The first 4 years of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure in office have been difficult for businesses old and young, nationwide. The economic recession that followed after the President Re-elect first took power 4 years ago was felt by all—individuals and businesses alike. Without going into all the dirty details of the economic downturn, here’s a short list of things that happened just months after Buhari became president: the Naira crashed, the price of bags of rice and tomatoes skyrocketed, electricity bills , fuel prices, and cost of living went up, as did the cost of doing business. In Abuja, business owners became timid and fearful of spending while others hiked their prices out of desperation to break even, scaring away customers all the more.
That said, this article isn’t about all the ways this presidency has frustrated Nigerians. Rather, it’s about the silver lining that appeared in the midst of all the panic and uncertainty. Before the recession, there was no real competition for market share among Abuja businesses, as far as I could tell. Business owners were content with the bare minimum, as long people were buying. They reflected the spirit of the city--chill and easygoing, compared to the fiercely competitive playing field in Lagos. Then came Buhari. He promised change and he delivered, albeit in ways we did not expect. Money stopped circulating. Business became harder and prices skyrocketed. Abuja was taken by surprise. Businesses shut down and a few fortunate residents fled to the US and Canada in search of greener pastures.
Despite the ensuing chaos, opportunities were popping up in unexpected ways. Buhari’s “change” would offer up plenty of positioning opportunities for business owners smart enough to see them and bold enough to see them through. The truly smart and dynamic business owners of Abuja began to realise something others didn’t: If they were going to survive these dark times, they would have to get serious about their brands and their marketing efforts. They would have to be more bold, more deliberate about getting their product and services in front of a specific audience instead of anyone and everyone. The easygoing style of the Jonathan era would not suffice. And thus, the demand for brand marketing services began to climb in Abuja.
It may sound counterintuitive but, when things are bad is precisely when businesses should spend more to create desire and a sense of urgency in the consumer who is not eager to spend. A recession doesn’t mean you neglect the marketing and brand aspects of your business. On the contrary, it requires that you dig in even more and become even more intentional. In fact, I would argue that recessions are the perfect time to go hard because your competitors will likely be timid, giving you an edge—an opportunity to differentiate yourself. You only need be strategic about it.
Buhari’s policies unwittingly created gaps in the market for savvy business owners to take advantage. There are markets in the gap as well as gaps in the market. Creative agencies like Avo (pronounced "AY-voh") began to pop up to fill those gaps. Brand strategists such as myself had one job: educate business owners on the crucial role brand development plays in the overall success of their businesses. This wasn’t a hard sell but it was a fairly new idea in Abuja because pre-Buhari, business owners weren’t overly concerned with the science and art of brand building/marketing. They simply picked a name, got a logo, set up shop, threw a launch party and then did the bare minimum marketing-wise. True brand building was not on the radar.
If the business was lucky—perhaps they had a stellar product or service that sold itself, or they were so well-funded that they didn’t have to go above and beyond to stay in business. Others were not so fortunate. I saw businesses close down after their first 6 months. Some of them were clients of mine back when I was a full-time photographer. Fast forward to 2019 and the demand for brand development and strategy is on a steady upward trajectory. Business owners are beginning to understand the power of the brand and they are looking for the best minds to help them build the perfect brand to drive their products and services. Enter Avo (again, pronounced "AY-voh").
A brand is a valuable business asset. It is both your business’ reputation and it’s visibility in the marketplace. A brand is the totality of how your audience sees, talks about and experiences your business and its offerings. At Avo, we believe that proper grasp of branding, and a great idea with which to power it, is an unbeatable combination for marketplace success. In this regard, Abuja is ripe for the taking because Abuja consumers are craving brand experiences that will engage them, that go beyond mere products and services. They want smart, bold, adventurous and distinct brands that share their values both online and offline. Abuja residents some of the most selective and most difficult to impress consumers in the country given their mostly privileged backgrounds and their access to international brands. They have high expectationsAbuja businesses must meet those expectations or continue to underperform. Mediocre, sub par attempts to reach them will not work. This means that in order to succeed, Abuja businesses need to evolve into distinct brands with positive brand equity.
Avo Creative exists to contribute to and influence this culture shift. We believe in ideas that do more, that help our clients articulate their story, informs brand behaviour as well as brand communications. Ideas, not for the fun of it, but for the necessity. This is where we stand out. We dig deeper than our competitors to unearth and unleash truly distinct brand-led identities that are resistant to market changes and are recession-proof. Our processes are painstakingly fine-tuned to meet the needs of our client's goals and target audience.
Which is why we’ve been able to build some very interesting Abuja brands over the last 12 months, like SaladFreak (a service that lets you select the specific ingredients that go into your salad meal and have it delivered to you all via an app), Own Your Own (a promo-lottery that awards brand new homes to winners every month), and Leptons Multiconcepts (a real estate developer specialising in designing and constructing affordable smart homes). 5 years ago, these businesses would have have thrived, but with less money in circulation and less consumer trust these days, they’ve had to invest in brand development and marketing. To their benefit.
Nobody knows what the next 4 years of Buhari’s presidency holds but Abuja is about to be home to some of the most vibrant brands if we can help it. It is time businesses inserted truly creative minds into their organizations and allowed them the freedom to go to work on their brands. In this game of perception, the businesses with the most creative individuals leading their brand and marketing efforts will make the most impact. The business owners who see this through will no doubt be rewarded a hundred fold when the economy upturns. Invest in your brand today. No price is too high to pay.
What a time to be a brand strategist in Abuja.