A month ago, Mope Abudu, who runs Knight and Bishop Consultancy, a private Nigerian consultancy with expertise in the setting up of institutional and sustainable business structures for growth level organisations, was in Rwanda to attend the World Export Development Forum (WEDF) which took place in the capital Kigali. In a subsequent correspondence interview with The New Times’ Kenneth Agutamba, she shared what Rwandan entrepreneurs can learn from their Nigerian counterparts in developing strong and competitive brands. Excerpts:
TNT: You were in Rwanda recently, what caught your attention most from a business and entrepreneurial point of view?
Abudu: I was particularly thrilled to see a growing entrepreneurial spirit amongst the people of Rwanda.
The various enterprises I came across displayed a desire to explore business opportunities and showcase their original brands to the world. I also noticed that the youthful entrepreneur was moving away from traditional product businesses to more eclectic products and services showing a growing confidence and determination to succeed in their entrepreneurial journey.
TNT: At the WEDF conference, branding was one of the standout topics, why in your experience, should a business invest in branding? And what does branding basically mean?
Abudu: Yes I was privileged to attend the branding session and it emphasised why branding must be considered as a strategic investment. I strongly feel enterprises in the developing countries must invest in quality branding as a sure way of making their businesses known internationally.
This goes beyond just having a good product or service with great packaging or advertisement platforms, but must reflect right down to the quality of personnel, method of operating your business, as well as your logistic/supply chain planning abilities.
It is a critical strategy to ensure a continuous pipeline of sales, growth and expansion. Good branding communicates the value proposition of our indigenous businesses in a speedy manner so that we can reach a wider market other than those within our natural localities.
TNT: How can small start-ups market their brands without a ‘fat’ media advertisement budget?
Abudu: Branding can be done in stages and according to one’s purse (financial ability). Branding can start simply with the “individual”. Learn to promote your business loud and confidently at every opportunity that presents itself. Network and wear your brand on your sleeve literally.
Use social platforms to promote your business and constantly showcase the positive impact your product or service is having on others.
Reach out to complementary products or services that showcase your product or service and leverage on that association. With a bigger budget available you may consider media and print options of advertisement.
However, always consider the reach and target audiences of these platforms for maximum effect. Businesses embarking on higher level of branding should constantly evaluate the effect of specific branding activities to know which has given the most desired value for money, effect on awareness, sales and repeat orders.
TNT: Business is for the most competitive, how does one build a local brand that can go on to compete regionally or even internationally?
Abudu: Yes they do say “Business is War”! A local brand still has a very good chance of competing regionally and internationally once the promoters have clearly defined the value proposition.
There is a renewed clamor for authenticity and originality but packaged for the 21st century customer. Just see what is happening to our (Nigerian) local exports such as music, fashion and even technology. I am aware of how most developed countries are looking to Africa for inspiration on new trends.
We must not sell our indigenous products of services cheaply by underestimating the value of what it can offer.
Communicating this value in a very compelling and inspiring manner will create interest with the international market. Local brands must then live up to expectation by constantly being innovative and business relevant.
TNT: You mentioned that you bought some handcraft in Kigali, how could the product owner find his way to the Nigerian market?
Abudu: I bought some craft from the “basket woman” store. The baskets had a story behind it and they were beautifully made. It was a great mix of indigenous creativity with modernity. I had seen it at the stand when I was looking for authentic souvenirs and it has taken a pride of place in my living room now!
This product as well as other good crafts can be marketed to our tourism and leisure market, hospitality and interior design markets. Consumers will be interested in the ‘African accent’ nature of these products.
TNT: From movies to songs and music videos, Nigerian brands are everywhere on the African continent and internationally, how can we advance Rwandan brands to that level?
Abudu: Rwandan brands need to embrace healthy competition. It is a refining fire that makes business sharper and better at what they do. Local businesses need to be encouraged to stretch themselves to produce outputs that are better than each of their previous outputs.
This means businesses that are more aggressive in attaining higher levels of growth will endeavour to improve the quality of their business products or services to satisfy a wider market.
The Nigerian brands that have gained international limelight are constantly working on delivering solutions that appeal to both local and international customers and adopt business practices that make it easier to function on the international scale. Marketing, branding and visibility are also very important to advance local brands.
TNT: Share with us, what’s at the core of a real Nigerian entrepreneur?
Abudu: It seems there is an entrepreneurial vein in most Nigerians. An ability to identify an opportunity in what seems to be bleak situation is an attribute that the average Nigerian entrepreneur has.
There is also a great desire to own their own business so it drives their rugged passion to see them through various business challenges that normally occur.
However, beyond all this, the economic factors within Nigeria have inevitably made the Nigerian entrepreneur to be self resourcing and they are desirous of extending their reach towards the outside market.
TNT: Talk to me about female entrepreneurs in Nigeria, how are they coping in a largely patriarchal business environment?
Abudu: Female entrepreneurs in Nigeria still face major challenges in the male dominated entrepreneurial space. Female entrepreneurs are not always accorded the same level of opportunity to make it, and make it big because the general stereo typed belief is that women should be seen and not heard.
Most Female entrepreneurs still have to deal with the demands of running the family, have poor knowledge of funding support platforms and are generally risk averse based on the fact that they must provide a backup for food and shelter.
However not withstanding all these challenges, the Nigerian female entrepreneur is slowly becoming aware and more confident of their innate skills at multitasking and running a business and is venturing into entrepreneurship with more vigour.
TNT: Regarding customer care, do customers vary from country to country?
Abudu: In the general sense, a customer is someone who wants your product or service and that is the same across countries; however, the extent of care accorded to customers varies based on the level of awareness of the customers and competition.
A more informed public who knows there are alternative products and services at equal or higher levels of quality at similar prices will be more demanding before they part with their money.
The entrepreneur must, therefore, take into consideration the impact customer care will have on achieving sales and growth. However, where there is lack of competition, customer care is normally seen as nice to have rather than must have.
TNT: In your opinion, have Africans exploited the market at home?
Abudu: The markets within our localities have not been fully exploited.
In Nigeria we have a very large population and most businesses have not even scratched the surface of serving this market, yet the question is whether the local market has the spending capacity to grow the businesses to their desired levels.
For a few peculiar situations this is a major question to be answered. However, I am a firm believer that our African continent is a veritable market for most of our indigenous products and services which should be fully explored before looking towards the western countries.
TNT: RwandAir is one of our best national brands, have you tested their services before?
Abudu: Yes I have. I took it from Lagos International Airport straight here to Kigali. It was a smooth four-hour flight and I had a good experience. I am also impressed with the various support platforms that the airline is associated with.
TNT: Last expert advice to entrepreneurs…
Abudu: African entrepreneurs should arise and constantly push the bar to make our brands well sought after. Finally, they should embrace 21st century technology to create innovative brands but without losing the African originality.