Hassan Abdul of Media Range Limited is a brand Management expert. In this interview with HARRISON EDEH of BUSINESSDAY, he explained why Nigerian businesses need to re-evaluate their brand strategy to remain competitive and avoid fizzling out of business amidst Covid 19 pandemic concerns.
Can you speak to us why Nigerian businesses need to re-evaluate their brand strategy model especially at this Covid and even in a post Covid era?
Covid-19 has given us a reference that cuts across the globe that unforeseeable circumstances like this happen periodically in smaller geographical areas or within certain industries. It could be war. It can be a natural disaster; it can be a new technology trying to make an older one obsolete.
Revisiting your brand strategy when such crises occur is a part of the broader brand management function and is very critical to remaining in business as well as being competitive. It is very important that businesses and brand managers continuously evaluate themselves and fashion out strategy that sustains their respective businesses.
How has Covid-19 impacted businesses in Nigeria from a brand management point of view?
Look at it this way. Human societies are driven by commerce and commerce is carried out by business entities. Now, every business represent an idea of an identified service or product which can be exchanged for recognized instruments of trade.
Every such idea is the seed of a brand. Sometimes, business owners go ahead to consciously cultivate it, building a full strategy around it and earn its value. At other times, especially in semi-formal and informal sectors, this is not the case.
Whichever of these is the case, you now have customers who have an expectation of a certain level of performance of your service or product, who have come to recognize you through certain identifiers (your name, logo etc) you have adopted as visual triggers, and who have a perception of you based on the experience they have whenever they encounter any of our touchpoints and what you communicate about yourself through other media channels.
When Covid-19 disrupted our lives, it also struck at the core of many brands. By forcing a significant change in the environment, the needs and expectations of customers, the business landscape, and even the nature of work, it has in many cases created a misalignment between the perceptions we had aimed for/attained and new expectations thereby affecting the long term goals which many companies had set, based on the old expectations and perceptions of their customers.
Today, there are businesses and whole sectors grappling with a form of “identity crisis”. Their customers are no longer where they used to be, no longer who they have always known them to be and in some cases, no longer in need of their services in the pre-Covid-19 form of delivery.
Are most businesses aware of this dimension of the impact of the pandemic?
I believe a lot are aware that something fundamental has gone amiss by now. Some may not be able to put this in the right words or understand the full impact of it. They, however, recognize the fact that the nature of their business has undergone a change that can put their whole existence at risk.
Now, let me quickly also point out something else. It is apparent that this change is not gloom for everyone. The disruption thrust some businesses into a new level of relevance and increased patronage. But even for these types, like for those who faced the negative impacts, there is need for the utilization of this particular period in their life to be evaluated from a brand management point of view.
Can you share more insights on what strategy means for businesses?
It is important we understand what brand strategy means and it because there are some common related activities in the process which sometimes people mistake for the complete process. Creating our visual identifiers for instance is a part of the process but not the whole process.
Brand promotion is a part of the process. So when you hear people talking about new ways you should communicate your brand, they are not really off the mark but where there is a fundamental shift in what your business model is, promotion tactics are not where you should be looking at first.
What if your market is no longer there? What if your product is no longer relevant post-Covid19? In fact, many brand promotion activities fail precisely Because critical steps that need to be dealt with earlier in the process are side-stepped.
Can you share your thoughts on how much does a brand strategy affect businesses?
Now, a Brand strategy affects every aspect of your business, articulating the perception you want the market to have of you, – from your personality and attributes, what drives you, what you want to look like, your customer benefits, how you want to stand out, your team culture, your service design, your internal and external communication – with effective controls in place (brand management) to ensure a consistent experience.
All of this is geared towards giving you some form of competitive advantage or leverage with your market.
If however your market’s needs and expectations have changed through an unplanned crisis like the present, it is possible that all of this will no longer deliver the same result.
Are brands ready for a post-Covid-19 business environment?
That is hard to say. We are all learning the new ropes so to speak. However, how you will know brands that are ‘ready’ is by studying those who are reviewing their brand strategy best.
Hopefully, over the next few weeks, the Federal Government may relax even more of the restrictions but the pandemic has created a public health risk that on the one hand, is not going to go away quickly, and on the other hand, has exposed customers to alternative ways of accessing services.
Conducting brand audits and reviewing brand strategies as the new normal gains hold will be key to determining who is ready and who is not. By shaking the proverbial table, Covid-19 has inadvertently created an opportunity for some businesses to move notches up the ladder in their respective industries if they act wisely.
What form of strategy would you suggest to companies in order to recover from this ?
I will recommend that in future, companies should always have a crisis management plan in place that addresses situations where your brand’s strategy is at risk. A lot of times, other types of risk are considered and mitigation strategies are pre-planned, implemented once there is a trigger.
Brand strategy risk is a real risk. If something happens to fundamentally distort the environment your business operates in, you need to have remedial actions in place that kick in.
Does it trigger a brand strategy evaluation? If yes, what are the levels of change you are willing to consider to avoid being rendered redundant?
Recently, an article in a national daily reminded us of the story of the Choluteca Bridge in Honduras which at a point became known as the ‘Bridge to nowhere’.
Significant changes like this pandemic can take your market away or make your current model antiquated.
What mechanisms do you have in place to course-correct? How can you even start if you don’t even know where the change impacted you?
To recover from this however is a different story.
Brands negatively impacted from the disruption need to immediately embark on a brand strategy evaluation, driven by the highest levels of management and with a willingness to implement course-correction recommendations the process may present within the limits of resources at their disposal.
Brands that have found themselves on the ‘positive’ side of the disruption need to sit down quickly also and fashion out long term strategies that will ensure their new-found boom translates to long-term growth.
Is this applicable only to big brands and multinationals?
No. Like I mentioned earlier, every business gains from building and maintaining a perception that secures competitive advantage for it. While some may not have the resources to articulate this, it does not mean they don’t have a brand strategy driving their decision making.
It is just that for bigger brands, this need may seem to be greater and a formal structure to implement it, easier to initiate. In any case, the risks of not acting are also higher for them. It is recommended though that no matter your size, in the face of the changes in the business landscape over the last six months, conduct a brand audit/health check.
If our businesses take the right decisions at the right time that can make the difference between returning to profitability or collapse, the economy will be the best for it.