Imperatives of Managing a Presidential Brand



By Gbenga X-adebija

Permit me to have a word in the ear (Cough! Cough!) of those who have responsibility for managing President Muhammadu Buhari’s personal brand. It does seem that after winning the elections, Brand Buhari is no longer receiving priority attention. This is an entirely unwise approach because if anything, the stakes are even higher now that Buhari is President. A truism about branding is that you should NEVER STOP nurturing and managing the Brand.

For example, it is amazing that no brand capital was made of the fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury personally endorsed Buhari and attested to his integrity. Pause for a moment to think about the fact that a globally respected religious leader vouched for a President who is not only head of a nation widely branded as corrupt but of a different faith! The key insight here is that apart from partisan politics, Brand Buhari could be developed to become an asset to the nation.

Back in 2012, in the aftermath of Barack Obama’s resounding victory at the US Presidential elections, I shared an analysis of how his campaign strategically and proficiently managed Brand Obama and the corresponding stratospheric levels of stakeholder resonance. Make no mistake,the handlers of Brand Obama had to bring their A-Game because in the build-up to the elections, the Obama brand was at sub-optimal levels due to a harsh operating environment which resulted in an alarming dip in goodwill levels. During the dark years of the Obama Presidency with the economy at its lowest ebb,  Obama became a toxic political brand. Even his fellow democrats did not want anything to do with brand Obama especially after the resounding thrashing the Democratic party received in the mid-term elections of 2010. While waiting for the positive impact of his socio-economic reforms to kick in, Brand Obama managers embarked on a campaign to boost his favourability/likeability ratings among the American citizenry.  This was the launch pad and platform for Obama’s re-election victory.

Therefore, four years later, the excellent work of David Plouffe, David Axelrod(a.k.a Ax), Jim Messina, Stephanie Cutter, Robert Gibbs and Ben LaBolt is still gold standard on presidential branding, presencing and messaging. Indeed, managers of the PMB brand would do well to take an in-depth look at the way the Obama brand is being managed.

After the publication of my write up in 2012, there were a few lukewarm approaches from Aso Rock on what could be done about the GEJ brand. One could perhaps understand the position of GEJ’s (non) brand handlers. They never believed it would be possible for any opposition to develop a formidable political brand capable of ousting their principal.

By so doing, they breached one of the foundational principles of branding…. NEVER GET COMPLACENT.

You must always prepare your brand to be competitive for both now and the future.  Competition never sleeps and should therefore never be under-estimated. Who ever imagined that Leicester would win the English Premiership title? Who ever imagined that Buster Douglas would wallop Mike Tyson? Similarly, GEJ’s people never imagined that a formidable political brand would be developed for PMB.

Now, if GEJ’s handlers abysmally failed to develop a winning brand for the ex-president, the brand managers of the current President seem to be at a loss as to how to manage an already existing Brand Buhari. I published a comparative evaluation titled THE BATTLE OF THE PRESIDENTIAL BRANDS of GEJ and PMB after the Nigerian Presidential elections last year. Team PMB received major kudos for developing and executing a near flawless campaign for Brand Buhari.

That, folks, is the same Brand Buhari which quite apparently, Team Buhari are displaying mind-boggling levels of inability to properly manage.

In the face of so much socio-economic hardship in the land, and a growing perception that President Buhari does not feel the pains of the citizenry, what is being done to humanise the Buhari brand and achieve the corresponding levels of stakeholder empathy and goodwill? N-o-t-h-i-n-g.

There is a need to go back to the basics and the question must be asked, what is the Buhari Brand?

It is the external manifestation of Buhari’s key personal and leadership attributes as well as other intangibles woven into a uniquely differentiated value proposition to resonate with key stakeholders for the purpose of generating and sustaining goodwill for Buhari.

Branding is both an art and a science which targets the emotional and rational nature of specific stakeholders. The appeal to both the “head” and the “heart” must be continuously pursued on a deliberate and strategic basis.

Buhari’s brand managers need to brand map the upsides and downsides of Buhari brand. Therefore, a deconstruction of the Buhari brand configuration and brand cognition would   reveal ” disciplined”, “incorruptible”,  ” purposeful”,  “leader”, ” statesman” , “austere ” etc .

On the other hand, there are downsides to Buhari brand, perceptions which are still simmering subterraneously and must be continuously monitored in order to achieve a sustainable winning brand for PMB. It is also crucially imperative that Brand Buhari handlers bear in mind that the overall objective of any brand management initiatives can be summed up in one word….GOODWILL.

The question must ALWAYS be asked, would this statement or action bring goodwill for Brand Buhari?

Sharing pictures of Buhari garbed in islamic regalia in Saudi Arabia is definitely not brand-friendly. Like every individual, President Buhari has a right to his religious beliefs and actions. However, when your brand is fairly or unfairly plagued by accusations of religious bigotry, it is most unwise to provide any form of visual or testamentary reinforcement. It is not for nothing that Barack Obama’s advisers never allowed him to visit Kenya until well into his second term as President especially in the face of the vicious “birthers” campaign which falsely claimed he was born in Kenya.

By the way, as an aside, it is always side-splittingly hilarious when supporters of Governor Fayose post pictures of President Obama hanging out with the masses as validation of the Governor’s own activities. That is a total ignorance of the dynamics of Brand Obama and its evolution and maturation process. The ” hanging out” activities of Obama  is  a deliberate and orchestrated effort to infuse the Obama brand with the ” common touch” to counter opposition attempts to shape Obama as  aloof, distant and out of touch with the average American. It is therefore a purpose-driven branding initiative and definitely not the style of  governance  of  President Obama. Bukas, Mamaput joints and bars are not the natural habitat of Barack Obama.

Managers of the Buhari brand must realise the importance of their assignment, it transcends even Buhari himself.

It is a national assignment.

Long live our Fatherland.

  • X-adebija is President & CEO of Business In Nigeria