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Akwa Ibom Brands & The Challenge Of Going National

By Amanam Uko, Austrat Consulting
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The important role of local brands having a share in the Nigerian market cannot be overestimated, given that they provide the majority of employment opportunities as small and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs).

Economists and policy strategists often claim that SMEs are the backbone of economic vitality, providing vast majority of jobs and services. To be sure, the numbers do not lie. According to the International Finance Corporation, SMEs account for about 90 percent of businesses and more than 50 percent of employment worldwide. Although the impact and influence of SMEs varies on a location basis, as an economic group they are vitally important growth engines in developing markets such as Nigeria.

Nigerian brands are facing the same macroeconomic pressures and are struggling to find their niche within a rapidly changing business environment. Gone are the days when ambitious businesses could sit back and simply own a slice of their home markets; and this is exactly what is befalls brands in Akwa Ibom.

When notable Nigerian brand names are mentioned, do we have any that operates from or has an origin in Akwa Ibom? It is necessary to point out that the popular brands we find here are hotels, merchandise, "pure" water production, petrol stations, drinking spots, etc. For a moment, I literally went into coma the first day I saw Uniuyo Table Water. What?! I can tell you that most of these products and services even have difficulty going round the state let alone leave her boundaries.

Having had series of discussions with close associates, there seems to be no clear solution at sight. One may wonder what happens to the monies that find its way into private hands since the state gets the largest chunk from the central government for her status as the country's highest producer of crude oil and principal economic cushion. But we may not delve into this since the main aim of this article is to challenge our local brands to develop strategies that could serve as best fit for the Nigerian business environment; having in mind that it has never ever been favourable.

For the Nigerian market at large, there is a high possibility of engaging a range of clients, suppliers, and contractors in multiple locations to survive. Businesses are also faced with trade strategies, including unreliable infrastructure, prohibitive set-up costs, unstable policies/politics as well as social unrest.

Yet, SMEs across the world from tech companies to retail – say for them, growth often comes at a significant cost. Sometimes the price is too high. For instance, most of the foreign companies understand that there are opportunities in Africa, the continent’s status being one of the world’s largest potential growth regions. While coming to Africa, they see Nigeria as a potential base. Now, settling here is a whole new set of obstacles to overcome which thereafter translates to opportunities.

Therefore, a business that sees these problem areas to outweigh seeming benefits should ask how others (especially foreigners) are seeing the opportunities. To crack the local-to-national code in pursuit of brand dominance on a national stage, local businesses need to further analyze its business model based on its internal and external capabilities, get its strategic intent right and above all focus on core competences.

To make a brand well known and accepted is not only by making advertisements on Tv, radio, newspaper or internet, but more of making the brand stand for something meaningful to its users emotionally and mentally, so that these users recognize products and are willing to make repeated purchases.

What is then getting in the way of growth for our local brands? We have experienced some faux pas being committed by our brands in a bid to expand. Research has shown that when you put your brand name on everything, that name loses power over a period of time. This is being done because of the notion that it is an expansion strategy in that you are selling more. The truth is that though it does in the short term but in the long term, it undermines a brand's name in the mind of your customers. One reason that is ignored: you cannot be everything to everybody.

Short term versus long term: Do you broaden the line in order to increase sales in the short term? Or do you keep a narrow line in order to build the brand in the mind and increase sales in the future? In the other way round, do you build the brand today in order to move to merchandise tomorrow? Or do you expand the brand today in order to move the goods today and see it decline tomorrow? The temptation of laying much emphasis on the short term returns is disastrous. Line extension, megabranding, variable pricing, and a host of other sophisticated marketing techniques are being used to milk brands rather than build them.

Milking may bring in easy money in the short term, in the long term it wears down the brand until it no longer stands for anything. Your customers do not think the way you do. They want brands that are narrow in scope and are distinguishable by a single word your name, because the shorter the better.

Businesses should not confuse the power of a brand with the immediate sales generated due to the fact that sales are not just a function of a brand's power. Sales are also a function of the strengths or weaknesses of a brand's competition.

While extending the line might bring added sales in the short term, it runs counter to the notion of growth and sustenance. If you want to build a powerful brand in the minds of consumers, you need to contract rather than expand it. Expanding only diminish your power, makes you lose focus and as well weaken your image.

There is a clear reason why we pay more for particular products from certain companies. It is because they are good at something and not all things. They did not let it happen by chance and did not hope the world would understand who they are and why they matter. They said: "We're going to decide for them by putting the answer in their minds so that when they hear our name, they think exactly what we want them to think." These businesses started just like yours. Why they succeed is because they are focused. This makes a business form a part of people's life, a story to be told, with consistency.

So, for Akwa Ibom brands, if you are a story to be told, do not wait for us to figure it out. Do not hope that when we look at your name or ask someone, they will say exactly what you want us to know. Just acknowledge that you and your team have to constantly tell a story about who you are and why you matter to your key audiences and this will help you drive your brand beyond our shores. Do not leave it to chance!

P.S: Business Arena is conceptualized to help businesses look beyond the barriers that seem to overshadow growth. The writer understands that the business arena is a turbulent one and thus strives to identify the key issues with the knowledge of key challenges a business grapple with at different stages of its life cycle and share with case studies how they can minimize those challenges. He can be reached on +234 803 855 0107 or @AmanamUko on Twitter for more discussions.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Amanam Uko, Austrat Consulting and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."