Strong personal brands demand sacrifice

Wednesday January 22 2020

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Good leaders know that maintaining personal brand value is more difficult than attaining brand value. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By The EastAfrican

In the book, The Trouble with Nigeria, the late Chinua Achebe talked of when the administration of Yakubu Gowon was overthrown in 1975.

Once people got to know that the new head of state was going to be Murtala Mohammed, everything changed. Civil servants got to their offices as early as 7.30am because of his reputation as a no-nonsense leader. Six months later when Mohammed was assassinated, things went back to normal and the indiscipline resumed.

When Gen Muhammadu Buhari was elected president in 2015, there were reports of people who stole money from the government returning the money even before he was sworn in as president. There were stories of people who served in the administration of president Goodluck Jonathan relocating overseas before the inauguration of the new president. Why? Because Gen Buhari had a reputation for being a strict, straight, no-nonsense leader who did not condone any form of corruption.

It was merely a perception but it was strong enough to make people act. It is important to always remember that perception is reality. Only after interaction is it possible to determine if the perception was accurate or not. This is where the concept of brand authenticity comes in. Our goal should always be for reality to supersede perception. In essence what people hear about you should pale in comparison to who you really are.

Many people spend so much time and money shaping the external in order to create a perception. This is not sustainable in the long run because the truth invariably always comes out.

As I have often mentioned, most people are concerned with making a good first impression and we say things like “you only get one opportunity to make a first impression.” This is true on one level but on a higher level the truth is that the first impression is not as powerful as the last impression. The world is full of so many people who are happily married today who hated each other at first sight. The last impression is where the power lies.

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President Buhari had a good first impression but there are many who today feel that the substance did not match up to the hype. As a result, the power to influence behaviour that he had before being elected into office is gradually waning.

Maintaining personal brand value is more difficult than attaining brand value. This is where many leaders fail. Many charismatic leaders get elected on the basis of their charisma but then as people get closer and closer to them, they realise that there is no substance. Once the people realise that there is no substance, the excitement for the brand dies. How then do we sustain the excitement for a personal brand?

A brand is a promise that you have made to yourself and maintaining it is going to cost you. It will really cost you. It will cost you things that do not augur well for the brand. It will cost you some freedom. Strong personal brands are built from sacrifice.

Anyone who travelled by air on Nigeria's domestic routes in the 80s and 90s knew what it was like. There were airline touts that would try to lure you to their airline counter as you arrived at the airport. There was no difference between the motor park and the airport. Once you finally decided on which airline you were flying with and you purchased your ticket and received the boarding pass, that would have been enough in most countries but not for the Nigeria of the 80s. The fact that you had the boarding pass did not guarantee you a seat. As such you literally had to run to the aircraft. And, did I mention that a lot of those airlines took off when the plane was full.

Now in the midst of this came a new airline which decided that no matter what happened, they would be punctual. They were going to build a reputation around punctuality. It did not matter how many people were on board, when it was the scheduled time for departure, they would leave.

One can only imagine the volume of loss they would have incurred for doing this. It was the cost of building the brand. Eventually, it paid off as it usually does. People knew that if you wanted an airline that would be punctual, this was it.

Brands are not magically formed — especially personal brands. They are made and the process is costly. Only those ready to pay the price will end up with a strong personal brand. The job of defining your brand is not up to anyone else but yourself. If you do not define your brand, somebody else will.

Wale Akinyemi is the chief transformation officer, PowerTalks

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