Building strong brands is a way to position for competitiveness – Okupe

Joko Okupe stands tall in the brand management and marketing communications industry with over 30 years of experience. His professional journey which saw him pass through several frontline agencies including- LTC JWT Advertising, Insight Grey Communications, and the establishment of WarRoom and later Soulsight has enriched his knowledge of brand management and communications to a point where he now defends and protects brands, and intellectual properties from infringement, with the establishment in 2013 of Marq Sikyor Africa. He tells Modestus Anaesoronye in this interview what brand protection means and how companies and institutions can protect their brands. Excerpts:

Marq Sikyor Africa recently marked its 10 years of operations, sharing its experience in safeguarding brands and businesses from counterfeiting to infringement crimes.

MARQ SIKYOR AFRICA is a pioneer brand protection and anti-counterfeiting firm providing services to local, international and global brands and businesses, that wish to mitigate counterfeiting and other forms of infringement in Africa. The firm covers the key markets in the continent: East Africa, through their Nairobi operations in Kenya, West Africa, through the Lagos office in Nigeria, and Southern Africa, through the Johannesburg operations in South Africa. “From 2013, when we opened shop, we discovered the trend of counterfeiting and infringement has gotten worst in Nigeria and most countries of Africa. We realized that victims are helpless, not knowing what to do, or where to go for help, when their ideas or brands are counterfeited or infringed upon in other ways by criminals. We also realised that the ignorance gap on brand infringement is wide and yearning to be filled. So, to create awareness, MARQ SIKYOR AFRICA became a necessity to let brands and businesses know that they can get support to fight all forms of infringements in order to safeguard their brands and other intellectual assets in Nigeria and across Africa.

Why do you think this is a need as such? Why do you have to step in, instead of leaving the brands and businesses to solve this problem themselves?

You may also want to ask “Why do brands engage consultants and agencies to work on their campaigns or why do organizations engage the services of Legal or HR Consultants and such other professionals, even though they have in-house units for all of these? Businesses are not trained to protect their brands, so despite that some companies have the unit in their businesses, people in these units still require the support and help of dedicated professionals. Businesses need help in this area, just like they need help in other areas.

Building strong brands is one way to establish the presence of countries in the global market arena and position them for competitiveness, national growth and development. Unfortunately, these companies and institutions do not have the required knowledge and expertise to protect their brands against counterfeiting and identity theft. This is where and why MARQ SIKYOR AFRICA has to step in to help these brands, businesses and organisations.

Could you tell us more about the brand building process and why brands need to be protected?

Having been involved in brand management activities at various levels, I know for sure that the conception, launch, and nurturing of brands, is a time-consuming effort that requires high level of investment over an appreciable period of time. This effort includes but not limited to research and development for product creation, and thereafter for product enhancement. Consider the investment that also goes into the acquisition of machinery for production, the design and production of the packaging, promotional activities and a lot more, all of which combine to build brand equity and ultimately market share.

What is the form or nature of this infringement you talk about?

An infringement is simply an encroachment or trespass on a right or privilege of a person or organization, without their permission. Trademarks, Copyrights, Works of Art and any creation for that matter can be infringed upon. Infringement activities range from outright faking or counterfeiting by manufacturing sub-standard look-alikes, tampering with the quality of the product, unauthorized distribution, sales of the brands, and so many other such destructive activities. No category is exempted. Sadly, most strong brands are counterfeited: food and beverages, beauty and cosmetics, software and hardware, music and movies, literary works, medications, electrical and electronics, automobile and machine parts, building material, just name it.

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So, what is the consequence of these infringements to the brands and the organisations?

The consequences are enormous. Fake products or brands and pirated works cause loyal and prospective customers to be deceived and made to believe that these fake products are genuine. This in turn makes them lose trust in the brand and destroys the erstwhile strong reputations. Moreover, these practices have incalculable loss of revenue for the businesses, are injurious to the health and safety of consumers, affects the growth and development of the economy and in some cases, leads to close down of businesses due to irreparable losses of revenue. Every sensitive, consumer-oriented and responsible business should and must fight counterfeiting and other infringement activities to protect their investments, the reputation of their brands and more importantly the health, safety and satisfaction of their customers.

What is your recommendation for Africa in terms of building strong brands?

African countries and businesses, should as a matter of strategy and urgency, deliberately engage in the creating and building strong brands to enable them establish sources of wealth for their countries and to be counted in the global market place. This is not easy because of many factors including; the cumbersome nature of doing business in Africa, the penchant for consumption of foreign brands by Africans. We tend to derive greater fulfilment from consuming foreign brands and not their home grown versions. This puts a lot of pressure on the already limited foreign exchange of many countries. This is apart from the challenge of the dearth of home grown and culture-centric professionals with the required skill set and expertise in brand building.

If you observe closely, you will discover that of the top 10 most valuable brands in the world, seven are of American origin and are great wealth earners for the businesses and the country. It’s no wonder the USA is at the forefront of championing anti-counterfeiting drive globally. There is a new awakening to the understanding that brands are intangible but incredibly valuable assets to a nation’s growth and development. A school of thought believes that developed economies over-invest in branding compared to developing economies to increase their competitiveness. This is a very wrong and myopic mindset.

To what extent is MARQ SIKYOR ready for this job. What is your experience?

We are ready, to the best of our ability. We are well resourced for the job. We have the repertoire of relevant expertise and experience at MARQ SIKYOR AFRICA, having been involved in the business for about 10 years. Our in-depth understanding of the market terrains, good grasp of the workings of Law Enforcement and Regulatory Agencies, make us surefooted to deliver results in infringement investigations and enforcement matters. Our brand protection investigations cover Anti-Counterfeiting, Anti-Piracy, Parallel Imports, Product Diversion, Trademark Infringement and Product Tampering/Adulteration among others.

Our team possess extensive locally relevant know-how, to provide effective market monitoring, anti-counterfeiting investigations, in-depth market intelligence to provide the information that enhances high impact enforcement actions against brand infringement criminals. All these skills we bring to bear in helping our clients’ counter threats to their brands. Our experience covers FMCGs, Foods & Beverages, Pharmaceuticals and Healthcare, Beauty Accessories, Electronics, Electricals and Software

We have corporate membership of the International Anti-Counterfeit Coalition (IAAC), Anticounterfeiting Collaboration of Nigeria, Strategic & Competitive Intelligence Professional, and World Association of Detectives Inc, all of which help us to be abreast of best global practice standards in the industry.