Interview originally published in The Sun News Online on June 9, 2010 by NETA NWOSU
Doug de Villiers is a leading authority in international business and brand development in Africa. He has an enviable extensive brand practice worldwide. He once lived in Asia where he was a Vice President for the Holderbank Group in Sri Lanka. Doug also lived in Switzerland where he was a Senior Consultant for marketing and branding covering the USA, Canada, Africa, Australia, India and the sub-continent. He also consulted in South America specifically in Equador, Colombia and Chile. He once worked with Mckinsey & Company and Deloitte Consulting in India, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Europe.
Doug was an Executive Director and Chief Marketing Officer for Enterprise IG now Brand Union (Africa & Middle East), before he joined Interbrand Sampson as CEO Africa Division in 2008. Regarded as a key driver in the establishment of professional branding services in the greater African continent, he is the Group CEO of Interbrand Sampson, where he oversees offices in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Lagos, Nairobi and specialist projects in the Middle East, Turkey, Europe and Australia.
Doug is a guest lecturer and regular presenter at several academic institutions. He speaks on temporary issues of Brand development in Africa.
What does Interbrand Sampson do?
Interbrand is the world’s largest strategic branding and design consultancy. Interbrand Sampson is an Africa operation with regional offices in South, East and West Africa. Uniquely, all Interbred Sampson offices in Africa are equal (50|50) joint ventures with local partners, thereby combining the best of global expertise with local empowerment and delivery.
Our services include Brand strategy, Brand valuation (for mergers & acquisitions), Brand communications, corporate brand design, Product brand design, Packaging design and Retail design. We are also into architectural design, Brand IP and trademark consulting and Brand engagement/internalisation.
What is your scope of clientele?
We work with global multinationals like Coca-Cola, Microsoft and BMW, but also with continental and regional organisations such as Access Bank, BGL, MTN, Vodacom, Telkom, Barclays Bank among others.
What is the level of the art of branding business in Africa? What are the challenges and advantages of branding business in Africa as against other parts of the world?
Globally, branding is a relatively new science. The key to good professional branding is the education of all executive levels within the client organisations. Once branding is well understood and the advantages of professional branding are apparent, then the art gets delivered sustainably. Throughout Africa we at Interbrand Sampson, have invested heavily in training and educating marketers, CEO’s, CFO’s, HR teams etc on the value and financial return of properly developed and implemented brand strategy and design. To this end, we offer executive and team training courses through the ‘Interbrand Sampson Academy', as well as participate in formal training at MBA level at several universities in Africa where both our Chairman for Africa, Jeremy Sampson, and I hold Visiting Professorships.
How would you rate African brands?
There are some truly great African brands, just think about Nelson Mandela. But the problem is that the brands are often South-Africa dominant (MTN, SAB, STD Bank etc) of globally dominant (Barclays, Coca-Cola etc). What we lack are great African brands that we can consistently export to the rest of the world, and this requires proper brand strategy and delivery – not a half-baked job through an Ad agency for example. (Remembering that Ad agencies are good at the delivery of the message, but, and no disrespect intended, they are not properly experienced in brand strategy and value creation).
What is the ratio of Made-in-South Africa brands to locally produced global brands in South Africa and the imported ones?
Far too dominant. South Africa has more time and more consumer active economy historically and this has allowed the country to develop some serious skill in brand development. South African brands also understand the need to invest in the brands and not to try deliver brands as “cheap and nasty”. Some Africa brands have without a doubt tackled branding professionally, and we see this in brands well designed and delivered like Glo, UBA, GT Bank, Ecobank and others.
Don’t you think that the locally produced global brands and imported ones are hindering the full development of South African indigenous brands?
For sure, we are historically a continent of raw material providers. We supply the base materials for the rest of the world to refine and develop products that we then buy back at a massive economic disadvantage. We need to get included in the development and manufacture of products and brands, simply because that’s exactly where the economic value add is.
What role has government played in encouraging the evolution of indigenous brands in South Africa?
Limited. Governments in Africa are far too much involved in politics and are far too little involved in economics. We regularly see “country branding” initiatives that cost a small fortune but have no real strategic planning, no differentiation, and ultimately not beneficial to the country’s image. You simply cannot change the image of a country by “developing” a tag line. If the product is unfit, no amount of advertising or catchy pay of lines will help. In fact, just the opposite will occur if the tag line is seen to be untrue. So, simply country advertising is not branding, it may impart some great visuals and possible facts about the country but more often than not, many have tried to “advertise themselves away from the truth”- simply this is called propaganda and it never works long-term.
Take a look at the concept of human branding and state how far it’s been realized in Africa?
Personal branding is all around us. It’s something that we all do everyday, but of course, we don’t advertise, we are all brands through what we are and not what we say about ourselves. Simply, branding is not what you say about yourself but what others say about you.
Clearly, some brands stand out more than others; again think Nelson Mandela, think of our sport stars and academics, musicians and artists. Again, the problem often is that the well performing personal brands are often not leveraged sufficiently, that requires a strategy and planed activation. Look at Brand Beckham, all carefully planned and activated, and worth millions.
What are the critical steps to country branding?
Be true to yourself – you cannot advertise yourself into a positive reputation, that’s called propaganda and it simply does not work.
Be relevant – if your market (investors, tourists, citizens etc) are not interested in what you’re selling, they simply won’t buy it. So much country advertising is about the same thing – nice country, nice people, good food, pretty views etc, but who’s buying this?
Be differentiated – as above, good brands and countries stand out of the crowd. Have a compelling story and deliver it professionally. An ad on CNN with smiling faces, nice music and the so seemingly compulsory food/mountain/dancing/big building photo is not a differentiator.
What is the positioning of South Africa as a brand?
South Africa has adopted the “Endless opportunities” line, which will address the country positioning as both a tourist and investor destination. The problem is that although this sounds all good and well, it’s simply not true.
How has this helped its economy?
Until crime, corruption and infrastructure are properly addressed the brand South Africa simply cannot live up to this huge promise, no matter how many times or how loud the pay –off line is repeated.
Is branding relevant to governance?
Hugely, and growing. The International King 3 report on governance stipulated that the board and executive of a company must protect all assets Based on our experience and brand valuations over many years, we can indicate that roughly 1/3 of business value (as a part of intangible assets) are the brands. This makes brand probably the biggest single asset in any company (obviously more so in the services sectors). And yet how often, if ever, are the brands valued? And how seriously is the brand taken at the board level?
To what extent can the principles of branding help in nation-building and governance?
The country brand is the country reputation delivered through a series of actions, behaviours and communications. Countries, like leading businesses, simply cannot use the country brand as a political tool that gets “re-adjusted” every time a minister or government changes. Building a country brand reputation takes a lot of time, dedication and commitment, and this requires a very long-term vision. Think about Germany; Following a couple of reputation destroying World Wars, the German brand has recovered brilliantly into a country well-recognised for expertise in motor vehicle and scientific manufacture, amongst others. This did not happen overnight, this took time, planning and dedication by both Government and the private sector.
For about two years now, you have been working with some Nigerian Brand Managers. Where is Nigeria in branding business compared to the outside world?
UBA, GT Bank and GLO are comparable anywhere in the world as international brands.
Is Nigeria a brand?
Absolutely. The problem (and opportunity) is that the brand Nigeria has a negative global reputation due to 419 scams etc. But there’s some very clear and positive change being noted. Nigeria is positively recognised as a potentially top continental power. This, as a result of great mineral resources and a very industrious population. The brand Nigeria needs to be built as a top investor destination, but the product needs to deliver through a safe and secure environment that promoted business in the region.
What makes it a brand?
It has no choice in this regard. Everything is a brand. Where Nigeria has a choice is what kind of brand does it want to be, what does Nigeria want to be known for inside and outside the country, and what is Nigeria (Government, Business and Citizens) doing to build this brand?