BAO talks to Idiare Atimomo, COO of UP IN THE SKY Limited, on How he found his way into branding and advertising sphere, Nigeria’s business environment, and a sneak preview of His past experiences with challenges.
Tell us about your career in branding and advertising. How did you break into the industry, and how did you advance to where you are today?
It’s really a bit of a long story. I studied psychology in University of Ibadan and for some strange reasons, I decided I wanted to be a ‘consultant’ when I graduated. I researched all the big-name firms and their entry requirement was a Second-Class Upper degree. I was on track to have that so I was feeling very confident.
Sadly, upon graduation it turned out I had missed this grade by 0.5 points. I thought my dreams were over. I was however, lucky enough to land a dream job at VIP Consulting Ltd in February 204, led by Fela Durotoye. It was a boutique consulting firm specialising in customer service excellence training and acculturation projects. I am forever indebted to the exposure I got there, learning to think like a consultant, design and implement consulting projects and how to bill for projects. Within 10 months though I knew this wasn’t the type of consulting I wanted.
I resigned, hoping I would get a job in the communications/advertising industry very quickly. I was job hunting for 6 months until I got my break when DDB Lagos was recruiting a PR Executive. I sat for the test and did an interview. I believe my test scores were bad but my interview was awesome. The hiring manager, Akonte Ekine took a bet on me and insisted I was his choice. That was my big break into the branding and advertising industry. I resumed at DDB Lagos in September 2005
In that role, I worked on the LG Electronics, MoneyGram and Diamond Bank accounts. Akonte was training me in rapid-fire bursts and giving me work other managers wouldn’t give to an entry level staff. I had to grow fast and I pushed myself not to let him down. Not too long after I joined the agency, we were invited to pitch for the MTN advertising account.
Enyi Odigbo, our MD saw this as the chance of a lifetime and deployed the best and brightest team he had on the pitch. I was drafted to support the research and insights manager, Bayo Adekanmbi, on the pitch. To cut the long story short, we won the pitch and the agency entered the big leagues. I was soon offered a role in the Account Planning/Strategy team to work with Bayo on the MTN account exclusively. I agreed to the switch and my career literally took off in the industry.
One year working on a telecoms brand is like having 5 years work experience condensed into 1 year. It’s such a dynamic industry that you tend to launch products and services at least 4 times a month all year round. This was the crucible in which I honed my skills in the advertising industry. I had also begun studying for a Professional Diploma with the Chartered Institute of Marketing UK at this time. This broadened my knowledge base quite a bit beyond advertising.
We launched the first set of telecom products based on proper marketing segmentation (lifestyle/psychographic) for MTN, key of which was MTN Xtra Cool for the youth segment. Within 3 years at DDB, I had become a brand manager and eventually had a Group Head responsibility for all the consumer brands of MTN at the agency.
It was around this time when I was becoming restless for a new challenge that I was headhunted to apply for the Manager Youth Segment role at Etisalat Nigeria, then the latest entrant into the telecoms industry. I got the job and worked with a fantastic manager (Elvis Ogiemwanye) to launch the youth segment flagship product Easy Cliq. For 7 years, we built the youth segment of Etisalat to an enviable revenue beast and brand standard for Etisalat.
I only just resigned from Etisalat in December 2015 to co-found Up In The Sky Ltd with my friend and former agency contact, Oje Ojeaga. On the whole, my career has been one of lucky breaks with great managers/teams, lots of study and applying myself as much as I could to the task at hand and always aiming to create value for my stakeholders
What is the most challenging aspect of your job? What causes you the most anxiety?
In my current job as Chief Operating Officer of Up In The Sky LTD, I would say the source of anxiety is managing cash flow. We started in 2016, the year Nigeria slipped into a recession. Cash wasn’t flowing from clients yet we had to stay alive and keep fighting to define our ethos, mission and do great work. Whatever came in by way of funds needed to be properly managed to ensure all our obligations were met – to staff, clients and suppliers – all while we stay focused on our grand objective of demystifying advertising practice in Nigeria.
Though it has been a source of anxiety, conquering this challenge on a day to day is incredibly empowering.
What do you enjoy most about your job? Your current position as Co-Founder/COO Up In The Sky Ltd?
Bringing a smile to my clients face, when we deliver work that moves their bottom line. This is very important to me. Business development and pitching also rank quite high in what I enjoy doing on my job. I can almost say I don’t feel I go to work, I enjoy what I do so thoroughly it feels as if I’m not working.
Why is branding so important?
A strong brand is a company’s greatest defence in challenging times. It is what makes people pay a premium for your product or service, ignore alternatives till they can get yours. However, I tend to be an advocate of helping people understand that branding is not as important as marketing. I use the analogy of the Iceberg. What you see on top of the water is small compared to what is under the water. What is under the water is marketing, what is at the top is branding.
In the story of the Titanic, the captain of that ‘unsinkable’ ship underestimated the iceberg ahead of him and ran his ship into an iceberg he couldn’t assess the size of its underparts. What does this story tell us? Focusing too much on just branding without a proper understanding of marketing (which is the foundation of branding) is leaving your business open to shipwreck. If you get the marketing building blocks right, you will most likely get branding right as well.
What is the impact of digital revolution on brands and brand management?
Digital has made the playing field flat for brand managers and creators. The platforms are easy to manage, not too expensive (low barriers to entry) and constantly evolving to reduce friction. Today as a small company you can record a high-quality video at 4K quality on your iPhone, edit it with the iMovie app and broadcast it to all Nigerians on Facebook, a platform now having 20 million plus active Nigerians.
So all the tools are available to a larger number of people. This however, doesn’t say expertise has no more relevance. Knowing what will be interesting for an audience and how best to present a product or service is still very important. It is left for communications professionals to show their expertise in the digital space as now, even a 15-year-old kid armed with a mobile phone, a debit card and thousands of followers can be the barbarian at the gates of your revenue.
Idiare Atimomo is a chartered marketer of the chartered institute of marketing, United Kingdom.
He is currently COO of up in the sky Ltd, a creative services agency with clients in online retail, pension fund administration and
manufacturing. His agency has won blue chip accounts and local and international marketing/creative awards in just one year of operations.
He has received training on developing marketing strategies and building profitable market segments in telecoms at the prestigious Informa Telecoms Academy, in the United Arab Emirates and has also attended the Columbia business school executive education program “digital marketing strategy”.
He is a writer, frequent speaker at conferences and management retreats on branding and marketing excellence. _he lives in Lagos, Nigeria with his wife and two sons.
We-Bit Group – conflict management and resolution experts
Tell us about yourself and your business.
My name is Amiwero Toritseju. I am proudly, an Itsekiri who hails from Warri South Local Government Area in the current Delta State. I am an Alumnus of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile Ife, Osun State. I am also an alumnus of Hussey Boys’ Model College, Warri. I am interested in writing-drafting contractual and other business related documents, sight-seeing, travelling, table tennis and football.
My business name is We-Bit Group which invariably translates to “We Believe in this”. We-Bit is basically into Conflict Management and Resolution and to train interested persons to become conflict management and resolution experts. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Mechanisms to wit: Negotiation, Mediation, Conciliation, Arbitration etc is becoming much more prominent in Nigeria and fast becoming a replacement for Litigation. We-Bit is a championing agent of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) for settling trade, commercial, contractual, industrial, and corporate and such others business related disputes that may arise between persons entering into business deals.
How much did you need to start your business and how were you able to raise that capital?
Raising the capital for my business was not really my priority. Thus, I did not really need to focus on raising capital for my business. Anyways, I needed about a Hundred Thousand (100, 000) Naira. This money was not acquired or spent as a lump sum though. My basic concern was acquiring necessary skills and building my clientele base. Having a robust clientele base will promote business more than worrying over a start up cash. Business growth takes a gradual process over a reasonable period of time. Raising was through financial aids from friends, relatives and jobs on document drafting I did for clients.
What are some of the challenges you face in your business and how do you overcome those challenges?
Every business has its challenge. My business was laced with monetary and client building challenge. It was not easy for people to initially see the relevance and importance of applying ADR their business disputes. Everyone believes that litigation is the hallmark of dispute resolution. Anyways, learning patience with the business, I had to give it time. It is said that time heals all wounds. I never gave up and was persistent with what I believed in. Likewise, I never really hoped that I would raise the capital I needed at a go. I needed to give it time and to grow gradually.
Where do you see your business in 5 years from now and what steps are you taking today to reach that objective?
I have a long term plan to grow my business. In 5 years I see my business being an employer of massive labor and having a clientele base over a thousand clients. In growing a business, one need meaningful relationships and that is the reason I network with people relevant to what I do. I also intend to explore relevant media-conventional and social-to be able to reach out to more people. Printing of flyers and handbill is also an avenue to grow a business. There is a wide array of possibility out there, only if we can see and explore them.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs looking to start a business or to invest in Africa?
My advice to other entrepreneurs looking to start up a business or to invest in Africa would be:
- Focus in acquiring the skills relevant to your business area other than how to raise a capital
- Build your clientele base through meaningful relationships and networking. You canalso explore relevant social media.
- The perfection of your skills translates to growing your business. It is a gradual process though.
- Be patient consistent and persistent.
- Always look out for new areas and developments in your area of business interest. Then improve yourself in those areas.
How is your business participating in developing Africa?
African as it stands seem torn by conflicts ranging from political to commercial to contractual to social and other forms of conflicts. Save litigation which does not give the parties total control of the adjudication process, ADR has come to stay to finally and amicably put an end to conflicts in such a way that it will be a WIN-WIN situation for everybody while keeping it private and likewise reducing cost.
Don’t Let Your Passion Die And If You Have The Resources To Help Make A Difference – Sneha Bose (FFC)
BAO talks to Sneha Bose, Chief Information Officer for Fashion For Charity Africa, on the impact this scheme is having on Nigerian society.
Tell us about Fashion For Charity Africa. What do you do exactly?
Fashion For Charity Africa is a social entrepreneurship project initiative to help the Internally Displaced People in Nigeria. I have been the Chief Information Officer for fashion For Charity Africa, and my role has been to develop a communication system for the company. I was also responsible for the content development, social media marketing, negotiating with the stakeholders and sponsors like the BBC Africa, La Liga and finally aligning the business’ strategic plans.
What was the idea behind or influenced the setting up of this organisation?
The main idea behind the social entrepreneurship project viz. Fashion For Charity Africa was making a difference in the society. Due to the insurgencies in the Northern Nigeria a lot of people are separated from their family with little or no scope of building back their lives. So our main objective was to support these vulnerable communities of people or as we commonly know them as the Internally Displaced People, by collaborating with the other Non-Governmental Organizations thus raising sensitization across the society.
What are the key indicators by which you measure your organisation’s impact in Nigeria?
The three major key performance indicators for our organization and its impact in Nigeria are – Fundraising Metrics, Donor Retention Metrics and Social Media Metrics.
Under Fundraising metrics, we have further subdivided it into 3 more categories into – gifts secured, donation growth, and donor growth rate.
Under Donor Retention Metrics, we measure it based on the outreach rate.
And finally, under the Social Media Metrics, we have sub-divided it into two major categories – amplification rates (based on re-tweets, reposts and shares on the various media channels) and fundraiser participation rates.
We are slowly but steadily progressing, and hope to create more buzz as we grow bigger.
What are the challenges faced by your organisation? How are you overcoming them?
The main challenge that we had to face was in terms of professionalism from the agencies we were partnering with. I have had the chance of working in various places around the globe and experiencing the Nigerian work culture did come with its own set of challenges. However, once you know the way around and figure out the gaps; our work became a lot easier.
How do you get funding in order to achieve your objectives?
In order to achieve our objectives, we would craft out events that has the potential of raising funds from interested bodies, mainly the international and local NGO’s and the various international embassies, and not to forget the Nigerian entertainment sector. Till date our main sponsors and partners have been very helpful and supportive of our cause.
Finally, what is your message to our readers?
Don’t let your passion die and if you have the resources to help make a difference in our society or the community, then let us all put our hands and heads together to share knowledge and education thus removing any signs of illiteracy, discrimination and nurturing the youth brigade to become the leaders of tomorrow.
Sneha has 5+ years’ of work experience in the field of Information Technology, Project Management, Business Development, Marketing & Media Strategies and Retail Operations. She is a successful orator and has conducted corporate trainings for various organizations. She is also a part of the international public speaking community of Toastmasters International. She has been nominated for the award of the Social Impact Maker in Nigeria, and has been interviewed by the BBC Africa and other popular Nigerian FM Stations. She believes strongly for education and youth empowerment and dreams to have her own organization that will suffice the needs of all these youth who do not have the amenities for free education.
Most businesses only think branding is necessary when their sales are down – Mobolaji Caxton-Martins (Brand Specialist)
- We are a summation of different brand experiences
It is little wonder why a graduate of Applied Physics – Geophysics from the University of Lagos will opt for a career in brand management and innovation instead.
Those were the words of Mobolaji Caxton-Martins, Brand and Innovation Management Specialist as he talks branding, brand identity, and shares his wealth of experience in an exclusive interview with Businessafricaonline digital editor Alaba Ayinuola…
Mobolaji, A facilitator of brand storytelling and innovation at Orange Academy has a big goal: to be part of creating the future through insightful intelligence and practising brand management. He has enjoyed a rapid and aligned career in branding, advertising and consulting. His footprints can be trailed to such brands as Etisalat, Unilever Lifebuoy, Samsung Mobile, Skye bank, MoneyGram International, Wema Bank, Keystone Bank, Haier Thermocool, Airtel and most recently FBNQuest. He has an undying commitment to sustainable innovation for Africa leveraging the millennial generation and its occupation revolution.
Mobolaji discussed how his passion for branding affects his personal life and career.
You can check out Mobolaji’s heartfelt interview with BAO below as he shares his expert thoughts on branding and innovation management. Excerpts
Tell us about yourself?
My name is Mobolaji Caxton-Martins and I am a proud Lagosian. I see myself as a serial innovator; always restless in creating value. I am naturally curious and interested in people; I often ponder about what motivates us as humans, what influences our decisions, how we form opinions and perception and what fosters sustainable relationships between ourselves. I have always wanted to be part of creating the future through insightful intelligence and practising brand management has been the most logical avenue for me. I must say that I am a blatant enemy of routine and I believe branding provides the perfect opportunity to innovate and bring about sustainable development. I don’t believe in thinking within or outside the box as I am constantly inventing shapes which will be defined by the future.
Why is branding so important?
Humans are intuitively an emotional lot and research has proven that these emotions are responsible for most of the decisions we make. I tell people that as a business, there are a few things that you cannot necessarily avoid; you need to be identified by your audience, you need to differentiate yourself from other businesses like you, you need to build a community of customers who make repeat purchases otherwise your business wouldn’t be sustainable. There are more indices to consider but the ideal question is how you achieve any of the above objectives if you do not establish a memorable brand experience. What the brand does for you is elevate your business from just a functional transaction to an emotional relationship. It engages your audience in a human way which makes it easy for your product or service to play a human role in the lives of your audience. As people, we are a summation of different brand experiences and these experiences determine how other people perceive us. When you wake up in the morning, you make various brand conscious decisions as should I brush my teeth with Colgate, Macleans or close-up? Do I have my bath with Dettol, premier, imperial leather, palm-olive, etc.? What lotion or after-shave should I use? What shaving stick or shaving cream should I use? What perfume should I wear? What brand of denim should I wear? What car should I drive?? The list goes on and on but what we need to realize is that we all make these decisions, some put more thought into it than others, all the same, each of these decisions say something about us and if your business is responsible for any of these products or services, you want to ensure that you are well identified, positioned and differentiated to make the choice of your selection easier for your consumers.
Please share 3 links of brand whose brand identity inspires you. What do you like best about them?
This is interesting. I must say that what inspires me about a brand goes beyond its identity. A brand really isn’t just its identity or logo as we most often call it. I have learnt to see a brand as a strategic cultural idea and a summation of all the tangible and intangible attributes of a product, service or person. A brand has various vectors such as its personality, identity, people, environment, communication, etc. Identity only plays one role which is basically identification i.e. logo, packaging, appearance, etc. For the purposes of identification, I am mostly inspired by iconic identities which have stood the test of time and have become a part of the human visual vocabulary. Here are a couple which I would share with you:
What mistakes do companies make with branding?
It is great that you have brought this up because most business organisations in Nigeria make a lot of terrible branding errors and what I observe is that the root cause is either blatant ignorance, official bureaucracy or a corrupted choice for retrogressive brand management. Often when I am giving a lecture, what I say to my audience is that a brand should first be internal before it becomes external.
Martin George, a marketing director for British Airways once said: “People ask me how many brand managers I employ. I reply that British Airways has 50,000 brand managers. Every single employee of our business, whether they come into direct contact with customers or not, needs to be an embodiment of our brand. A bad experience with telesales can undermine millions of dollars of advertising”.
This single statement sums up most of the challenges we have with Brand Management in the African context. A lot of our brand managers still believe that brand building is simply a function of advertising, this thinking has unfortunately affected the advertising agencies in their capacity as service providers. Most agencies now think only in boxes of Radio, Print, OOH and TV.
This thinking has also deprived us of all the opportunities to grow and innovate as an industry. I see brands undergoing re-branding exercises and the first thing they think of is a logo switch, these efforts should as a matter of priority be focused on the internal experience first before any external communication is done.
As David Ogilvy once said, “Advertising a bad product will only make more people know that your product is bad”.
In the same vein, most businesses only think branding is necessary when their sales are down, what they need to realise is that brand building and marketing are entirely different and this is hoping that the business can already tell the difference between marketing and sales. What you see with best-practice global case studies is a consistent effort with brand building and therefore the business is sustainable for centuries. Business owners need to consult brand specialists the minute they conceive the business idea and not when they are only ready to penetrate the market. I once had the opportunity to work with a team which was responsible for creating the brand experience for a four-star hotel in Nigeria and the level of involvement was unbelievable. We worked on the naming and identity creation, developing a brand story and progressive brand strategy, collaborating with the architects on the sort of design and experience which we wanted for the hotel, collaborating with the administration team to interview new hires from the security team to the bell men to the kitchen staff. We knew what we wanted the overall brand experience to be and we needed to make sure that the right people were hired to deliver this experience.
We made sure the brochures told a consistent story and even the uniforms of the workers were designed with the brand experience as a filter. We ensured that a brand academy was established for every new hire and acculturation was a scheduled affair. We had not even started discussing advertising, we needed to make sure that the experience was right. This is a core challenge for businesses. When a business ignores brand experience at the beginning, it only means they will be back a couple of years after asking for support with repositioning. Repositioning a brand is a thousand times more difficult than getting the experience right in the first instance, it is quite shocking because it costs more and requires a longer duration to take effect yet I see more brands seeking repositioning in this market instead of focused brand building.
What is the impact of digital on brand management?
I am indeed pleased with the advancement of digital technology in the marketing space. However, I have often said that this also needs to be considered as a part of a holistic experience. Digital marketing only plays a role within brand communication. Brand communication is just a part of the overall brand experience. I see a lot of vacancy advertisements for digital marketing managers and whilst this is a commendable improvement, the objectives need to be questioned. Digital marketing must be a part of a communication cycle and just a part of a whole. It is cheaper and more measurable; however, the achievements cannot be overestimated. Traditional and Digital Marketing must complement each other, what I struggle with most times is the fact that most businesses do not even have a communication strategy talk less of a brand strategy yet they require the services of a digital marketing expert, one needs to ask; what is the context? Even a professional digital marketing expert should ask this question before accepting such an offer.
I am indeed honoured to interact and share learning with you on this platform. I believe in co-creation and collaboration and I am open to further discussions with anyone who has an independence of mind towards life and is not enslaved by routine. The future has never been brighter for the African millennia generation and with the advent of internet technology, the world has become a much closer and smaller space with no barriers for learning and value creation.