Phido: Cutting Marketing Budgets during Recession Will Only Worsen the Situation for Companies

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Chief Executive Officer of Elevato, a sales and marketing strategy organisation, Marie-Therese Phido, in this interview with Raheem Akingbolu, advocates the need for business owners to invest more in branding during economic downturns so as to deepen loyalty and likeability for their brands

Despite the recession, is it possible for a business or brand to do without marketing and what can effective positioning do for an economy like Nigeria if well explored?
Now is the time for brands to tenaciously let their customers know why they matter and why they must not switch. Now is the time for brands to work assiduously to ensure that they build loyalty and likeability for their brands. Many businesses make the mistake of thinking that when times are bad the first budget to cut is the budget for consulting, marketing, training, etc. But, when times are hard is the time to think more strategically.

It is the time businesses will need experts with their years of experience and knowledge to help plan and execute strategies to meet their operational and business objectives so that they can remain profitable and relevant. What I mean is that, it is in periods of recession that businesses would most likely need consultants to help build innovation into their operations. You do not want to be the Nokia or Kodak of your industry. May be these two examples I just gave would still be strong players in their markets, if they had used consultants at the time they started to have challenges.

On the second part of your question, Nigeria’s branding is one I am very passionate about, only recently I wrote an article on it in my column in your newspaper. One thing our government must urgently realise, which I am sure that they do, is that a strong brand offers many advantages. In the political arena, it will enhance our respect in the comity of nations, give our nation more clout globally; economically, a strong brand will attract more direct foreign investments and make our nation a more alluring tourism destination. I am just perplexed at the fact that officials of government at various tiers are doing too little to brand Nigeria. The time to scale up efforts at branding Nigeria is now.

The current administration is making frantic effort to reposition the Nigeria project, what role do you think a firm like yours can play in the process?

We can work with the administration to develop a consistent and coordinated effort on communication and reputation management working with teams locally and globally. The Nigerian project is too big for just one consultant to handle. We have to develop a consortium and involve all stakeholders to ensure its success.

What would you say is Nigeria’s greatest brand building challenge?

Nigeria’s greatest brand building challenge is inertia in my view. I do not believe that our government does not know what to do. Nor do I not think that they do not have the skills and the manpower to do it because they can hire these skills. The problem as I see it is that they do not want to do it and we must all start to talk about it. South Africa who some believe is not as safe as Nigeria, especially those of us that have been there, has a much better brand perception and ranked higher in the Country Brand Index 2014-2016 by FutureBrand. Countries like Rwanda and Botwana amongst many others are ranked higher than Nigeria, which is a shame.

Can you give an insight into how you evolved Elevato; the brand name and what you do?

The name Elevato was derived from two words, Elevating and to. At Elevato we believe in delivering game changing solutions that elevate our clients’ businesses to the next level. Elevato is a declaration. Our tagline is Elevating to the Next Level. We collaborate with our clients to grow their businesses by turning their aspirations into actions and results.

Elevato is a Sales and Marketing Strategy, Business Coaching, Branding and Communication Strategy Organisation.
We provide the whole value chain of sales and marketing solutions. We looked around the Nigerian environment and realised that there were no sales & marketing consulting firms. Some companies do bits and parts of it, and many are focused on integrated marketing.

What are your firm’s unique selling points?

We stay with our clients every step of the way to ensure that we provide critical knowledge and guidance in propelling heir capabilities and unleashing their potential to ensure lasting success. We bring the whole value chain to the table as well as customised training solutions The availability of Fit- for- purpose training is another area that we noticed there was a gap in the market. Elevato has over 24 sales & marketing training modules to equip individuals and organisations to sell smarter and market themselves better.

Another unique selling point we have brought to the market is the concept of Personal branding. Many people and I dare say corporate entities; do not realise that behind every successful brand was an individual with a strong personal brand. Many employees and business owners are focused on selling their corporate brands, but forget or neglect to build their own personal brands. The reality is that people trust the individual first before the organisation, and an individual’s personal brand is the key to their growth as well as their organisations. In fact, developing a personal brand is a key requirement every CEO and Executive should take seriously.

We are visionary and always working at something new. We have a dedicated and experienced workforce with team members who have worked all their lives in similar roles and at very senior levels in global organisations. We have global affiliations with firms and we are channelling our competencies to facing tomorrow’s challenges to ensure we enhance and add value to the services we deliver to our clients.

Elevato has a portfolio of clients across several and diverse business segments in Nigeria and the West African sub – region. In your website, there is something about business coaching, how do you this?

What many of us are familiar with in Nigeria is a life style coach or coaches focused on the individual. This is not what Elevato’s business coaching approach is tailored towards. We work with CEOs to ensure that their strategic business plans are implemented.

The idea to develop this product came about from my many years of working in strategy formulation and implementation. I discovered that, organisations and CEOs spend quality time with good intentions to develop their yearly strategic plans. After these plans are done, it becomes a struggle for them to implement the plans because life begins to happen and they have to quench fires and become focused on the urgent and important.

So, we work with these executives to implement their strategic plans as well as work with their direct reports to get things done and help to ensure that they meet the agreed milestones. We are currently providing this service for a client in Francophone Africa, where we started with assisting them with their go-to-market strategy and are now in the process of helping with strategy implementation and business coaching to ensure that they achieve their objectives. As we all know, the implementation of a strategy is clearly more important that the formulation.

We believe helping CEOs meet their strategic obligations is very critical because that is what keeps them on the cutting edge. When strategy plans are not achieved, organizations tend to lose their edge and competition runs away with the ideas they conceived 6 months before.

You have within your portfolio; Branding, marketing, business coaching, sales and media communication; don’t you think you have your hands in so many things at the same time? How do you strike the balance and at the same time satisfy clients at all fronts?

Like I explained before, we are a sales & marketing consulting firm. Our role in this market is unique, because no other consulting firm is focused strictly on working with clients on their ‘go-to-market strategy’ across their business lines while looking at their segments and functions. Our competencies in this regard are also unique in that we take the solutions we develop downstream to implementation which can consist of branding, communication strategy, marketing, etc, all of which feeds into the other.

Many people do not realise that downstream sales and marketing activities should be driven by strategic intent. Many organisations make the mistake of thinking otherwise. In many instances, what you find is that the different units in the sales and marketing function are working at cross purposes. . The products teams and the social media teams are not talking. The marketing team is pushing their own agenda. HR does not know what to push and technology has no idea where the organisation is going strategically. The fact that we provide services across the full value chain helps us works with our clients to pull it all together and help them achieve their strategic growth objectives.

What are those things you can point out as the factors that have helped Elevato in the area of creating innovative solutions for clients and brands?

What has helped us is the knowledge capital of the team. For example, I spent over 25 years working in several major global organisations at very senior levels and had the opportunity of being exposed to global best practices. In fact innovation was greatly encouraged in those institutions, which rubbed off me, and we bring this innovative way of thinking to bear on our clients’ work. Don’t forget that I mentioned earlier, that we also have in our arsenal, a couple of tools and methodologies that are unique to us.

We also have international affiliations with companies with impeccable pedigrees in sales & marketing offerings that we are working with. We leverage their knowledge and experience to ensure that the products we take to the market fit our clients’ requirements.

Looking back, how can you describe your professional sojourn and how did you eventually settle for a sales & marketing consulting business?

I started my career in Andersen, which then metamorphosed to KPMG. I started from the ranks there and grew to director level, handling sales & markets for the West Africa region. I then moved to Deloitte, was West Africa Clients & Industries Leader, from there decided to set up Elevato.

Settling for Elevato with its focus was natural. One, like I said before no company provides the full spectrum from conception to implementation in this market and it is where I have the natural affinity and strength in view of my experience,

Finally, what is your view about pitch fee, foreign incursion into the market and affiliation?

On pitch fee, I believe organisations will charge based on value and brand perception and if they can prove their worth, clients can pay. With regards to foreign incursion, it is good, it provides competition and brings in global best practice which is good and everybody can learn.