Ayodotun Akinfenwa, CEO/Lead Strategist of Lifestyle Hues Brand Consulting is a Marketing Communications Consultant and Corporate Trainer with 14 years of top-notch experience. Before starting on her own, Ayodotun worked in advertising for 8 years, honing her skills in Strategic Marketing, Copywriting, Brand Strategy, and Project Management, working on some of the biggest international tobacco brands and campaigns across Nigeria and in West Africa. In this Chat with Brand Communicator, Ayo Akinfenwa shares insight on those core values and operational philosophies that guided the operation of the agency over the years and some creative innovations she has deployed in recent times.
How will you assess the Nigerian marketing environment and the place of Lifestyle Hues Brand Consulting in contributing to its growth?
The Nigerian marketing environment is vibrant. Despite our economic and political challenges, we still have an ecosystem of businesses, both of local heritage and from foreign investment in the Nigerian market across sectors, Manufacturing, Banking, Telcos, Oil and Gas and beyond. And at the heart of the economy is marketing, the lifeblood of business run by a network of creative and strategy professionals, specialists from Advertising, to New Media to Media Buying. Yes, clients’ budgets are dwindling and more factories and offices are opening in other African countries in our stead, yet we remain a market to watch and emulate on the continent. That said, I will say we have contributed our quota in building brands among businesses that were hitherto unbranded, unmarked, generic, brands whose branding had become stale or that could not access quality marketing support due to budget and other reasons.
Share with us challenges militating against the business landscape where you operate and how your agency has navigated these challenges in the past years?
A lot of businesses do not understand how vital branding and marketing is to their business, they associated branding with only visual elements of logo and colour, when branding is so much more than that. This lack of understanding makes it difficult for them to accept the place of marketing let alone set aside a decent budget for it. On the other hand, the businesses that have an inkling of the returns marketing yields for businesses, in the long run, are not willing to go all out to invest or re-thinking their level of marketing investment. To navigate these challenges, we have learnt to work with budgets and even created packages for businesses, many of which are heavily subsidized. For some businesses, especially the start-ups currently bootstrapping, we recommend they immerse themselves and their staff in some of our Brandi Building and Marketing courses and apply. That was what birthed the training arm of our work at Lifestyle hues Brand Consulting.
How will you assess your agency’s performance in 2020 and 2021 considering the effect of Covid-19 on the general business landscape?
We were impacted, no doubt, because some of our events-related brands shut down completely. Our saving grace was the fact that we deliver over half of our work online, which are also expressed online, we stayed afloat as a result. . We dug our heels in digital marketing deeper with brand launches in 2020. Our training are hosted fully online. Our team has even grown since last year. We are just blessed to be at the cusp of digital marketing this season. Another factor that also helped us in 2020 was the 2019 Tony Elumelu Foundation funding that came in at the start of the pandemic.
What informed the name Lifestyle Hues Brand Consulting, and how has that impacted on the operational structure of the agency?
There’s a funny story behind that! We started as a Lifestyle blog focused on content such as Life and business lessons, personality interviews with people such as Lanre Olusola, Timi and Busola Dakolo, Nathaniel Bassey, Funke Bucknor, and so when we started the consulting, we traded with the same name because we had built quite a reputation in the content space. We also kept the name because we thought it was relevant still. Hues mean colours and lifestyle is about storytelling and so is Branding. Brand building and marketing is definitely about colourful storytelling. To crown it all, our favourite kinds of brands to work with are lifestyle brands (though we do well with others) so it was a good fit.
It has impacted our outlook as a business. We are a boutique agency and we enjoy interesting briefs and brands, even when those brands are in a “boring” sector or category, we light them up with our Brand and Content strategy. We have been known to create Brand Imagery, Content footprints and eventually positioning for and from brands that had absolutely nothing before coming to us.
Share with us the core values and operational philosophies guiding the operation of your agency over the years?
Our approach has always been hinged on professionalism, eclecticism, teamwork, integrity, resourcefulness, and creativity. Our operational philosophy is that if we’re not going to give our utmost best to a project, and by that, I mean our full attention, creative juice, and time, we don’t accept the project.
What competitive advantage does this agency have over others in this industry?
We realize that the marketing space is constantly evolving, this is why we employ a distinct blend of traditional strategy and modern tactics to deliver a superior customer experience every time. Some agencies fall in either faction but we blend the two well. We are also very nimble and hands-on, we are a boutique agency after all.
Kindly tell us some creative innovations your agency has deployed in recent times?
Taking brands from nothing, zero-foot prints in the media and online to full presence is one of our key creative innovations. Many of the brands that come to us, come blank and had no history of marketing and we have gone on to kickstart active marketing for them. We have received requests to recruit marketing teams. Some of the established brands which have been operating do not have a solid brand strategy, brand standards, or marketing plans for their next levels. That’s the real innovation that counts.
How effective are these innovations on the clients’ /brands’ return on investment?
Many of our clients have reported increased patronage income over time, increased opportunities as a result of the visibility generated by working with us.
How is your agency leveraging digital to remain relevant in a fast-evolving industry?
Digital is at the heart and soul of our work. Over 50% of our work with and for clients is expressed online via their website, social media channels, emails, and even with traditional media because for almost every broadcast, new story, interview, we have the online footprints represented as well. Digital is the way of the future in marketing and we at Lifestyle Hues have embraced digital from the get-go. Many of our clients, we have never met in person; for some, we had worked with them on their brands for at least two years before we met physically because they live abroad or in other parts of the country. As a team, we fully optimize content creation and management software as well as mobile apps that help us stay productive and connected wherever we are. We host meetings, pitches, and events virtually as well as invest in continuous professional development. He held our very first virtual brand launch in February this year.
Also, while we started by hosting team training physically, a majority of our programmes and webinars are currently hosted online and students from different parts of the world have attended them.
We recently revamped our website and made it ‘smarter and more mobile-friendly. We are always present across social media platforms, sharing valuable content and engaging with followers and prospective students. We are fully digital.
What should we look out for from the stables of your agency in the rest of 2021 and moving forward to 2022?
I like to say to my team that the last five years have been a dress rehearsal. We are looking forward to creating Marketing and communication campaigns that are truly creative, disruptive, and phenomenally executed. We are also looking forward to launching more bigger and better brands and championing thought leadership in the Brand building space, especially in the digital space.
You have a unique training unit in your organisation, there must have been two or three experiences that motivated you to come up with this initiative. Can you share them?
The training were birthed from our discovery that a lot of SMEs don’t have operational budgets that can accommodate branding or marketing campaigns, so in a bid to help them do it themselves, we created such programmes as our Branding and Marketing for Profit and Canva for Business courses, to teach them how to plan and execute some level of branding and marketing campaigns without recourse to our agency, or any other agency for that matter.
Please can you take us through the entire concept behind the training and branding programmes, and the form of impact you have made in the industry?
Several business owners own their craft but have little or no knowledge as to how marketing works, and marketing remains critical for their business. For the longest time, we had several business owners who could not afford to have us on projects and retainers come to us to consult for them. We then decided to set up the different programmes teaching Brand Building, Marketing Management, Content Strategy and Development, DIY Graphic Design i.e Canva. I happen to be a Canva Certified Creative (An global ambassador programme set up by the Canva Managementgt for trainers and creatives with a track record in training).
We have trained at least 10,000 individuals including business owners, corporate staff, youths, and more via our free and paid sessions both online and in person.
Marketing Communications is expected to adjust remarkably as the economy opens up for the post COVID 19 period. In what areas in Nigeria do you feel the biggest adjustment will be and how can players position themselves to exploit this?
The biggest adjustment is already happening, and by force due to Covid. Many businesses with little or no presence and customer engagement/service online had to move quickly to stay in business. Digital marketing, beyond just communication, has become a necessity. Customers/Clients can also be served online in some sectors, we have seen doctors consulting with patients online, university lectures and graduations held online, and much more. If the Pandemic ever had an upside, this would be it and many businesses around the world have seen the benefits and opportunities that come with being digitally-enabled organisations. For example, not every travel or in-store experience is necessary for effective service.
The onus is on Nigerian businesses to adopt a “Phygital” approach to serving customers. As the name implies, it is a hybrid, a blend of physical and digital experiences. Clients/Customers can be served in a lot of cases using this approach to get the same results and possible record savings in business overhead.
It seems the marketing communications industry has not been comprehensively committed to the task of developing the human capacity of its players. Which areas do you feel the industry should focus more to boost human capacity development in the sector?
The industry has proffered some support so far but I would recommend, we bolster training, create more internship and mentorship platforms to groom young creatives. I know some agencies have had management trainee programs to groom rounded professionals from entry-level. I believe more industry players should adopt this.