October 20, 2020

Edo election: Lessons for business managers

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” This paraphrase of the original quote by Nelson Mandela underpins the theme of this write-up. The political language of the recently conducted Edo State election proved to be the decider, hence, in this article, it is used to explain the critical success factors needed for a winning business-customer relationship. The views expressed are dispassionate, non-partisan, apolitical, and only meant for illustration purposes.

The product a business offers can be in the form of goods, which are tangible, or services, which are intangible. Whatever the case, quality and perception of the product in the eyes of the consumer is contingent upon the series of value adding activities the business has put into production and delivery of the final product. These series of activities are what confer a superior or inferior business position relative to competitors in the industry in which the business operates. In line with the popular Michael Porter’s generic strategies, it is recommended that businesses pursue competitive advantage or superior business position using three generic strategies (i) Cost leadership (pursue lower cost relative to competitors), (ii) differentiation (offer unique and delighted products relative to competitors), or (iii) focus (concentrate on particular niche markets).

Whatever the strategy chosen, the expected outcome can be likened to the recent Edo State governorship election which has steered the course of Nigerian politics in a direction many have applauded. On Saturday, September 19, the stage was set for two hugely popular candidates contesting on the platforms of the two biggest political parties in Nigeria, the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party. While the PDP candidate, the incumbent governor, Godwin Obaseki, relied on the goodwill of the people and a backdrop of what many would term a successful first tenure in office, the APC candidate, Osagie Ize-Iyamu, was staking another attempt at the governor’s office, well-armed with political experience, and enjoying the backing of well-known political figures, who many refer to as godfathers. The boisterous campaign, political calculations and miscalculations, suspense, unease and excitement were like never experienced in Edo State since the tightly contested governorship election in 1992 between Chief John Odigie Oyegun and Lucky Igbinedion, with the former emerging as winner.

One mistake some business managers usually make is not taking time to carry out a proper segmentation of their market, and studying the buying psychology of target customers. It can prove fatal for businesses if they fail to consider the psychographic factors associated with their target customers. This is similar to one of the miscalculations made by the APC in a last-minute ditch effort to sway voters. In a video made few days to the election, a national leader of the APC all the way from Lagos attempted to tell the Edo people who not to vote for. This was even more shocking as the popular slogan during the electioneering was, “Edo no be Lagos”, a way of saying no to godfatherism. The video which was widely circulated on social media infuriated many Edo indigenes who are famous for being a proud people. Backed with a rich culture and history, Benin-City, the capital of Edo State, sits at the heart of the Benin Empire which is one of oldest surviving kingdoms in the world and believed to be the cradle of Black civilisation and centre of the world (Edorisiagbon). The building of the Wall of Benin (The Benin Moat), which at a time was reputed to be four times longer than the Great Wall of China, and recorded in the 1974 edition of the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest earthwork carried out prior to the mechanical era, is a testament to the willpower and resilience inbuilt in the DNA of these proud people.

Furthermore, the approaches adopted by the two candidates can be likened to a push and pull business marketing strategy. While a pull strategy aims to attract a customer by selling the unique features of a product, thereby convincing the customer to willingly make purchase and repeat purchases leading to subsequent brand loyalty, the push strategy relies on heavy marketing to inundate and force the customer into making purchase decisions without much thought, hardly earning brand loyalty in the long run. In the election, the PDP candidate, on the one hand, seemed to approach the election using a pull strategy. Armed with the privilege of holding the same office for four years and showcasing what many Edo citizens termed as good governance, he had slowly endeared himself to the people and relied on them to vote for him based on performance in his first tenure in office. Although in the context of electioneering, using this approach alone has proved unsuccessful for some in the past, and might seem inadequate, it is of the belief that the people had reached a point where they would rather not take a gamble. Worse still, many local political actors who erstwhile had been known to pursue self-serving gains, aka stomach infrastructure, were noted to have decided it was time to jettison the thought of sacrificing the future of Edo State on the platform of immediate short term desires. On the other hand, it would seem that the APC approached the election with a push strategy, choosing to be forceful by pushing their candidate on the people. Moreover, although an experienced politician, the people saw him as riding on the back of the so-called godfathers, who were already showing signs of wanting to take up the role of dictating for the people. The election was going to be a litmus test, and the people, characteristic of their nature and rich history, decided not to be subjected to the whims of godfatherism.

In conclusion, it goes without saying that irrespective of the results, a notable attribute worth emulating is the doggedness and can-do attitude exhibited by the APC candidate, who in spite of previous loss at the polls continued to strive for what he desired. Businesses can learn a lot from this, knowing that every rejection creates an opportunity for another day, if viewed with the right mindset. Nonetheless, as a business manager in this current globalised world characterised by an erratic external business environment, knowledge of industry standards, strategic focus on offering delighted and differentiated products, and an understanding of the customers shifting needs are vital to staying in competition. You need to study your customers via strategic intelligence-gathering; this is crucial to proper segmentation of your market, targeting of customers in the desired market segment and positioning your product offerings. The customers are always watching, and whatever strategy you choose to adopt, it is best to speak the target customers’ product language, and run with the notion that THE CUSTOMER IS KING!

Dr. Aigbogun wrote in via [email protected]

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