Managing the Etisalat rebrand thoughtfully.

That Etisalat Nigeria must rebrand is obvious. The UAE’s Etisalat Group has pulled out of the company and written down its value in it to nil. It says Etisalat Nigeria only has a few weeks to use its brand name. Presumably, if Etisalat Nigeria wants to keep using the brand name, it must pay franchising fees. That must be at least a couple of million dollars yearly. We are not aware that this option is on the table though. And if it is, taking it up will be unwise for a business that owes creditors over $680m, the source of its current troubles.

So Etisalat Nigeria must rebrand. And for a number of reasons. It must rebrand out of legal necessity. It must rebrand to reverse customer churn (it’s lost about 4 million subscribers in the last one year. From 22.5 million subscribers in Jun 2016 to 18.5m as at 11 July 2017). And it must rebrand to improve its poor valuation and woo new investors. If it can’t find new investors, it’s assets may be stripped down by the banks and sold to recover their money. No more fourth telecom operator.

But rebranding is one the most difficult and disruptive things a business can do. A rebrand marks the end of a brand as it was. Along with all the equity, brand salience and associations it has built. In a sense, it’s starting all over. The financial cost to rebrand can be huge. You not only have to change the cosmetics (name, logo, packaging), you most likely have to change the body too (business strategy, operations, value proposition). All these come at significant costs and risk.

So how should Etisalat Nigeria go about rebranding?

Well, if it hasn’t already, the company must do a careful brand audit in the limited time it has. What are the category expectations? What are the relevant associations it has or needs to build? What are its distinctive brand assets? What will matter to customers in the next 5, 10 years? What is unique about Etisalat?

Etisalat Nigeria probably has this data lying around somewhere. Now is the time to dust it up and pore over it.

But from the often-maligned ‘common-sense’ perspective, there are some positive aspect about the brand that it may carry forward as it rebrands. These reduce costs, effort and mitigates against throwing away the baby with the birth water.

Below are some of the things Etisalat Nigeria must do in its rebranding.

The Right Name

First, it must start with the right name. Per the ultimatum to drop the Etisalat name in a few weeks, there’s the risk of rushing the naming process. You can hurry the project but bring a lot of brain power to it. One way to do this is to invite five advertising agencies in Nigeria to come up with two brand names each, along with corresponding tagline and corporate identity kits. That’ll give ten options to choose from (which is a lot). Pay the winning entry a one-off fee of N5m. Pay the unsuccessful agencies a comp fee of N700,000. That’ll bring the total cost of the project to N7.8m. A snip.

Why should you pay N7.8m for a name change? Because coming up with the right name is harder than it seems. There’s a science and art to it.

Second, if you were to farm out the project abroad, you’ll pay anywhere between $500K (N183m) and $700K (N257m). And that is for C-rate design agencies. You might probably get some South Africa design outfit for R2million (N48m). You get ‘OK’ designs with a 100-page semiotics. Might as well use Nigerian talents. Some of those chaps are as bright as a button.

Third, the right name means that new investors may not have to rebrand (again). That will save them money. And also give you leverage in getting a better valuation for the company. It is therefore worth the investment.

We can also get into talks about the emotive effects of names.

Ultimately, what you do with a brand name is what builds the brand on the long run. A name is only as powerful as its offering and reputation. But the task is easier with the right name.

Keep Innovation & Youthful Positioning. 

Etisalat Nigeria grew fast because it was seen as innovative and youthful. Many young people (and also the young-at- heart) see it as a ‘brand for people like me.’ It was cool and trendy. It had catchy and urbane-sounding offerings; EasyCliq, EasyFlex, EasyLife, EaszyBlaze, Geek Force.

To keep its customers, it must maintain this ‘cool’ and ‘innovative’ positioning. Its new advertising, brand image, merchandising and public relations must reflect this.

One obvious way to do this is to maintain use of distinctive brand assets. For instance, if it owns the ‘Easy-‘  nomenclature, it can continue to use it in product naming. Those product names refresh the memory structures that enhance brand salience. The colours and packaging will have to change of course.

Another way to maintain continuity is to retain the services of relevant celebrities in its advertising.

But the rebranding also offers the opportunity to address some business and brand challenge.

Address its high pricing.

There’s widespread belief that the brand is unjustifiably expensive. Customers enjoy its superior customer service and perceived faster internet speed. Yet they do not want to pay over the odds for it.

Premium pricing is a viable marketing strategy. But it seldom works in a commoditised market. Which is what telecoms have become. I’ll pay top dollar for a Hermes pocket square, but not for a SIM card. No, not if I perceive the benefit on offer to be similar to competitions’. A premium/higher pricing must be matched with a higher product offering. This ‘higher’ offering must, however, be something the customer perceive, value and is willing to pay for. If the value is only incremental, it may not justify higher pricing from a customer point of view. It seems this is where Etisalat Nigeria has a pricing challenge.

Differentiate from Glo.

The corporate identity of Glo and Etisalat Nigeria centre around the colour green. The Glo’s shade of green is even part of the Etisalat’ colour scheme. That is why it is sometimes difficult to tell a Glo’s ad from an Etisalat ad. At least until the brand names are mentioned or logo is shown. This does not help in building brand distinctiveness.



Unfortunately for Etisalat Nigeria, it cannot ‘own’ the colour green over Glo. Glo is a much bigger spender with a bigger presence nationwide. Anything Etisalat does stands the risk of attribution to Glo (and indeed vice versa). Rebranding offers Etisalat Nigeria the opportunity to move away from colour green and to a fresh identity space.

Since the colour black is also part of its corporate identity, it could try to use that. But then it would be competing headlong with Guinness to own ‘black.’

Opportunity to change the culture.

Internal audience – employees – are often neglected in many rebranding exercises. Save for a few t-shirts and wristbands. Yet it is an opportunity to galvanise employees and rally them behind a new cause and value. It also offers the opportunity to re-evaluate the organisation’s culture and move it in a new direction, if necessary.

Rebranding will always cost some tidy bit of money. But these costs – especially marketing cost – can be minimised. The company has to cut off all marketing ‘fat.’ That is, prioritise projects that are a must-have over projects that are a nice-to-have.

In the short term, Marketing may also have to prune the number of agencies it uses. That is, the agencies it pays retainers.

Management will also have to set up a tight ‘Transition Team.’ A team comprising, Brand, Procurement, HR, Public Relations and Creative folks. They’ll be headed by a VP or GM and report directly into the COO. The team oversees everything. From choosing a name and logo to producing new communication and implementing the new identity across all customer touchpoints. Ideally, the team should comprise both internal and external resource. External resource because internal folks sometimes get too attached to certain aspects of the business that may need to go. External folks also bring new perspectives.

This is the time for Etisalat (or the business formerly known as Etisalat Nigeria) to be extremely creative and distinctive in all it does. It needs to do this to win share of heart and market share. It’s bad enough being the number 4 in the market. It’s terrible being a number 4 losing subscribers. Unusual ideas? Now is the time to invite them in.

Of course, all these rebranding won’t be necessary if Glo, Airtel or MTN were to buy the business. From news making the rounds, $680m should get you 45% of the business. I’ll check my glove compartment to see if I have that sort of cash lying around. I usually keep loose change there.

Oh, I forgot. That sort of cash may be lying around in some people’s homes. Look away now, EFCC. Jobs and lives are at stake here.


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