If my dissertation were to be reduced to a single question, what would it be? Simply, why? Why is new media now an issue worth discussing within the brand development arena?


New Media and Brand Development in Kenya

There are more questions than answers when the question of new media’s role in brand development in Kenya is posed.

One wishes to start with the question of whether there is even a rudimentary awareness of the force that is new media. Let us even simplify the issue and narrow new media to the Internet and ask if Kenya’s brand custodians are aware of the Internet, and more importantly, its potential as a tool for brand development.

The above question may serve as a mere filter considering that few in senior brand positions are “Internet natives”. It is hard for this generation to picture a gang that is more comfortable in the Internet enabled virtual world than in the “real” world. Awareness is also a relative phenomenon…

New Year, New Direction (sort of?)

Okay, so 2011 is here. The year I have been waiting for to complete my New Media studies and with it comes the small matter of a dissertation. For the next four months I shall be testing the relationship between new media (specifically the Internet) and brand building within the Kenyan context. I intend to write something, anything, on the hypothesis I shall be testing through research. It is MY web log after all but anybody out there in the virtual world is free to take a peek or even engage.

The journey may be many things but it wil certainly be an experience that “inflicts” a dent, however minor, on the universe of my future!

Good luck to me!

Blogging is hard!

So much for the freedom for each one of us to become a media house. It is not easy! May be we should leave this stuff of gathering content, collating it and transmitting it to the masses to the experts. They know how to do it and even make a decent living out of it. As for the rest of us, let us just keep our day jobs and do this blogging thing purely as a hobby. It would help if the blogging interface did not remind us that we haven’t blogged for a the last 79 days. It feels like a late payment notice and just adds pressure for one to say something, anything.

Blogging is hard!

In the meantime, Airtel is now here for real. Cheap and dirty seems to be the new game. With Safaricom, Orange, YU all being forced to “play in the mud” price is no longer an issue. That is bad news for the profit machine that was Safaricom and good for the customer who will judge the telcos by how good a relationship they create. Get ready for a new era of grovelling telcos 🙂

The Bright Side of the “Red Death” Calls

The recent alarm over “red death” cellphone calls caused panic to levels that got Chief Executives of major cell phone companies talking and reached rather high levels of government. Most of the stories around this topic was negative with Kenya’s overactive rumour mill being blamed and the effectiveness of the move by Kenyan authorities to register all SIM cards being tested. With the benefit of plenty of hindsight, I think the opportunity hiding in the midst of this challenge was one brands could benefit from. The “read death” calls phenomenon put beyond doubt that we do have a powerful alternative to mainstream media. For many, the story did not break through mainstream media but through social sites, text messages, phone calls, emails and world of mouth. The mainstream media only came in to authenticate what was already rampant in the alternative media or what can also be called “new media” space.

I do not have the answer but here is a thought. What if instead of promising death, the message was about a brand?

Just a thought.

Only the Vuvuzela to show…

Not much has excited me in the advertising arena for several months. There has probably been too much of “more of the same” and one wonders whether the lack of real competition among the biggest players in East Africa is allowing creative juices to ferment rather than flow. That can be a long debate whose final word will not be easy to come by. What is easy to come by however is the fact that Standard Chartered has outdone itself with the new “here for good” brand messaging. It touches all the right spots – it is emotionally compelling, intellectually engaging and leaves one asking the right questions. Just brilliant!

I recently made the decision to take a break from writing a column in the mainstream media after several years of wracking my brains to write on a topic many saw as an obscure part of marketing and an irrelevant part of business. Well, close to ten years later I pored through the pages of Marketing Africa and was encouraged to see that strategic brand has not moved not just to being relevant to markers but also an agenda item for business itself. A wave has certainly swept through and the result is a more brand led business culture in East Africa. Thankfully, the smile that spread across my face as I pored through Marketing Africa will be a hard one to wipe off.

East Africa is bracing itself for another “battle of the brands”. The entry of Bharti Airtel into the fray of the telecoms sector will be an interesting one to watch. Safaricom is firmly entrenched in the hearts and minds of the Kenyan consumer and will be a tough one to nudge, let along beat. As mentioned before in a previous blog post, the issue is not price, it is not the strength of the network, interconnection or the new industry pet project, number portability. The issue is creating a relationship with consumers. The brand that does this best be the leader. Anything else is really a hygiene factor.

New media continues to intrigue. The lack of focus and even ignorance shown by brands as regards new media continues to baffle. Anybody over thirty is an old consumer and concentrating on their media habits may be equivalent to a history lesson which describes the water your brand is drowning in. The new consumer is in high school, college or is early in their careers and I dare say that to many of them, “old media” died of old age. Ignoring old media may not kill your brand but ignoring new media will certainly ensure your brand does not live to see old age. New media is no longer a mere touch point, it is an influential factor in the development, management and consumption of brands. If you are old school as a brand custodian, your consumers of the present and future are not you.

Finally, the World Cup has come to an end. For me, one thing happened – the vuvuzela. That noise is still buzzing in my ears!

Surely, We Can Do Better!

Several big brands in East Africa could do better. For one, they could open their eyes and minds to the possibility of the world of brands being larger than Kenya. Second, they could watch trends and learn from history that “the bigger you are, the harder you are seen to fall”.

Below are the more notable ones. I of course reserve the right to swallow my own words with some Eno so I do not necessarily suffer from indigestion.

Tusker: For allowing itself to be mispositioned myopically as THE Kenyan beer by Castle and in the process missing out on an African market of 52 other countries (and we haven’t even mentioned the global possibilities for this award winning product!). Talk of a pyrrhic victory?

Kenya Airways: For establishing an unparalleled footprint among African airlines then treating its customers (including internal customers i. e. staff) like they deserve to be trampled underfoot! May be taking the “foot” metaphor too far?

Zain, Kencell, Celtel or whatever you will be christened next: For totally missing the point and somehow getting worse with every “rebirth”. The target was NEVER Safaricom and the issue was never PRICE. It has ALWAYS been a BRAND that can relate with customers.

To be continued one day…


From Customers to Fans

The English Premier League now virtually belongs to Chelsea after their merciless thrashing of Stoke City over the weekend. Soon it shall be heard in strange places around the world thousands of miles away from Stamford Bridge that “we won the league!”, “we are the champions!” These words will come most from the non-English but will be said with probably more passion than a born and bred Englishman from London West London.

How do sports brands do it? How do they turn what other brands may call “customers” or “clients” into such passionate fans? These fans, more often than not, have no financial stake in the companies they are supporting. Yes, these sports teams are actually private companies with real owners who reap a profit when the clubs do well.

The answer? I’ll need some time to give this a think. In the meantime, I shall wait for the day Chelsea are crowned champions of England to do my research.

May be, just may be, I will find the answer.

Miscellaneous Ramblings of a Branding addict

“Avanza Extravaganza”, “Bunda”, “Vuka”, “Wahi”, “Ziki”, Niaje”, “Ponyoka”, “Sambaza”. It all started out as Kenyans becoming Kenyans and brands beginning to communicate in a language that resonated with consumers. It was even novel, probably four or five years ago. Now all these hard Kiswahili names have proliferated brand messaging to an extent that I fear they are slowly losing meaning and even the connection they once had. Brands, regardless of status or what they stand for are throwing around the “common man’s” language in what appears to be a quest to be part of the fashion. Fashions come and go but strong brands that know what they are doing do not let the fashion run away with what made them great in the first place.

Tiger Woods is back! Now even President Obama is backing him. As long as he performs on the golf course where he built his brand, his indiscretions shall be forgiven and brand Tiger can begin to rebuild. He is human after all and what we sometimes find hard to admit is that we actually hate “gods”. We relate better with fallible humans, fallible brands, because we see something of our imperfect selves in them and it reassures us that all may not be too bad after all. His fall from grace (not according to his wife of course!) may actually a blessing in disguise.

The Coffee Board of Kenya launched the Kenya Coffee Brand. Meanwhile a certain farmer Rotich in Bungoma branded his latest cow. I’m eagerly waiting to see the difference.

In strategic branding, I have learnt over the years, you can’t overestimate what time can do.