What Naira Marley wants you to know about Brand Strategy

“Control the crowd, control the crowd, Marlians come forward, the rest f*ck off” declares Naira Marley at the beginning of his latest song, with no traces of any care in the world.

Approved by some and “cancelled” by some more, the controversial Nigerian artiste is largely known for his lewd and vulgar lyrics and even more for his recent connection to fraud—a “hustle” his songs never fail to glorify. While the latter has become the last stroke to break the camel’s back for many people who still accommodated his lyrics “for the sake of the great beats”, many wonder in amazement how so many people would go to any length to root for him, as maligned as he is. Not only has he become more popular and accepted, but he is also fast becoming a sort of demi-god for a growing number of fans who now publicly identify as Marlians. You can do your corporate and woke tweets in the day and dance to Naira Marley at night at the local bar where not many people know you, but how do you really call yourself a Marlian in the daylight?

Naira Marley wants the numbers, popularity and if it was possible to have everyone listening to him, that would be great of course but then he goes to say “f*ck off, I don’t care about you all who are NOT Marlians”. Right there lies the brand lesson for business owners and brand strategists.

Often times you are speaking with a client on defining a target audience. Who are the people whose attention you care about the most? What differentiates them? Age? Ideology? Location? Income? This is mostly a scary choice to make for clients because “we sort of… need everybody”. The more the merrier, we easily assume. Well, whatever way you choose to go about it, you can’t be entirely wrong. You will probably survive. However, if you are looking to build a differentiated brand that people can be loyal to and push on your behalf like evangelists, you can’t be for everybody.

When a certain President said in his inaugural speech, “I am for everybody and I am for nobody”, we all applauded the apparent mystery for the sake of a certain “deep” we will eventually figure out. In hindsight, it marked a clear deviation from the brand-strategic campaign brilliance that brought him to power. Today, we really don’t know. Everybody today, nobody tomorrow, just as promised. Bravo, init?

Reading Simon Sinek’s Start With Why, I got a more conscious understanding of *spiritual brands like Apple. These brands stand for an ideology, a belief system and once they put that first as much as possible, from decisions on product specifications to communications, they effortlessly become a magnet for people who share those beliefs. Consider what then happens when you are trying to “find a balance of all beliefs” “just to be safe”.

To go a bit further on Apple, it’s a brand for rebels, following the “Steve-Jobism” school of thought. “How can computers be for governments alone? Wtf is that? Why can’t we have fonts on computers, why do we have to write text in the same way?” It’s a whole ideology of “if everybody is going that way, why not the other?” You may not have noticed well enough but this cuts across all Apple’s communication and actions. What’s a better way to announce a rebel in a room than with a distinctive Apple logo shining from behind his own laptop? Of course, your cord doesn’t work with my phone. “Think Different”, cord different, app-store different. The famous 1984 shows a lady on red shorts running down the gangway with a sledgehammer in a hall full of many almost-lifeless-looking devouts listening to a dictator from a screen. Finally, she swings the hammer and crashes the large screen, like the perfect rebel queen that she is. As I thought further on that “rebels only” brand positioning, I also began to make sense of the idea of the bitten Apple logo. “Why exactly did God ask you not to eat this one? Wtf?”

Just think about it.

The way focus and choosing an audience works for brands is that the people who feel this was created for them and based on beliefs they share will not only stay COMPLETELY loyal to the brand but also become un-paid evangelists of the brand. My friend, Innocent Ekejiuba will not message you on WhatsApp. It doesn’t matter how important. He would go on and on to tell you why the founders of Telegram created it and their mission for your data security and privacy.

Given, some products will simply do well by finding demand and meeting it at the best prices (refer to Small Business Big Money by Akin Alabi). Those products sometimes don’t need so much intentional brand strategy and implementation, really. However, for those looking to build a brand around differentiated products that have a certain unique purpose to fulfil; for those looking to build a brand people are loyal to and will continue to pay for, even when costlier than competitors, you can’t start all-out trying to make everybody happy.

“This is why we started, this is who we are, everybody who agrees with this come forward, the rest — all protocols duely observed — f*ck off”, Naira Marley would probably advise if he was a Brand Consultant. Thinking about that again, Naira Marley won’t put the “all protocols duely observed” caveat.

Of course, none of our Partners at FourthCanvas, including myself, would sound like the fictitious Naira Marley consultant above in a brand strategy session but the central idea is the same. Like I learnt from Chude Jideonwo, there is no effective strategy without trade-offs. More often than not, you must be willing to f*** o** some, to truly win the hearts of some others.

PS. It is important that I mention that the behaviours encouraged by most of Naira Marley’s songs are not the best for the society. Sadly, Marlians don’t care and Naira Marley knows this too well.

How well do you know your brand xxxx—ians? Research—as the first phase of the branding process—comes handy here but that’s the story for another day.

*I heard the term “spiritual brands” for the first time from Mr Sunesis, a prominent Nigerian Brand Designer I respect, as he described brands that have gone beyond successful, to command a cult-like kind of love, devotion and loyalty.



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Victor A. Fatanmi

‘Finding my writing’, under the blanket of the known image of a Designer and Agency Founder.