Branding is a set of actions and imagery that an individual, organization or campaign uses to identify with its target audience and differentiate from competitors.
Whereas most institutions prefer to do this by performing calculated actions repeatedly over time, most politicians here tend to storm with an openly aggressive kind of branding at the last minute.
Advertising material in all shapes and numbers from branded t-shirts to fleet of fully-branded cars are some of the items often used.
Much as the latter strategy in itself is not evil and works very well to give their users immediate fame and media coverage that fits the investment, it equally works well to create a wall between them and the intended audience, the electorate.
This might help explain why several incumbents and ministers were hit by shockers from little known under-dogs in the just concluded NRM primaries and the same awaits many in the general elections unless they do a job on themselves.
Looking clearly at a number of successful businessmen of Indian origin in Uganda’s retail business, I managed to collect a number of tips that local politicians can benefit from if they consume and digest them well.
- Reside Close To Your Target Clients
Ever seen an Indian who owns a retail shop in Tororo spending 3-5 days 200 km away or simply in Kampala? Much as they are foreigners (or of foreign origin), residing among or close to their prospective clients makes the clients to start viewing them as if they are fellow locals thus creating an environment conducive for business.
TIP: Create a working environment by being close to your people as much as possible.
As their leader people are more comfortable seeing you face the floods with them, pass through the poor roads together and enjoy the good sunshine when it comes, together.
If you didn’t do this you can still spare sometime now and put across a few damage controls though the results will be, well just that, ‘few’.
- Dress Like Your Target Clients
While they live and work around, an Indian businessman acts as if they don’t have a culture of their own, especially when out for engagement with Ugandans.
You will usually find the clad in jean, kaki or plane trousers and neat plain, checked or t-shirts just like the Ugandans of their age. They do not wear suits to go and sell books or cement or drugs (medicine) in town. Before you even realize, they a e so imbedded in our culture and fit among us that we fail to isolate them as foreign.
TIP: Dressing appropriately doesn’t mean dressing too much. Being an expensive suit and going with your ipad in-hand whenever you are meeting the electorate does nothing to put you across as one of them and someone worthy of their support.
In most cases your effort puts a much stronger wall between the relationship between you and the people and it doesn’t matter whether you give them money, shirts or other material goods.
- Speak The Local Language
An Indian family that owns Zeyne pharmacy in Tororo speak Englsih, Ateso, Swahilli and Dhupadhola with their clients.
They don’t have posters that say, “We like being among you and would love to have a good and lasting relationship here” but their action speaks much more.
At an Indian stationery shop along Nasser road, Auspicious Paper the attendants tell clients prices in ‘Luganda’ and say ‘thank you’ and as many words as they can in ‘broken’ Luganda.
They don’t have a big sign post that reads, ‘YOUR OWN BROTHERS’ but their actions say much more.
TIP: whereas making communication, posters, stickers, announcements, public address and car branding in English might succeed in telling the electorate that the son of the soil is very educated, it shall not help to present you to them as a representative of their views.
They might even doubt that you can understand their problems (which are by coincidentally in vernacular). If you still have an American accent and need votes in the village, boy we need to talk, seriously!
- Shop In Local Markets
Indian traders around Nakawa Division shop in Nakawa market (and are well known for bargaining quite a lot).
These helps them bridge the gap between them and other area residents, create ease and make fellow blacks appreciate that Indians are also supportive of Africans: this says tells that they are just like us.
TIP: You might have enough money or a little too much of it. Maybe you can afford to buy lunch from Serena, Tomatoes from Nakumatt and send your driver to buy Matooke and Irish Potatoes from Nakaseero market before you drive with the stock to Kasese to meet your people but please, if you think even shopping for your dogs in your home area comes with a grave security risk please kindly checkout of the local politics, it might kill you.
- Have A Simple, Clear System
Whatever the size, whatever the location, any person visiting an Indian shop can know in the first 2 minutes of their presence there the person responsible for receiving money, the one to negotiate with, etcetera.
The process is simple and clear and there’s no signpost to show it. It is an action.
TIP: it is okay to hire several personal assistants at the same time but if the line of command is ambiguous or unknown you are spending in futility.
Some politicians have a certain guy to manage their social media, another to receive and reply phone calls and another to plan their day (meetings and movements.
In the arrangement everyone communicates what they guess is right at that time and end up confusing people.
- Organised, Neat But Ordinary Premises
Some people just over-do stuff, some seem not to understand the whole purpose of the concept.
Most forms of branding (and some forms of advertising) are meant to create awareness but not really cause actions such as voting.
Imagine, can a fully branded car with logos and names of ‘Zeyne Pharmacy’ make you to walk in there and buy medicine for your sick grandmother?
A full-colour branded t-shirt of Café Javas even if given to every resident of Kampala cannot increase the number of people going there for dinner.
TIP: Openly aggressive advertising-kind-of-branding can help a person get known by voters but does not inspire them to vote him or her.
Our humble mums in the village are very unlikely to vote a candidate simply because he or she came around in a 72 seater bus covered with his or her pictures, name and some inconceivable (or meaningless) tagline/slogan like ‘Son of the soil’, who is not?
I didn’t say you don’t need branding, in fact it is the job I do, but I advise that when you have a few coins to put out for it, first think it out well, as real branding doesn’t require so much money but so much actions.
Stephen Obeli Someday