MAINTAINING a brand in a turbulent environment is by no means an easy task.
The major challenge in Zimbabwe is the availability of the right raw materials at the right cost price and the right selling price.
As the economy crisis continues some businesses has resorted to compromising on the quality of their products thereby producing inferior products.
In a supply economy, customers have no choice but to get what is available.
The major outcry from the business sector is that they can only manage to make a certain quality of product at the prices that have been set by the authorities.
As margins slump because of the delay in price approval and inflation most companies have been tempted to cut quality control systems just to get the product to the market.
They need the money.
The immediate need here has been to ensure that the company continues to operate and meet its obligations.
The victim in all this is normally the brand which is destroyed and compromised in the name of company survival.
Maintaining and building a brand is probably one of the biggest challenges that local companies now face in the current economic situation.
David Aaker compares a brand builder to a golfer playing on a course with heavy roughs, deep sand traps, sharp doglegs and vast water barriers. It is difficult to score well in such conditions.
That explanation captures the situation that companies face in Zimbabwe.Â
The survival and strength of the brand will be determined by the strength of the marketing strategy of that organization.
Maintaining a strong brand in a turbulent environment requires a team of marketers who are
Under the current economic climate conventional thinking will not produce the desired results.
Business leaders need to change their business models if they are to maintain strong brands.
Great brands such as Starbucks, Nike, Coca-Cola, Disney and Dell are valued highly partly because of their brand and partly because of their business models.
For example Coca-Cola’s focus is to have the product “within arms reach of desire” of their consumers. The model is based on four “As ie Affordability, Availability, Acceptability and Accessibility”.
This model has worked very well for the organization hence Coca-Cola is one of the best if not the best international company worldwide.
There is no reason to keep riding on a dead horse. Some of our businesses are still using old maps to look for new land.
What enables the Nike, Coca-Cola, Starbucks brands among others to resonate across a broad spectrum of consumers and provide long term relevance and value?
The answer lies in these brands’ multivalence- their ability to deliver multiple benefits to multiple customer segments within multiple potential scenarios. Zimbabwe’s businesses face the same challenge.
It is unfortunate that when times are hard, the first thing to be cut from the expenditure is the marketing budget.Â Marketing is usually erroneously treated as an expense and yet it is an investment.
One can never maintain a strong brand if the quality of your marketing is compromised.
A strong brand is invaluable as the battle for customers intensifies day-by-day.
Zimbabwe’s businesses are fighting for a shrinking cake.Â
Your brand is the sum total of the customer’s experiences and perceptions which in some cases you can influence but not always.
So what can companies do under the current conditions?
Assemble the best core team.
Business is about people.
The most important leadership or managerial task is to assemble the best core team you can find.
During such tough times you want to have men and women who have strong faith and believe that tough times do not last but tough people do.
A good brand can actually outlive the business itself.
A research done by one of the leading research companies in Zimbabwe on financial institutions in 2006- three years after the financial crisis in the banking industry- Trust bank though dead by then was still among the top three brands in the industry. Why?
Admittedly the bank had its own challenges.
However one of the major strengths of that bank was the service culture.
This service culture came as a result of the way the staff was branded.
Teamwork was great. The staff members were well looked after.
The way you treat your staff is the way they will treat your customers.
The strength of the Trust Bank brand was tested at the height of the financial crisis in the financial services sector.
Even though the bank was collapsing, there were customers who refused to close their accounts. Some of these clients lost huge sums of money after the collapse of the bank due to their unwavering loyalty to the bank.
This shows the power of a brand.
Self renewal is very important when the environment changes. It is folly to stick to old self once the environment has changed. The Eagle Model is the best illustration when discussing self renewal.
An eagle can live up to 70 years. H
owever at 40 years, the beak gets curved towards the chest, the wings become weak and heavy and flying becomes unbearable.
The eagle has two choices ie to die or face a renewal process.
If it chooses the latter, it has to fly to the top of the mountain and stay in a nest built at the edge of a cliff.
During that time it has to hit its beak against the rock till tearing it off. It will wait for the new beak to come out.
Once that is done it uses the new beak to remove the old feathers. The whole process takes five months.
Five months later the renewal flight will begin and thirty years will be added to its life thereby living up to 70 years old.
It is the responsibility of senior management to ensure that like the eagle they also go through a similar transformation process.
They should identify which beak they need to remove from their organisation and which feathers they need to un pluck during the renewal or rebranding process if they are to remain relevant.
A properly done renewal or rebranding exercise will yield immeasurable results for the business. Two great examples are Kingdom and FBC banks in Zimbabwe. Both banks went through a renewal process.
Kingdom was among the bottom four but now barely a year later they are now among the top four. FBC has also improved significantly.Â
However it is also important to note that renewal or re-branding is not just about changing corporate colours.
It has to do with total transformation from within.
This involves transforming the culture of the organization, reviewing the business model, reviewing the business strategy, rebranding the staff among other issues.
By Douglas Mamvura