My take on CBA rebranding…

(Picture courtesy of

After much hullabaloo in regards  to Commercial Bank of Africa’s  rebranding, let me also share my thoughts as to why their recent rebranding  deserves an Oscar award.

And yes its true, sense has finally come to the banking world as far as brand positioning  is concerned.

Early this year I highlighted my frustrations why the banking domain really needs to change course as far as branding is concerned. And this time round, CBA  has set a good example for their peers in the industry.

Personally I must commend Interbrand for doing a marvelous job  and the road they took was absolutely wise . I have always been concerned with the banking sector , since what I have witnessed is nothing but similarities and copycat-ism in brand positioning.

As I highlighted , predictability is what I saw when banks produced almost  one consistent message in an average of three years.

I like the idea of banks breaking away from their traditional serious image they have long been associated with. But their evolvement shouldn’t be predictable for all of them at the same time. This is why Brand Strategy is key in carving your difference.

What I note in CBA’s new brand identity is an impression that potrays a more Mature, authentic , dynamic, contemporary African brand, with the  adoption of earth-tone colors in their logo, giving me the confidence and reassurance that indeed they are the ones who will take me where no one has.

As  I also noted here, brands in this era need to send a signal that they are ready to compete in the global arena with confidence. Kenyanizing branding is good but we live in era where boundaries are no longer dictating brand scope not forgetting how cyberia has really made the world smaller by the day.

Exception than the rule.

Why I’m also commending their move is because their strategy is focused more on the exception than the rule. Most of their peers sing how well they will help you get where you need to go which is not bad. Offering you the best mortgage or desired personal account is commendable for its always a tussle  knowing the good product from the bad. But unfortunately this is more of the rule; the destination angle so to speak. The exception comes when after you know your consumers  aspiration , hopes and dreams,  understanding  the purpose  of what constitutes it and making it a worth while journey is what counts for them more than the destination .

Banks should know that what they offer is a means and not an end, hence I find it disturbing when most banks position themselves  more on scrambling for your attention than giving you the much needed fulfillment you need in life.

And for me CBA has struck the right cord .

Well as you know on my end, the brand is not the logo or the beautiful designs a company has, but the promise one intend to keeps. It’s my prayer that the step CBA has made will help them travel a journey of helping their beloved people, known as customers, derive more in life, giving them the much needed fulfillment they seek with their promise of   “Helping you get more out of life ”

Your thoughts are more than welcome.

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Are African Brands thinking Globally?

The  Interbrand top 100 brand global rankings is out and it was amazing to see the gainers and losers of 2011. Coca-Cola topped the chart once again, 12years in a row, with Apple being the best gainer being at no. 8 having grown their brand value by 58% to  $33.5 B displacing Nokia who held the same position last year.

The report noted the dominance of technology firms who ruled the tide, followed closely by luxury brands who made some impressive performance with brands like Burberry being at no. 95, increasing its brand value by 20%.

Also worth to note are top brands from Asia who had a very consistent performance, with Nissan making a comeback at no. 90 and HTC, being included for the first time at no 98, showing how well the Taiwanese brand has made inroads in the Global arena, causing a lot of ripples in the Smartphone category .

Looking further at the report , one thing to note is how brands are re-strategizing in the global playing field to brace themselves for the coming future. A case in point is HP who are exiting the PC business and acquiring a major UK software company consolidating themselves in the enterprise sector. The dominant green factor has also made brands like Coca-Cola roll out a new bottle called PlantBottle, a sustainable and recyclable bottle made partially of plant material.

While looking at the survey, I must confess that brands in this side of the continent  have a long way to go . Having compared the previous report of 2010 to the new one, it saddens me that African brands haven’t got wind of how the top global 100 brands are making serious inroads to what was once considered as  indigenous markets.

What we are terming as emerging markets, for them is nothing but serious playing fields . With Cyberia (the cyber-world so to speak) opening up new frontiers eliminating the physical borders  once known to the pre-digital human race.

And for me the time is nigh for African brands to Think Global .

These are my reasons why:

  • The growth of a new generation who do not know what it is to be ‘globalised’ since they are already ‘globalised’ .  For the thirty to forty something year olds, globalization was/is the buzz word, and informed most of their strategy.(Hence the social media craze that grew overnight). But for the emerging new and already-in-the-digital-generation, being +acting+ thinking Global is part of their everyday life and not a eureka moment for them. Hence brands that embody being global carry the day, speaking to them a language that resonates beyond the emotional connection.
  • The growth of meaning and purpose. The top 100 brands have a very unique purpose which is inherent in every action. It’s not about meeting consumer wants any more but creating categories that create the need for purpose.  And this is not the science for the consumer  anymore but all stakeholders that makeup a brand’s DNA. As noted in the Interbrand 2011 report, Google is still the best environment to work in, a brand of choice for its many employees. Hence the need for brands to look at how well they can create a good environment for their employees internally. Thinking global here means looking at brands in a holistic manner, not just how well you should target your market.
  • As I noted earlier, Cyberia is the new continent where consumers are so interconnected that brands have no choice but to think global.  Kenyan brands should  pride themselves beyond the East Africa region. Not in the proverbial  expansion by acquisition,  but growth in strategic markets through collaboration, mergers or partnerships .Part of their future investments and reserves should be used to embark on tailor made  innovation, that will replicate their success in these key markets , offering unique, transformational  products and services. The question here is not how one should net more income for the bottom line but what value proposition one is offering .
  • The current volatile economic situation and soaring fuel prices are forcing consumers  to look for brands that have a unifying vision, a vision that has been tried and tested cross-culturally, in different markets  and accepted by different walks of life. Consumers are looking for brands they call safe, since this is not the time for experimentation. Trust is still the determining factor. And what this means for African brands is an opportunity to gain traction on new markets, on the basis of their success in their home markets, what brands like MTN are successfully doing.

And for African brands the time is nigh.

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Don’t just innovate, go further and E-nnovate.

September is here and doesn’t time just fly by? Quite excited about the month though and it’s my hope and prayer that it will be more promising than August.

One thing I was excited over the last month was the resignation of One Steve Jobs from Apple. Apple is and will always be my favorite school of branding. And if there is one man I credit Apple’s success to is Steve Jobs. Much has been said about the great inventor/innovator, starting a tech-firm so powerful that competitors desire to emulate let alone copy.

Many have learnt from him, and one thing that I dearly hold to this day is that in whatever I do, and as long as I love what I do, I must have a vision, stick to my guns and simply e-nnovate.

Yes e-nnovate.

Ipod, Ipad, Iphones you name it has revolutionized how we look at Apple, influencing many aspects of our lives especially how we communicate to each other. They are a testimony of what e-nnovation can do in the 21st century.

Enough of Apple. Lets come closer home and decipher what I mean by e-nnovation.

I was with a group of friends, brand enthusiasts  to be more exact a couple of weeks ago. We were discussing a myriad of topics, from how brand affects culture to what the Influx of KFC and other big shots foray into Kenyan market really means.

And as we were discussing, one thing that came clear on my mind was the need for Kenyan brands to change tact if they consider to be in the game a bit longer . The need for them to not only innovate but go further and simply e-nnovate if they really value brand success.

So where I am going with this e-nnovation hullabaloo?

Invention is the creation or discovery of something new to the world. Inventions are often creator-driven, following an inventor’s curiosity or area of expertise — and may not be a match for the needs of some user population out in the world.

Innovation  is customer-driven, providing a new product or process that adds value to somebody’s economic, health or social well-being. Hence many innovations draw on previous inventions.

E-nnovation on the other hand is a word that I have coined, which means going the extra mile, beyond innovation, and being different by deliberately putting an E instead of an I, to denote how well your brand is E-ngaged to your target audience , as you E-volve in their psych.

For example in the spirit of Kenyans peculiar habits, always borrowing and being in debt, Safaricom comes up with a service called Okoa Jahazi where you simply dial *131# . ( A service I habitually find myself doing…) and get airtime on credit with a requirement to pay within 48 hours.

E-nnovation translates  to two key things:

  • It’s when your brand not only Listens to what consumers have to say but goes further and discern’s what they really want. Research is good. But sometimes you don’t really need research to know that Kenyans are always in need of banking services everywhere they go (Does the new Equity Agency banking ring a bell?)
  • It’s when you stop creating innovations that are  delivered to the market by the so called chosen few in the name of marketers or engineers but co-creating products/services  with the market as you capture their needs, ideals, and aspirations. Basically Co-creation is the new creation

E-nnovation is being different when others are still innovating. And in the words of Steve Jobs… “it’s better to be a pirate than join the navy”.

So dare to be different today, go further and e-nnovate.

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Brand better, Not Skelter.

A brand means many things to different people.

A lot has been said about it since time in memorial, though I think at some point we tend to complicate it, making it sound difficult especially for many budding SME’s who would rather grow their business into oblivion, than incorporate a sound road map that will steer their vehicle to brand success.

So today I want to take you back to Branding 101 in a bid to make you upscale your process in the right framework and hopefully convince you why should have a brand strategy in the first place.

A brand starts right from the idea one has. The moment you decided to create a business or a cause.  As the business grows,  it acquires a reputation, which might either be positive or negative depending on how the brand has been natured. This is why having a brand strategy is very necessary since in most instances stakeholders, staff  and customers alike develop their own perceptions of the ‘brand’ . Strategy helps mitigate these perceptions making everyone aligned to the IDEAL brand.

With a lot of hard work, patience, time and sound plan, a brand is then differentiated  in the market with the presence of a:

  1. Promise
  2. Personality
  3. Positioning

The above are supposed to be delivered consistently in a bid to shape consumers, perceptions and expectations .  A successful brand celebrates personality, honors values and embodies the spirit of the subject that it represents. With the help of a brand strategy, a brand should develop a clear, compelling and consistent message in the journey of narrating a unique brand story.

People love good stories since most of them pass the test of time.

Unfortunately though a sound brand strategy cannot happen if you don’t exhibit a business strategy in the first place. The main purpose of business strategy is to first define, in a nut shell, the route map your business wants to take , where it intends to go, the resources it will use, time frames in the form of shorterm and long-term goals and how the ship will dock once on arrival.

Hence the journey of branding  becomes difficult  if the business frame work is not clearly articulated and defined.

Without a business strategy, a brand strategy cannot be able to:

  1. ‘Position’ a brand in the market place
  2. Make it relevant to the consumer ,

As much as brand strategy sounds complex, time consuming and taking longer than usual , the absence of it results to either of the following:

1. Lack of control of in your reputation.
In the absence of an articulated brand strategy, an unconscious brand strategy will emerge which will be dictated by your disparate marketing, sales, and HR messages and campaigns. These disparate messages never roll-up into an ultimate, brand strategy. Instead, the audience is underwhelmed and left to themselves to intuit — often incorrectly — the repute of your brand, and what they think about it. Your brand is fragmented, and your reputation weak. Others — including competitors — are defining you, instead of you leading the way.

2. Waste of money
With no clear brand strategy, your marketing lacks power. You waste money in disseminating messages and campaigns which are not in line with the brand you would ideally be building.  You squander your marketing spend by not placing your brand in a consistent position and category in your customer’s mind.

3. Waste time and team spirit
The development of marketing, sales and HR campaigns will be slower and more frustrating. Marketers, writers, designers, coders, sales managers, sales people, HR, will all be subconsciously trying to ladder the messages provided into something bigger and “brandier”. Without the direction of a winning brand strategy, chances are high they will be trapped in long iterative communication and design cycles. Time and team spirit wasted.

And as Peter Drucker puts it “The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong question…”

Brand strategy asks you the right questions to unearth the answers that will propel your brand to new horizons as you brand better , Not Skelter.

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Airtel Kenya: Change strategy to win the brand war.

The big boys are at it again. And don’t they just excite you? This time round the battle field is number portability. Safaricom, the bad boy is at it again and this time round playing dirty tricks to Airtel refusing to release about 35000+ porting requests from Safaricom customers. Unfortunately the matter is now going to court so lets see how the drama unfolds.

But today I want to focus my energies on Airtel Kenya who if you ask me is always fighting losing battles. It’s not that my love for Safaricom grows any better. On the contrary he has his weaknesses. But one thing I must commend the bad boy is always playing his cards right.

And that is why I dedicate this article to Airtel in a bid to instill some sense in them if they are willing to outsmart the bad boy. The game called strategy takes time, planning, countless consultations and a perfect execution in the world called branding.

Even on his way to white house, Obama had to change his tact. He knew he will never win any battle with McCain as regards to the issue of race or in-experience since that was McCain’s strong proposition. So what did he do? He simply changed the battlefield and engaged the war on his own turf. That was the time he engaged his opponents on the change-you-can-believe-in band wagon and in a matter of three years changed the whole political scene in the world’s most powerful nation. He refused to engage in petty politics and consistently lured his voters that he is the right person who will deliver change. Naysayers put pressure on Obama to do otherwise but as consistency had it, Obama eventually pulled it off.

And that is precisely what Airtel needs to do. Change the battlefield and not the battle. In simple terms we call it Brand Relevance, a theory put forward by David Aaker famously known as the father of branding.

Personally, brands need to stop engaging in brand preference wars. Communicating that you are better than your competitor by offering price discounts or superior product features is now a science of the past.

Undergoing a series of changes from Kencell to now what we know as Airtel , the consumer is still looking for a stronger proposition with the brand. A connection that will sidestep Safaricom’s innovation proposition.

If there is one party that will always benefit in these brand wars will be Safaricom. They are no strangers to controversy bearing in mind that the public wanted them to unearth who was behind Mobitelea or the recent advent of M-pesa which embraced hostility from local banks. Them suing Porting Access Kenya will only deviate Airtel’s attention , engaging them in a battle that will consume their  time ,energy and focus.

Whether Safaricom will win or lose is not the point. And neither is Safaricom’s reputation at stake. Just look at Safaricom’s twitter handle and facebook page to see the no. of complaints being experienced every day. For them it’s strategy at play .And Airtel should not fall for the bait.

What  Airtel should basically do is use three of Sun Tzu’s art of war tactics if they want to be victorious and relevant.

So here we go:

1.        “The general who wins a battle makes many calculations…The general who loses but makes a few calculations…”

Instead of spending much energies and huge sums of money on ‘Nikuhama’ (Migration) advertising communications ,  they should go back to the drawing board and develop their freedom essence , developing their category along the way. Activate brand building programmes (Sun Tzu’s calculations) that will make their category number one. Engrain it in the consumers mind. Engage the consumer, listen and connect with them. Let your subscriber base sing freedom, feel it and internalize it. Believe me they will be the disciples  who will spread your freedom gospel. Jesus only had twelve disciples and turned the world upside down. Big sometimes is not beautiful.

2.       “If your enemy is secure at all points be prepared for him…pretend to be weak that he may grow arrogant…”

Continue developing the data segment. It’s painful and takes abit of time but that is where you should spend most of your time . Safaricom out staged you in voice ten years ago through per second billing. It’s time for a comeback. Plan wisely, develop infrastructure and improve capacity.

3.       “To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence…supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting…”

Don’t focus on shorter gains and shorter margins of profits. Have a big picture of making your current and new customers loyal to you. That is your challenge. Do not incur too much advertising costs. It took Apple fifteen years to out stage Microsoft revenues in their recent Q1 profits and these they did it without shouting at the rooftop of how good they are. Yours might even take shorter.

Build collaboration efforts with local stake holders right from local developers, educational institutions in the advent of building things like freedom creative hubs as your pathway to innovation . Also develop things like Airtel freedom communities that can be leveraged by social media as you target influencers.

Think strategy. Think long-term.

And to echo the words of Obama: Yes you can.

Have a nice week.

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The dilemma of Building the BRAND vs Building the BUSINESS …

[tweetmeme source= “Ericmwiti” only_single=false]

I was privileged to be brought up by very strict disciplinarian parents who always wanted to see profit/results in our small back yard shop. No matter what value or “pimping” I did at the shop e.g the latest Tupac’s cool photo to attract the “cool guyz” in the neighborhood, or some funny discounts (in the name of reward schemes) to attract the lovely “suzie” to buy soap, at the end of the day it was a matter of results… it was all about figures.

Though young at that particular time, I grew up knowing that when I set up my own business, profit will always be my number one motive.

Even Kenyans are expecting a lot from companies like Safaricom, in the current price wars with cries of “you are actually robbing from us…” “its either you reduce the current call tariffs to benefit the ordinary mwananchi  or we vuka as you stick to your “innovation” gospel; developing the data segment whose time has not yet come…”

Hence the dilemma for many brand leaders in this day and age: being caught up in the rock of whether to build the business or the hard place of building the brand.

Here are some observations from some key brand leaders in the industry;

“There is a very thin line between brand and business building since either of the two aspects of business development helps to pull the other. Imagine a case where you have well established business systems with perfect marketing strategies and the right personnel but have a weak brand. It becomes very difficult for such a firm to sustain itself in the market. The inverse is true in that a strong brand without the right strategies to market it will definitely not reach the intended target,” says Tom Sitati, the executive director of Interbrand Sampson.

“Business building begins with a clearly communicated vision, mission and objectives from the top brass of the company that needs to be communicated down the line. Finance, production and operations among other departments play a big role in business building. Where brand building is concerned, there are certain truths that one must live by such as positioning and re-positioning of the brand and maintaining its credibility in the eyes of the consumers,” says Beverly Amira, brand manager at Kenafric industries limited.

Okay personally we cannot negate the fact that the business aspect of the company has to grow (especially the sales impact) since at the end of the day you have to make profit.(Plus the aspect of  Return on investment is always unavoidable). But if you ask me, there is more to business than just the elusive profit motive.

Why you may ask?

Most Brand strategists believe that :”What’s good for the business might sometimes not necessarily be good for the brand.”

And personally I couldn’t agree more.

Let me illustrate using  Standard Chartered bank as my case point,(a bank I admire most), in this “Brand vs Business dilemma” story, for the period between 2008-2010.

(Mr. Richard Etemesi,Standard Chartered Bank,Kenya CEO).


Barclays Bank, Kenya Commercial Bank and Equity Bank, were betting on expanding branch networks in pursuit of business growth.

In the three years to December 2008, Barclays, for instance, had doubled its branch network to 117. KCB lead the pack with 185 branches while Equity Bank was then at 128 with its management seeking to double that number in the medium term. The three banks recorded at least a double digit growth in pretax profit (BBK 13 per cent to Sh8 billion, KCB 42 per cent to Sh6 billion and Equity Bank 111 per cent to Sh5 billion), with all pointing at branch expansion as the main driver of growth.

Stanchart on the other hand decided to keep its branch network below 40, deciding to zero in on technology with a focus on corporate banking, specializing in trade financing which informed much of its brand strategy


While the naysayers put pressure on Stanchart Bearing in mind that Equity Bank was setting the pace, with country wide branch expansions ,Stanchart remained firm on their conviction: “We have spent the last eight years building a new platform for growth,” said Mr Richard Etemesi, Stanchart CEO. “I think we have now built a better vehicle and it is now a matter of how fast we want to drive it…”

During this period it overhauled its banking software from Electronic Branch Banking System or “ eBBS” to Bank Master, with management saying the software supports more INNOVATIVE products. The switch was financed by a Sh3.5 billion capital injection, which is also being used to set up the bank’s new headquarters in Nairobi’s Westlands area. “We see 2009 as the year the bank will grow and deliver a double-digit growth in revenue and profits,” said Mr Etemesi.


Come mid this year and these were the major headlines making news : “… Stanchart Turns the Tables on Equity Bank to Bag Top Bank Award…”

According to the banking survey 2010, Stanchart came tops followed by Barclays and Equity coming in third. In fact Standard Chartered Bank was the only bank to post a double digit growth in a soft economy where banks took a hard knock on the back of subdued consumer demand for credit.

“Our sterling growth confirmed our strategy of focusing on key market segment, engaging in prudent expansion and leveraging on our information technology to drive growth”, said Etemesi, while releasing the results.

Most analyst agreed,that the strategic decision by StanChart not to join the rush for retail expansion to net more customers, choosing instead to focus on its core market, did actually  pay off with the bank recording a 43 per cent pre-tax profit growth of Sh6.7 billion from Sh4.7 billion in 2008.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that the Equity Bank, Barclays or KCB expansions programme was the wrong route to take. My argument is that as much as Equity Bank revolutionized the banking industry, most banks shouldn’t have reacted to their ripple effect immediately.

What needs are you fulfilling for your consumers? What identity have you embedded in the consumers mind? These are the bitter branding pills that most brand leaders need to swallow.

“If I chase a price war I will not be able to deliver the value for our customers and balance it out with shareholder expectations. I can’t afford to compromise that while chasing after competitors who are not necessarily delivering for Kenyan shareholders…” Says one Mr. Bob Collymore, the New Safaricom CEO,  in a media press brief.

Whether to grow the brand or the business, this dilemma still remains a big challenge for SMEs in Kenya and Africa at large!

But as for me, there is a back yard shop at my parents home in dire need of a face-lift.Any ideas?

Yours in Branding.


(Excerpts of  Statistics and Mr.Richard Etemesi’s photo courtesy of the Daily Nation)

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