Nigeria’s marketing communications industry needs indigenous literature to tell own stories —Ikem Okuhu, CEO, publisher, BRANDish
Ikem Okuhu is a brand analyst and publisher of BRANDish, a brands and marketing magazine. In this chat with Akin Adewakun, he explains reasons behind his new book, ‘Pitch: Debunking Marketing’s Strongest Myths’, the seeming lull in the nation’s marketing communications industry and why paucity of indigenous literature remains a major setback for the industry. Excerpts
The nation’s marketing communication’s space is looking forward to November 26, this year, when you will be launching a new book, ‘Pitch: Debunking Marketing’s Strongest Myths,’. What would you say informed the choice of this title?
What I tried to do with this effort was to examine certain strongly- held views and trends in the wider marketing world in the context of their relevance and impact in the realities of everyday effort to facilitate exchange. A number of these views and trends have been with us for years. Some just became the rule as a result of practice and because they have been left unchallenged, certain levels of myths shrouded them, making people to consider them “no-go” areas. But I took a look at them and thought there are no longer the needs to sustain these myths for the overall good of the market. The title was chosen, therefore, in reflection of the central goal we set out to achieve, which was to straighten a few things and perceptions about the business of advertising, public relations and management of the sales process. And, I will say it’s a demystification of some sort.
For precision now, what exactly does this book and its contents seek to address?
Let me say that I had always toyed with the idea of writing books. In those days as a younger person, I actually tried writing a novel. That was while I was still in secondary school. Somehow I lost the manuscript because those days, we wrote with pen and paper. After my NYSC, I played with the idea of writing movie scripts. I had two, written, but I didn’t know how to go about talking to producers. I didn’t know any producer. So I embraced journalism and later, marketing journalism. After my stints in the corporate world, I returned to journalism and there were quite a few people who thought we were doing a great job of it. But I always found certain gaps in the industry. There are no indigenous books in the subject. The ones we have are mainly academic books put together by lecturers and sold to students, most of which are not even as original as they should be. In my journey in the industry, I have read a lot of books on brands and marketing and I always found some sort of dissonance in most of the case studies and examples used to drive home points by these authors. These case studies and examples are always about companies and individuals that are not Nigerians. I therefore wondered why we shouldn’t have well-written books that discuss brands and marketing with Nigerian examples and cases? This, in my view, will facilitate uptake because these brands and projects and individuals are people we see every day. I was convinced it wouldn’t be a bad idea if we begin to read the giant strides of companies in Nigeria in books, same way we have been reading about Apple, HP, General Motors, General Electric, Samsung, Virgin Atlantic, IBM and so many others. So this book, apart from addressing some issues long held sacred, also seeks to infuse what I may call the “Nigerian Content” in the body of marketing literature.
Would you say we have really tapped into the potential of what marketing communications can do for us, as a country, as far as image and brand-building benefits?
Not, at all. I am one of those that believe that Nigeria has not even scratched the surface, in terms of deploying professional marketers in managing the country’s image. The closest we came was during the era of the late Prof Dora Akunyili as Minister of Information. Nigeria has been paying lip-service to the country’s image management and that is why most of the time, you find a disconnect between what the country’s leaders are saying with what our overall national interests and needs should be. It was in reaction to this challenge that I devoted an entire chapter to address the issue of nation branding in the book. The chapter is titled, “Every Nation is not a Brand,” and there I used the examples of India, South Africa and Rwanda to demonstrate how nation-branding works. But we cannot achieve this in a regime where political leaders make deliberate efforts to avoid professionals. Do you know that since this government came into power in 2015, the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) has not had a proper Council constituted? Do you know that the Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, has not met with APCON for once? I am sure the situation is the same with the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) and the Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria (PRCAN). This is not how others who wish to positively impact the world and its citizens with strong country-brand proposition works.
Individuals, from this part of the clime, have always run away from documenting issues, events and history because of the myriad of challenges that surround such venture. Did you by any chance, run into any hitch in the course of writing this book?
There were serious challenges. The very first challenge was how to conquer myself and believe that I could do it. There were these voices of doubt. There were these negative energies, telling me I was not good enough. I knew I needed to conquer them before making progress. Let me tell you that as far back as 2004, a friend of mine, Nduneche Ezurike, who now heads the Corporate Communications Division at Polaris Bank, had invited me to co-author a book. Nduneche is a very cerebral person and for him to consider me good enough for a book had told me then that there was something I didn’t know I had but which other people may have been seeing. Even before I embarked on this effort, my bosom friend, Sola Fanawopo, journalist and CEO of eMaginations PR, had also advised me to do a compilation of my articles as a journalist and publish in a book form. This was also a confidence booster and it was because I didn’t want the easy way to become a published author that compelled me to work harder in pulling this off. I also faced rejection by a couple of publishers I approached. While one didn’t even give me a chance, the other told me to send in my manuscripts and remain on the queue until early in 2020 when they would be ready to look at my work and see if it would be worth publishing. But I looked at them and decided to do it myself. If I own a company that is registered as a media and publishing company, why should I sit back and allow another publishing company, like mine, dictate how I was going to publish my works? That I have been operating at a different corner of the same industry cannot become a limitation and that is why I am where I am today. And I am happy the way it is turning out.
There seems to be a dearth of technical writers, who are specialists in writing books of this nature, what do you think is responsible for this dearth of writers?
Again, let’s say that part of what inspired this book was the dearth of Nigerian Content in marketing literature. The truth is that Nigerian marketing and marketing communications professionals have behaved pretty much like Nigerian native doctors who die with the secrets of the powers of herbs, failing to either document them or pass them to those who will make these portent powers of nature useful in a wider sense to the society. I spent years buying and reading books authored by Al Ries, Jack Trout, Martin Lindstrom and many others. Somebody like Al Ries has tonnes of books out there and having read many of them, I discovered that he virtually says the same thing over and over again, in different books and using different languages. When I read Jim Collins’s “Good to Great”, I was inspired, but the frustration of reading about companies and individuals I have never heard of slowed my understanding of the book a lot. The problem in Nigeria is that most professionals; and I do not mean those who teach in our universities; are so consumed by the rat race to care about documenting what they do every day for posterity. Generations of professionals have lived and gone in Nigeria and they left with all the knowledge they gathered. Even the current generation of practitioners is caught in the same trap. Do you know the type of knowledge hidden in PowerPoint slides inside the archives of a company like Insight Communications for instance; knowledge from many years of being Nigeria’s biggest Marketing Communications Group? I mentioned Insight because in the course of writing this book, I needed a copy of an advert this agency did for Bank PHB in those days, but not one person I spoke to in the agency was able to recover what in my estimation was one of the best campaigns ever produced in this country. Practitioners need to start writing. This is important, not just because we need to leave or the future generations some clear examples to learn from, but also because foreigners who wish to have anything to do with Nigeria should rely on data and research works done in Nigeria by Nigerians to shape their ideas on how best to navigate the market here. We all must find it unacceptable for insights and data on Nigeria to continue to come from some armchair writer abroad. We must retake our narrative and tell our own stories. That is what I believe.