion without owning any taxis.
The disruptive potential that the internet provides in the way business is conducted, also changes the way businesses communicate with their current and potential customers. Conversations between customers and between businesses and their customers are now round the clock, and every point of interaction a customer has with a brand is likely to be tweeted, all of which is seen by hundreds and thousands of people, adding to its perception.
The result is that all complaints about the services of a business must be dealt with in a quick, professional and helpful manner, not just because the ‘customer is always right’, but because every interaction between the business and that one customer is seen by thousands of people at once. Every day on social media, those who control the social media presence of businesses, big and small, make amateur errors that harm those businesses.
Companies enabled by technology threaten existing industries and the models on which they are run. As such, some become apprehensive towards them and they become targets for criticism, some of which is blown out of proportion. Every negative piece of news is amplified.
The PR problems encountered by Uber over the past several months are a good case in point. There have been a number of high profile incidents of rape concerning its drivers, issues around its pricing, and the tactics of its leadership. As it has grown bigger, the battles it is fighting against legacy competitors have multiplied, and they had to call in David Plouffe, one of the key men responsible for Barack Obama’s successful campaign in 2008, to improve the company’s perception.
Locally, OLX Nigeria is another company that has come under scrutiny recently, since a maid gotten through its site kidnapped three small children. The main perception problem of OLX is the character of the buyers and sellers that advertise on its website, some of whom are dubious.
When occurrences like that happen, the number one issue is speed of response. I cannot stress this enough. Also, this response cannot be done in a tone-deaf or defensive manner.
As experts in crisis communication ourselves, our firms Red Communication and StateCraft have said to clients over and over again – people don’t want to know if you’re right or wrong, they want to know how much you care, or not. And that’s the principle within which we have worked for corporates and governments when they are so bitter about what they call a lie and want to write 7,000-word press releases denouncing their bitter enemies.
A badly worded press release or a refusal to take some measure of responsibility, can mark out a company as only being interested in the money, and hence untrustworthy, giving potential customers one more reason to shun the service in favour of doing things the regular way.
After the crisis passes, it is my belief that businesses can do more to craft a compelling narrative around the way they operate, and turn their customers into advocates, improving perception in the process. They can also do more to educate the public about how to best use their service, and, for companies like OLX that operate on connecting buyers and sellers, do more to verify goods put on their site for sale.
If it isn’t happening to you yet, most likely because yours is new or a customer facing, well praise The Lord. But it will soon. It will for everyone.
Social media is a double edged sword, simultaneously giving life to businesses and holding the potential to damage them. One tweet, retweet, and Facebook update at a time, the perception of your brand is being crafted, but every single one of these interactions is an opportunity. And that is the excellent news.
Thank you very much.
By ODION ALEOBUA
People say that “politics is a game of numbers”; I will add that getting that numerical advantage is a brand game.
In the early hours of April 1, 2015, the victory of General Muhammadu Buhari (GMB) at the polls was officially announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). GMB’s feat was no doubt a watershed moment! It was historic as this was the first time a powerful sitting Nigerian President was ousted through the ballot process. It was also a shot-in-the-arm for the Nigerian democracy that an opposition party, the All People Congress (APC) engineered the defeat of one of Africa’s most powerful ruling political platform, the People Democratic Party (PDP).
Largely, GMB’s victory is a feel good moment for many professionals and interest groups in the country who helped produced a winning political campaign. This is true for the brand and communications experts in Nigeria. This extraordinary moment is more a well crafted branding and communications strategy than it was the political. Ahead of the elections, Buhari was one of the most vilified politicians of our time. His opponents tagged him as tribal jingoist, a religious fundamentalist, a dedicator and a proponent of extreme violence. There was no gainsaying that GMB needed image laundering and rebranding to gain affinity across tribes, religion and regional divides. I have outlined my observations of how his team repositioned him for the election:
Brand is a character
Ayesha Mathews-Wadhwa in her article (published in Forbes) ‘Why Character is a Branding Essential’ stated; “between logos, taglines and color palettes, companies invest a lot in their brands, yet many ignore the quality of character. That charisma is precisely what transforms a brand into an icon”. GMB handlers seem to understand this.
The DNA of branding is purely its capacity to deliver an experience or value as promised. The character that epitomized the person of GMB is that of a disciplined, incorrigible anti-corruption Czar. A man who despite having had an unaudited access to Nigeria’s stupendous coffers, refused to enrich himself. For a country that ranked 136th most corrupt country in the world (out of 174) and the 3rd most corrupt country in West Africa after Guinea and Guinea Bissau, by the Transparency International (TI), GMB’s character was a huge brand asset.
Presidential brand personality appeals
Like a person, a brand must have unique and defining characteristics that engender affinity, talkability and loyalty. The GMB handlers successfully amplified his superior charisma to create a candidate who is very, very ‘Presidential’. This is evident in the first promo pictures of GMB that appeared in the media of the General clad in smart designer suits standing behind a desk in an executive office, ornate with Nigerian and APC flags. GMB team further toned down this personality with a picture of him giving a ‘hi-five’ to his grandson while sitting playfully on the desk in the same office. Before now, no one has ever seen GMB in other clothing other than the Nigerian traditional attires.
In addition, we saw GMB gracefully clad in the other tribes’ popular attires aimed at pan-Nigerian statesman and redirecting the belief that GMB is tribal jingoist. The recreation of GMB’s personality leveraging his charisma and integrity, appealed more to the new generation voters, who constitutes 51% of Nigeria’s population. These youths by extension constitute the larger pool of the electorates.
Build brand ambassador
Brand ambassadors are simply people who represent and talk about your company in a positive way, preferably in front of lots of potential customers (i.e. their friends and family). Companies use Brand Ambassadors to increase the talkability of their brand; stimulate the very powerful word-of-mouth advertising and ultimately increase patronage for the products or services.
Critically, Brand Ambassadors humanise company’s products. They are emotionally engaged with the company’s brand promise and they espouse the brand value the company promised to deliver to its customer. They become the brand’s net promoters.
Having built an appealing GMB brand, his team moved him to the social media community. The twitter handle @thisisbuhari immediately garnered 40,000 followers within 48 hours. By the way, Charlie Sheen (@charliesheen), the Hollywood’s controversial actor, holds the Guinness Book of Record for the fastest person to rack up 1 million followers within 24 hours of joining twitter on March 28, 2011.
The 67 million Nigerian online community is dominated by young vocal ‘Occupy Nigeria Activists’, who retreated to the platform after failing to gain the Government’s attention with its 2010 protests.
Ironically, President Goodluck Jonathan who had the support of this group in the 2011 election, refused to engage them as dissenting voices grew.
The emergence of @thisisbuhari on twitter was a well-executed advocacy that won these vociferous youths over not only as followers by as the GMB’s Brand Ambassador. They became his net promoter and as expected coined their own social messages (FeBuhari, March4Buhari etc) to sell their candidates. They countered and nullified every falsehood (and there were many) aimed at tarnishing the personality of GMB. They voted at every online polls and even prompted their followers to do same. Consequently, Buhari won all the online pre-election polls by a wide margin.
A clear brand message
Whitney Greer of branding consulting firm _BRANDULARITY_ stated that “when you’re not honing in on what people truly care about and
coming across as authentic, your messages will miss the mark”. The APC’s slogan of CHANGE championed by its flag bearer, Muhammadu Buhari, is not only easy to understand, it is memorable and resonated well with the ordinary electorate. With rampant corruption, continuing economic slowdown, worsening power generation crisis, acute insecurity, failing national currency, high cost of doing business etc, it was very easy to connect to the message of CHANGE.
I hope that other politicians will elect to work with proven brand professionals to engineer their campaign going forward in the quest to win in this ‘game of numbers’.
Odion Aleobua is a Corporate and Marketing Communications Consultant with extensive experience in the area of brand management; perception and issue management and media practice. Follow him on twitter @odionmatics
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