Odibo

Emma Okonji writes that a trending new social network, Swag.ng, targeted at youths, is a pointer to the new vista of opportunity that brands can tap into and build a strong community of loyal customers

Nigeria is in technical recession. The power sector reforms anticipated to accelerate economic growth is still battling with teething challenges.
The worsening state of insecurity of lives and property in the country is a major source of concern for the generality of Nigerians.

All the macroeconomic indicators are not looking good, resulting in outflow of portfolio investments.
These present a picture of challenging times for businesses and brands in Nigeria, who in these lean times have to explore new and more efficient ways of doing more to serve customers and stay afloat.

Critical to building customer loyalty and grow businesses is building a brand community.
A brand community is a group of passionate people who are bound together by a common lifestyle, similar or complementary needs, activities, and values that also resonate with a brand.

Enabled by robust technology, marketers in different industries across the globe are busy trying to build communities around their own brands, more so following the success some companies have made of it.
Making a strong case for branded communities, Luca S. Pardeni and Shar VanBoskirk, in ‘Predictions 2015: Marketing Leaders Mix Data, Content and Insight to craft brand experiences,’ posited that “marketing leaders will also come to terms with the fact that their brands’ Facebook and Twitter messages simply don’t reach or engage their audiences and that communities can support every part of the marketing plan.”

In order to leave above the current economic challenges, Nigerians have been advised to take advantage of the social media, and online marketing, where lots of opportunities abound.

Building strong online platform

In today’s world with its many challenges people, earnestly desire a sense of connection in the things that matter most to them, to share ideas, and have a sense of community.
Also in challenging economic times as these, every company needs new ways to do more with what it already has.
A new online community that understands this need and poised to fill this gap, Swag.ng is emerging to be Nigeria’s authentic and growing brand community for the youth.
Created by marketing communications expert, Charles Odibo, who has led the Corporate Communications and brand transformation of three banks – Standard Trust Bank (now UBA); Platinum/Bank PHB (now Keystone); and Fidelity Bank, shares insights about Swag.ng

According to him, Swag.ng is an authentic Nigerian site where young people create their own content, invite people of like minds, and share several content that appeal to them all.
“We have also created engagement that caters to different demographics – campus students and youth; style for ladies; and those who seek to explore sights and sounds of Nigeria, all under one platform.”
According to Odibo, as an interactive forum, if a brand is identified with a strong community, what it does is that its customers are made to feel they are part of a special group, which reinforces their support for the brand and fuels resistance to rival brands.

He also posits that a brand that associates with or identifies with a strong community will build loyalty, not necessarily by pushing or driving sales transactions but by helping members of the community meet their needs.

Research studies

A 2009 Harvard Business Review case study by Susan Fournier and Lara Lee, based on their combined years of researching, building, and leveraging brand communities revealed among others that a brand community exists to serve the people in it not to serve your business, because, according to them, your customers are individuals with many different needs, interests, and responsibilities.
They noted for emphasis that people participate in communities for a wide variety of reasons – to find emotional support and encouragement, to explore ways to contribute to a common good, and to cultivate interests and skills, etc. It is interesting that they made this conclusion – “Brand community is a means to an end not an end in itself, for the members.” So, what are forward looking brands waiting for?

Building strong relationships

Understanding the power of personal relationships, Swag.ng has built a growing community that can strengthen brands. Given that people have strong one-to-one relationships with others who have similar or complementary needs such as campus students and youth, Swag.ng has content and groups such as Campus SWAG; Sights and Sounds of Nigeria for those who love to explore; and Style, among others.
A core bottom line of the online platform is also the identification of the need to create a strong community where everyone plays a role to ensure that they stay involved and also consistently add value. The content and narratives on Campus Swag, for instance, is provided by students and students alone, so they have a complete sense of ownership.
With Swag.ng partnership, non-competing brands will increase customer loyalty, lower marketing costs, authenticate brand meanings, and yield an influx of ideas to grow their businesses

One of the world’s leading fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) conglomerate Procter and Gamble, which has made a success of brand community has this to say about its online brand community, “Being Girl” – “as a marketing tool, this site is now four times as effective as comparatively priced television advertising.”

At a fraction of the cost of traditional marketing programmes, the Swag.ng brand community can be used to also conduct market research with very quick turn-around; generate and test ideas for product innovations; strengthen the attachment that existing customers feel towards a Swag-partner brand; and increase good publicity through word-of-mouth.

According to Odibo, brand communities would play great roles in shaping the future of brand engagement.
“Some of the factors that are envisaged to shape the future include the following: – lifestyles will become less planned, more immediate and volatile; people become reliant on technology and brands to facilitate their lives; and consumers expect to be able to get what they want and when they want it. As you can see, these are already manifesting, and an online community like swag is central in facilitating these trends,” Odibo said.
With brand communities being useful to consumers for trouble-shooting and sharing success stories about a product or service, brand communities are turning into a more voyeuristic reality show that underscore the aspirational spirit of today’s consumer rather than a town hall meeting.

Expert view

The CEO of Spot.IM, Naday Shoval, a developer of embeddable social networks for publishers, stated recently that there is a growing shift in the concept of community from being something that exists solely on Facebook or other external networks, to something that a brand creates around its content and products, and which can exist on an owned platform.
Overall, every brand, every product, every business, big or small, has to re-adapt to the future because from time to time the future is becoming or pointing the brand in different direction from the past. No brand wants to be a copy of yesterday, but to be a jumping point for tomorrow.

Youths as future leaders

The nation’s demographics show that the future is the youth. Nigerians between 16 and 35 years account for 40 per cent of our population. Seventy per cent of our population is under 35 years.
How do brands appeal to them today and serve them with the tools that will shape our tomorrow? How can brands enable them to make their dreams come true?
The behavioral economic insights of young people reveal the following – they desire creative disruption; the youth want to participate and be involved; they want to participate in purposeful campaigns; and they prefer innovative transactional methods.

The insights also reveal that the youth want their content and service anytime anywhere; they prefer real-time content; they are obsessive about discovering and sharing; and they are excited with ephemeral stuff.
Above all, many youth that follow brands have clear expectations – they want material gain, some free products, good discount or perhaps a winnable competition, or they want to be entertained. Young people like brands that make life easier for them.

In a digital world filled with adverts and other marketing content, people are natural skeptics, so when they are able to make emotional connection online they are more comfortable spending more time there. A brand community gives people a feeling of belonging, which people crave, making them feel connected to other people who not only share common interests, but have similar behaviours, perceptions and values.
Marketers seem to have learned all these lessons on social media, but with the emergence of a site like Swag.ng, it may be time to take those lessons and apply them to branded communities, and reap the benefits.