Akonte Ekine, is the Lead Strategist, Absolute PR Limited, a reputation management firm and the Co-Founder Consumers Value Broadcasting Ltd, a platform that is promoting the Consumers Value Awards, the first of its kind that is putting the power of brand validations in the hands of consumers.
Consumers Value Awards is an online periodic award program held in Nigeria to honour and acknowledge innovators, corporate organizations, technology entrepreneurs, professionals, inventors, academicians, and policymakers (government).
In this interview with MediaConsortium at his Ikeja office, Akonte said the goal is to promote and recognize outstanding contributions of Nigerian entrepreneurs to the development of a sustainable economy and to encourage local practitioners to develop innovative and creative ideas that will enhance economic growth locally and internationally. Excerpt:
About Consumers Value Awards
Consumers Value Awards is an attempt to celebrate brand from the perspective of the consumers. Looking around the market space we realized that there is much celebration of individuals and not products and brands. I see PR Man of the year, Governor of the year, Marketing Communications Director of the Year, Media Personality of the Year, and we ask ourselves a question, the things that make those people great, nobody seems to validate those things. What are those things? They are brands.
Now, these brands also need some level of recognition because the recognition you give to a brand is what the consumers take to the market. In our market for instance, we have a major challenge, which is the prevalence of fake and people are left to go to the market to discover the fake and then go home to cry to either Federal Competition & Consumer Protection Council (FCCPC) or any other regulatory agency. So, we thought to ourselves, maybe we should try and create something that consumers themselves can try to validate the quality of products in terms of usage, and that is why for the first time we have consumers that are validating products.
The website is www.consumersvalueawards.com and we are in a tech space now. The idea is that, how do they say one man is the best PR person in the world? Show me the jobs that the man did. Absolute PR enabled Unilever at a point to win third place in Africa, the agency did not get any recognition for the project, the recognition went to the brand. The same Absolute PR at a point brought out 50,000 children together to wash hands for the first time ever and that entered the Guinness Book of Record. We did not get any recognition for all that, those are substances that will validate or aid efficiency and now we have said to ourselves, since we are in the market place where we don’t see people to talk about some of these things. Let us create something that will be validated by the consumers.
Now, you go to the website and say if you think this product is good just vote for the product. Or you think this product is bad within your space vote that it is bad. It is a national thing not limited to Lagos. I got people from Port Harcourt, Owerri and even Kano voting. Someone even called me from Kano to say they did not see their brand there and I responded that their brand is there. And it is people who nominated these brands. It is a first of its kind so we take learning as we continue.
So you go to the website, you vote and to be able to vote, you must enter your email address because an OTP will be sent to the voter, that OTP will validate the identity and then, enable access to vote. You can only vote once on a category. And there are about 30 to 35 categories. The idea is that you vote to validate depending on your experience which will not be the same as another man’s experience. We expect the experience to vary and if you go to that same website, you will see the way people are responding. In certain category, the brands that we thought should be doing well are not even doing well. Of course, that is subject to the people that are voting and we will use that as parameters to say that these are the brands of Value at this point in time in this year for the exercise.
Number of brands involved
On the average in each category, we have about 35 categories, and the average we have in each category are 3- 4 brands and the only reason we are doing this is because we are testing the water. How did we arrive at this brand coming on board? you see that visibility is very key and it shows in brands that are investing in their presence in the market place. We went into certain malls to see activities and we observe consumers behaviours with the brands in terms of how they pick brands.
We thought that if people are picking these sets of brands, we need to put them on board for people to see. We asked a set of people at the mall questions like why did you pick these brands as against these? And collated their responses. Yes, you might say it is a subjective exercise but, in this world, you are either subjective or objective. The most important thing is that we want to validate certain things and you should know that at the end of the day, I will expect people to criticize and also comment on what we are doing, endorse or praise us for attempting to put standards in the market place.
We want to associate with Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) you see Nigerians go to the market to buy fake tyres, but what happens to you after that? Nothing. You buy fake drugs what happens to you after that? Nothing. But, if a consumer like you feel you can validate a product you are not likely to go to the market and buy that product that is the essence of what we want to try and achieve with this project.
Difference between Consumers Value Awards and other awards
First and foremost, ours is Consumers Value Awards. The key word here is the value and the owner of the value is the consumer. The only reason a consumer is validating a product is because he has an experience with the product and we are doing this because we have a platform called Consumer Value Broadcasting ltd. It is not an Absolute PR project, it is a Consumer Value Broadcast project.
Consumer value broadcasting is an evolving platform that is going to take the conversation of the consumers to the world and the consumers will be speaking to themselves either for or against. The difference here is that, we are talking about the value and the experience of the consumer and we are sharing it with the public and we are not entering as an individual product, it is the consumers in the market place that are validating and nominating brands to qualify. So, if you go to the site: www.consumersvalueawards.com and you see the brand that are listed there you will agree with me that they are all brands that have delivered value at certain times and the competition that consumers have unknowingly created among themselves.
It is amazing some of the eye-opening experiences we encountered in the course of putting the project together. For example, we realized the availability of certain brands in some specific market and so on. We have a small focus group where we asked people to share and gather information. What we did both as individuals and as a business entity is asking people to come and nominate brands and upload into the website. At the outset, we wrote every CEOs not Marketing Directors of these companies that are nominated and informed them of the voting starting May 1st to June 1st and to crave their indulgence to also solicit for votes for their brand.
Funny enough, and because I have some level of relationship with some PR and Marketing agents, I called individuals to equally inform them of our letters to their CEOs. Now, we did that because we want everybody to have an edge that if you walk in business A and you hear that somebody is going to vote for business A, you should naturally participate but that is not what we found out. Some people just felt that, well, if they are good, they are good. And our structure is clear, you can only vote once per category. So long that you provide your email address and you are provided with that OTP, you can only vote once, if you put that email address again, for that same brand and the same category, it will tell you that you have voted already. That is one of the ways we use to checkmate people and I think by and large the responses have been good and we hope that it will be better. Which is why at the end of the first month we announced the result to let people know that this is on and after the second month we will announce the results again.
About grand finale
It all depend on the level of interest. Our desire is that at the end, sometime in August, we will recognize the brands for their success or failures that will be recorded. We will have a short impactful event where we will only recognize the brands, we will also recognize regulators that are also contributing to the consumers experience. For instance, the Federal Competition & Consumer Protection Council (FCCPC), National Lottery Commission among others are good regulatory agencies. Our idea is to look at these regulators and also commend them for what they are doing and among the plan is to have an evening of glamour for brands to come and be celebrated and awards will be given to them.
Expansion of scope
In everything we do, I believe in starting small. There is no point in just trying to scale up at the beginning. This is our first attempt in giving value to certain things, a major attempt at that. Let me point out that, there are regional brands. I happen to come from a state – Rivers State, where some alcoholic beverages in that region – south-south, south-east are not thriving in south-west. So, there is a different perspective to this conversation that we want to go into.
The first thing is that, lets test this water, if the consumers all embrace it and help us in defining the quality of the products in the market place and we have regulators that does embrace it, there is a value that will be bringing – which could lead to regional champions in our categorization. For example, in the foam industry, there is something about Royal foam vs Vita foam which are keen competitors but if you go to the North, it is Royal foam that you will see and in the south West, you will see Vita foam and Mouka foam and the rest competing meanwhile, there is a place where the market is so big that one cannot even come into.
So, you look at that in the area of regional situations. Be it in the detergent market and other market, the story is still the same. But in the middle of all these things brands must be able to tell themselves that they are doing well. Consumers must be able to validate that this brand is good. So, what we are trying to do is that there is marketing war daily and we want to join the marketing war and bring consumers to the market to say this a good brand. And if a brand is not good, they should be able to go back to the drawing table and be better.
There is something that Nigerians don’t understand, which is, one of the eight rights of the consumers is that, consumers must be involve in product and policy formulation. We want to create a conversation that will make manufacturers involve Consumers in product and policy formulation. These days it takes courage to go to the market again because of the presence of fake products. The pharmaceutical industry is one of the most disastrous places when you talk about fake products. So, we want to invalidate some of these things. It is a project that, we are not going to sit down on our own and say this is it or that. We are saying that at the end of the day consumers have spoken and manufacturers will take it past where you just create a product and throw it to the consumers, and that is the beauty of the technology that we are using.
Between essence of the project and validation of brands by Consumers
When consumers vote for brands, they are simply saying the brands are good that is simple! We are just saying that consumers are saying that, this brand is good without compelling them to do so. With this, we are even helping the brands to get endorsement from the consumers at the end of the day without paying for it. Without doing anything extra ordinary because it is a testimonial from the perspective that these brands are good. And what I will expect as an individual is that, the average brand owner will wear its badge of honour to collect these awards.
Conversation after validation
I expect the brand managers to be smarter enough to know what to do with it. Very simple just go to town and celebrate that consumers validated their brands. It is not me but the consumers that will validate and what we have done at consumers value broadcasting is that we have created a platform for consumers to add value to the brands. So, we say we want to celebrate brands, people and consumers. It is simply providing a platform for brand owners to market their brands.
I have been asked this question several times and I kept saying to myself why are we always considering cost first? Why cant we look at it from a social investment or social conversation angle more than anything else? Let me give an experience, we have a client who is based abroad, a Nigerian who almost died from the consumption of a fake pharmaceutical product, that experience made the client to design a scanner to fight fake drugs. And he is doing everything to ensure that once you buy a drug you can test the quality of the drug by using the scanner. My message is that, we are in a society where people work hard to earn money and use the money to buy things that should naturally heal them yet, it kills them. So what we are trying to do in consumers’ value broadcasting is an aggregate of ideas that we can create something for people to say this is good to stay with, this is bad, don’t go near it.
We need to build a reputation as an entity and with Consumers Value Awards, and we are saying there is integrity in the market, we need to interrogate and ascertain such integrity. If I say this product is good it means it is good not because I have power, but because collectively people in the market place have been able to validate the strength of that product. We have not asked anybody for money but we have created a platform which we feel that if one thinks it is good enough, vote on it.
Level of voting
The voting started May 1st and it will last for the duration of three months. But, at the end of the first month of voting we released the results, in which we picked brands that led in the Finance/Banking, Telecoms and Beverage. In the second month, we will pick another set of brands who will lead in their segment. What we will not release is the final results of the third month. The third month will be the grand finale where the final results will be announced and awards will be given to winners accordingly.