How do cultural trends – like new dance forms – in Nigeria, and countries like Nigeria gain contagion – moving from the fringe to the mainstream?
“If you want to get 30 middle class children together in Ikoyi to go and develop a new dance form, almost all of them would need to call their parents in to co-ordinate it,” explains Yaw Nsarkoh, managing director and chief executive officer of Unilever Nigeria Plc since 2014. “But in Ajegunle, there’s a degree of spontaneity.
“The middle class society not necessarily in Africa but (across the world) brings a sense of individuality that you don’t see in the base of the social pyramid.”
And for this graduate of engineering and management, his background as the son of lecturers pushes him to think beyond naira and kobo. “If feels to me that there is some intellectual arrogance that stops us from being able to step back and recognize the artistic role that [the streets] are playing,” he says, quietly as usual, but with a force of conviction that has struck me everytime I have sat with him.
Nsarkoh has emerged as a major thought leader in the country when it comes to consumer insight, market dynamics and marketing – no doubt based on the massive insights gained from running a 100+ year company that distributes across the length of the country, but also because of his perspicacity, not just interested in the economics of things, but also in the sociology of it – how people evolve their tastes, their preferences and ultimately their buying decisions.
“If you’re operating in the Nigerian market you have to understand the competitive dynamics and localities, channels, communities,” he explains. “When you are trying to build brands that are proudly Nigerian, they need to come from the angle of “I have understood what makes the Nigerian tick and have addressed it better than everybody else” rather than that “I have superficially and haphazardly provided a solution.”
And so this Ghanaian-born UK-trained professional is a deep fan of Nigeria’s creative symbols and how they have built a global powerhouse.
“The fact that the entertainment industry has been able to understand the society enough to tap into the commonality and not just the difference, that is its power,” he says.
“The musicians have been able to motivate in more than the entertainment sense in Nigeria, but been able to do it in a way that also travels to become bigger than Nigeria. That for me, is the biggest example of how brands can develop from this market.”
He is adamant that marketers and producers and everybody else who want to sell in this or any market must pay attention to what the local audience is saying.
“I don’t believe there is a global consumer,” he insists. “There might be globalized consumers – but all business should be, first and foremost, local.”
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