Brand management and transgressions in politics

There is something abnormal with our politics in Zimbabwe and the various brands that define its architecture. All the indicators are pointing to Zimbabwe as a fragmented state that has failed to perform the basic requirements to its people.

Tabani Moyo,chartered marketer

Professor Jonathan Moyo

Professor Jonathan Moyo

On the other hand, the electorate seemingly retired from active participation, for those who traditionally supported the opposition, while those backing the ruling party are adamant that their party will romp to victory come 2018.
Crisis riddled societies like ours should naturally be mobilised for the ballot to direct politicians on the Zimbabwe that they want rather than the disenfranchisement on the part of the urban dwellers and continued disillusionment for the bulk of the rural constituencies. The majority of the urbanites are tired of routine politics, led by career opposition leaders and wait for a change to the political narrative and scope of societal configuration.

This is happening while the opposition is stuck in the historical achievements and nostalgia. In a way, the opposition is leaving in a self-created bubble of entitlement, in most cases paying homage to false gods. The tactics that the opposition employed in 2000 are still being employed almost two decades on.

With all these strategic changes the opposition still behaves in self-destructive attrition over a non-existent coalition, rather than strengthening its structures and oiling its organisational skills ahead of a general plebiscite. By the time the opposition wakes up from this haggling over non-existent power, the ruling party would have crossed the victory line without a hassle.

While the opposition is stuck in a deep slumber of the yester-years when it was given birth, the ruling party wrongly so, sublimated the state into a center for appeasement, fraud, underhand dealings, “tenderprenuership”, doling out land and other goodies to its structures and encroaching into the urban centers. In doing so, the party has built a new culture of increasing the cost of communicating with communities. This requires a sophisticated opposition to challenge and present an alternative.

Whenever there is need to bring together a gathering to engage in ideas, there is a premium cost of communities asking, “What will you bring us?” They are used to the Zanu PF way of business. This has drastically changed our thinking into a consumerist society without a sense of communal belonging and self-centred behaviour. It is evident in the way we are building massive houses, purchasing high fuel consumption vehicles in a sea of poverty without shame.

The ruling party is regenerating our existence, consciously or subconsciously, we are driven by wealth accumulation, which is unaccounted for. The state is weaker than ever because it has been “plundered” for a sustained 37 years non-stop.

Without the opposition redefining itself as a people’s brand, the ruling party has no barriers to power except if it falls to its own internal dynamics which are borne out of an aged prince refusing to let go the levers of state control.

I will, therefore, focus on the power dynamics in the ruling party and the four key brand management lessons that are emerging for the same among the two major factions, namely, Lacoste and G40, the former being led by the Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa while the latter coalesced around First Lady Grace Mugabe.

In terms of brand management, G40 is running rings on team Lacoste mainly because of the ability to understand the following four brand management variables:

Stand for something and stay on the message: This entails the need for a brand to be rigorous in defining the brand story and what it stands for. It emerges from the fact that the brand has to control its projections for the marketplace to understand what it stands for.

Without knowing it, the Lacoste faction’s brand story has been told through the competing faction in the process guiding the herd to a dip-tank. In that regard, G40’s default spokesperson Professor Jonathan Moyo has shaped the understanding of faction Lacoste, as we know it today. In summary, everyone holds the notion that Lacoste is about undemocratic ascendancy, cruelty and believes in the army dabbling in politics. The faction has fallen into the trap and built the paper trail on all the accusations.

Get brand advocates on board: while the Lacoste faction had the first mover advantage as the league of beneficiaries of state cronyism lined up, it seems the number of internal brand advocates in public officials who sold the gospel of the vice-president as the next president of Zimbabwe are dwindling due to the uncertainties and shifting political tectonics. The supporters who have been all along adamant that their preferred candidate will be on the throne are no longer sure.

The same is true for high-profile Lacoste brand ambassadors in the form of countries such as China, Britain and others were forced at least to rethink their position. In that enveloping mist of uncertainties, G40 introduced a new brand ambassador in the form of Defence minister, Sydney Sekeramayi, and further throwing a cat among the pigeons.

Remain consistent across channels: Lacoste, irrespective of its access to the entire state-owned media infrastructure and almost half the private media, has failed to communicate a consistent message. It is being forced to be reactive through threats of violence by its military proxies.

It seems they are playing well into the trap as Moyo has repackaged them. In a nutshell, Moyo accuses the faction of being short of declaring a coup as in the message of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander, which seem to have a single preferred candidate, the leader of the Lacoste faction. This is their brand challenge; they are failing to contest on ideas, but rather taking a commandeering approach to politics.

Political brands are a product of contestation of ideas. A colleague reminded me that when everyone was jumping ship from the ruling party, the default spokesperson of G40 was forced to take the pen and musical instruments to appeal not only to the mind but to the heart of the party’s superstructure. This is the undoing of the militant faction; in politics, you need to persuade rather than frog-march souls.

The faction had the benefit of mystery when it kept quiet, but became “mortals” by opening too many “mouths”. That is why they are losing on their preferred brand reputation irrespective of commanding three-quarters of the media in Zimbabwe. G40 has maintained a message discipline through its online presence and insisting the supremacy of internal democracy in replacing the aged leader albeit when he decides to leave office.

Remain consistent across channels: Lacoste, irrespective of its access to the entire state-owned media infrastructure and almost half the private media, has failed to communicate a consistent message. It is being forced to be reactive through threats of violence by its military proxies. It seems they are playing well into the trap as Moyo has repackaged them.

In a nutshell, Moyo accuses the faction of being short of declaring a coup as in the message of the commander of defense forces, which seem to have a single preferred candidate, the leader of the Lacoste faction. This is their brand challenge; they are failing to contest on ideas, but rather taking a commandeering approach to politics.

React quickly: The challenge that perpetually hamstrings the Lacoste faction is the inability to respond with speed since it faces the dual crisis of not “existing on paper” at the same time trying to react to the political pressures. That is why they are agenda takers in this whole journey as the other faction creates “false crisis” and the Lacoste comes guns blazing with exaggerated threats of going back to the bush.

The G40 faction has outplayed the Lacoste faction due to its ability to utilise the emerging media platforms and riding on the force of social media to appeal to the younger generation. It has mobilised itself around persuasive ideas of a socio-economic and political order, which is constructed, and organised on its core values of Zimbabwe’s history, constitutional supremacy, generational balance etc.

The Lacoste faction, on the other hand, had struggled to disentangle itself from the brand reputation being presented to the public. More so, its precarious circumstances are made complex by the fact that it has been implicated in a gruesome chapter of organised murder in Zimbabwe in the early 1980s.

The shadow of the mass killings in the Midlands and Matabeleland remains fresh in the national memory to be wished away. Its rivals have managed to properly package this terror image, while the brand drivers have jumped from one blunder to the other by failing to appreciate the fact that this is a contest of ideas rather than entitlement. By threatening violence, Lacoste easily triggers the alleged role of its leaders in the organised mass killings and other terror campaigns that defined Zimbabwe post-Independence.

In conclusion, there is a sad annex of both Lacoste and the opposition being stuck in yesteryear political strategies with the abysmal hope that they will win them political capital.

On the other hand, G40 is re-inventing its public standing while pursuing the ruling party agenda. Though the ruling party has the capacity to hold the centre for the convenient power retention, it faces insignificant opposition from without its structures in the 2018 elections.

However internally, G40 mastered the brand strategy of agenda setting in the party, for political party albeit for narrow political gains. If the opposition is to be awakened from the current deep slumber, the four branding lessons form a good foundation to re-ignite interest among its supports.

Till then, let us hook up every Wednesday on Capitalk FM 100.4 on the programme 1830—1900hrs, The Brand Pulse for high-voltage brand management strategies.

Moyo is a chartered marketer, brand strategist and communications asset based in Harare. — moyojz@gmail.com

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