These days, competition is rife amongst a large number of brands. Many homemade brands find it difficult to withstand foreign ones for so many reasons, and for these legion of reasons, local brands are knocked off most of our shelves. As we rely on imports to service our insatiable needs, there is depletion of our currencies and probably, foreign reserves, because we spend the hard currencies filling our shops with what we can produce within, or already producing within. The hunger for foreign goods and the abandonment of local brands further damage our economies and put it in epileptic predicaments. As we tread on this ignorant route, we continuously blame the government for not performing magic in revamping our economies, when in reality; we are prisoners by our own device.
There is a perception rumbling in the minds of the citizenries that local brands are inferior to foreign ones, and this perception has lingered for so long, and still continues to linger until the image of being penultimate that boldly occupies our sense of vision begins to fade. The psychological impression stamped recklessly in our hearts that what we produce can’t stand the test of time must be forcefully removed for us to respect what we make with our hands and brains. We cannot declare the greatness of Africa while at the same time, we pay lips service to our goods and services. For it to be better, our perception must change from inferiority to competitiveness.
I understand that one major problem our local brands have is high cost of production because most of the plants and machineries used are imported. And in addition, the cost of generating power is astronomical, and for these, local brands become more expensive than the foreign ones. In order to be priced less than the foreign brands, local producers are forced to reduce qualities, which invariably drops the cost of production. As the qualities are reduced, everyone blames homemade brands without taking into consideration their plights. Products made in Africa can withstand those made in the west if given the same opportunities and placed under the same conditions.
I was so overwhelmed when I heard about the vehicle manufacturing company in Nnewi, Nigeria, that makes Made in Nigeria cars. As I went online to check out their vehicles, the beauty of their designs stunned me. And for those in doubt regarding their qualities, on March 30, 2016, CNN reported that Innoson; the Nnewi car manufacturing company signed an agreement with the Nigerian Air Force to supply spare parts for its Alpha fighters. If the Nigerian Air Force could go into such contractual agreement with the company, it is a testament that their products are good.
There are multiples of great local products that have been shaded by foreign brands because of the erroneous perception littering our minds. If we can export brains, we can export brands. Why we haven’t yet been able to achieve that is because we can’t reject ourselves and expect other people to accept us. If we respect who we are and what we have, other continents will respect and accept us. Fair Trade hasn’t really done much for our local brands because how many companies in developed countries, in point of fact, buy from producers in developing countries, in which fair prices are paid to the producers? We’ve read many times, the meagre amounts companies in developed worlds pay per item that is produced for them in some parts of Asia and Africa. What companies in the west have done is use our cheap labor to make huge profits. Clothes that they pay $3 for are probably sold $30 when they get to their stores in Europe and America. This is why we must take our destinies in our hands by projecting and promoting our local brands. To create resounding buzzes around our local brands, we must do the following.
You can’t promote it or create a buzz around it when you don’t buy it. Some people think buying foreign goods when you have its equivalent local brand is status symbol. No, it isn’t. In my opinion, it is sabotage to buy what you can make; it is also a complete waste of money. I remember years ago, I used to go to work without carrying my lunch from home, but most of my white colleagues would come with theirs. During lunch breaks, I would go to the shops to buy expensive sandwiches when I could make them at home with just a few coins. Until they started mocking me, I didn’t realize my stupidity. Now, I know better. My case is equivalent to that of our local brands. We waste money buying what we already have.
The perfection we need, the quality we require, and the great finishing touches we admire are all embedded in profitability. If we do not buy, how can they make money to improve, redevelop and redesign the local brands? We must use it to know what is wrong with it, and then proffer solutions on how to make it better. Complaining without taking purposeful actions change nothing – if we are conscientious about change and truly want to make a difference, we must be involved in moving the local brands forward. Moving it forward is by participation, and participation is by putting money on it in order to help it grow.
When I say sell, I don’t mean merchandizing. There are many ways you sell something without making direct profits from it. When you talk about it in a positive manner, you’re selling it. When you blog about it in order to give it an outstanding perception, you’re selling it. We must sell our local brands until they become proprietary eponyms.
In what ways can we sell our local brands? I read a blog published by WordStream; an online marketing agency on “18 Sneaky Ways to Build Brand Awareness,” and I really liked some of the points that were mentioned. Among the various points mentioned, I took particular interests in infographics, social media and controversy. Wikipedia says infographics are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge intended to present information quickly and clearly. Using pictures and numbers arranged in easy structured forms to communicate our local brands to the world is one of the best ways to sell who we are, what we have and what we make. Our local brands haven’t sincerely taken advantage of great but simple marketing techniques to show that we mean business. The world is all about packaging – if you can’t package your products or services very well, even if you have the best, no one will notice it. Colors sell the world; if you can’t paint, you can’t gain.
Currently, there are hundreds of millions of Africans on the social media, but sometimes, I am in doubts if many understand how to leverage these platforms. The social media is the biggest promotional platform on earth, yet many local brands hardly take advantage of it. Previously unknown businesses have gained world recognitions by using the social media to sell themselves. For instance, Uber; the online transportation network company with it’s headquarter in San Francisco valued at nearly $70 billion became a household name by using the various social media platforms. There can be success stories if our local brands get committed to the use of the social media in advancing what they do. The world is looking for innovations, and we definitely have them, but we need to showcase them where the world population goes to network so that everyone can see, appreciate and buy.
One major factor damaging our local brands is sentiment. Although I initially talked about changing the wrong perceptions about our products or services, that does not suggest in any way that we should not honestly appraise, review or evaluate our offerings. If we do not critique our brands, we cannot improve. The best way to critique is to conduct unbiased market researches. The findings of market researches must be taken on board in order to carry out product or service improvement. Nowadays, with so much competition out there, every brand must continuously embark on research and development to add new features to its products regularly. The mobile phone industry is a typical example – every year, there are new versions of same brand of phones getting into the market. The war is so much that any digital communication devices producer that does not keep up with the competition will be pushed out of the market – Nokia was a victim of that competitive warfare.
In addition to critiquing, the standard organizations must make sure that ‘quacks’ don’t make it into the market; ‘quacks’ make local brands get disrespected. When fake products litter the market, they make promotions very difficult for genuine ones. Those who have nothing to lose always play rough, and pose herculean challenges to those who want to play by the rules. It is the responsibility of the regulatory bodies to make sure that genuine products are protected from the predation of evasive ones who are out to con. I know that regulatory bodies are doing a lot, but there is the need to do more if the voices of the local brands must be heard – presently, fake products are drowning their voices.
Sometime ago, I watched an Africa celebrity show, and the television host was asking the celebrities where they bought the clothes they wore. Proudly, but shamelessly, they mostly kept mentioning some international top brands; only a few mentioned local brands. I felt very uncomfortable as I watched because I thought they should be role models, and as role models, many people copy their decisions and conclusions. Imagine how many viewers may have thought that our local made fashions aren’t worth it because if they did, our celebrities would have embraced them. What our celebrities should realize is that endorsement does not mean you have to do it for free – you can reach an agreement with the brand owners on the terms necessary for endorsement. Read what I copied from THE RICHEST website on the power of endorsement: ‘When former boxing champ George Foreman was presented with the opportunity to front a cooking appliance, the retired athlete simply wasn’t interested. His exact words, “I’m not interested in toys.” Half a year later, his wife who had tried the grill, convinced him that it would be a good idea due to its convenience and simplicity. But it wasn’t until she’d made him a burger with the Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine that George was finally sold. George’s contract guaranteed 45% of profits. Before George, the grill was initially presented to wrestling champ Hulk Hogan, who instead decided to endorse a blender that no one remembers today. George Foreman’s world famous grill however, sold so well after just a few years, that the founders decided to buy out the former boxer, for $150 million, plus stock for use of his name in perpetuity. Today the former athlete is worth $250 million, 90% of which derives from the Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine endorsement.’
Invest In It
There are many ideas hatched by the protagonists of most local brands, but what prevents them from executing those ideas is lack of investments – even foreign brands wouldn’t do well without other people’s money. Again, I do not suggest throwing money into a business that isn’t well founded, but if there are strong pillars holding it, and it has a future, be patient enough to support it until it has a breakthrough. Most foreign brands that went global took over a hundred years to get to where they are today. Modern businesses don’t take that long, so be ready to invest.
As most African governments canvas for direct foreign investments, they should also set aside teams that focus on local investments. This drive will encourage local investors to put their money into homemade brands. Economies grow when local brands are encouraged especially by governments.
Putting a round peg in a round hole will bridge the massive gulf between mere plans and purposeful actions when it comes to local investments. Hosting international conferences in Washington and London to attract local investors is trash – do it at home – many people at home want to build the economy if corporate bodies, governments and those in decision making positions have the will, the sincerity and the selflessness to do what is right.
Yearly, in every harvest season, farm produce are wasting away because there aren’t proper, simple techniques of preserving them. The problem has persisted for hundreds of years; everybody sees it, but nothing is done about it – and because of this, most African nations are hungry. Imagine us importing food when we produce a lot in our farms. Doesn’t this challenge present an opportunity for investment? Of course it does! Modern day food preservation does not require the spending of hundreds of millions to get the job done. There are currently, affordable tools that are equivalent to point of care equipment, which, if given to every farmer can solve the problem of food preservation. This industry is begging for investments, but not a handful of people understand how to go about it because there aren’t people educating them. You don’t need to be a farmer to invest in food preservation, just like you don’t need to die to own a mortuary.
There are so many areas to invest in local brands; the opportunities are everywhere, and the profit potentials are high, but because people don’t look in those directions, they don’t see it.
Institutions must be built around local brands; otherwise, it will not make progress. On this platform, I have written on the relevance of institutions a number of times because I know that forward thinking nations thrive on building credible institutions. Institutions are mainly founded and erected by those that have been given the mandate to lead. If the governments are sincere in promoting local brands, let us see it by their actions. It isn’t enough to formulate policies painfully written by technocrats but without any will to make it work – some of these policies aren’t even understood by the governments because they never took the time to read them. There should be legal frameworks, legal backings, passed into law to protect and promote local brands – without that protection, they will sink, as some have already done, and they will drown, as some have already drowned.
To conclude, I salute the courage of those that have invested and promoted local African brands. No one may have noticed your input but one day, it will be noticed. To those intending to get on the bus, please step in – if we build what we make, it will one day build us. I believe we have great potentials, but it shouldn’t end with potentials because potentials aren’t products on shop windows – products are products, potentials are potentials.
Originally published on African Leadership Magazine April 2017 Print and Online Editions