A highly motivated and performance-driven, entrepreneurial marketing professional with many years of continuous advancement and expertise in brand and trade marketing, sales and merchandising, Rosemary Akpo, Marketing Director, Suntory Beverage and Food Nigeria Ltd gives her best, always.
In this exclusive interview with MarketingWorld, the strategic marketer shares on Suntory’s investment in Nigeria, CSR’s initiatives, consumers’ influence and many more. Excerpts…

What prompted Suntory’s investment in Nigeria?

I am sure in addition to that question; you would like to ask why Suntory is investing in Nigeria at a time when the country is just emerging from recession. It may interest you to know that Suntory as a business had, before now, been scoping Nigeria for a while. The global business had been prospecting and researching Nigeria before acquiring the brands.

Before and after acquisition, the Suntory Group has expressed and demonstrated confidence in the Nigerian market, which is confirmed by their stressing the importance of having Nigerians in the Suntory Nigeria leadership team. I am a Nigerian, the MD is a Nigerian, and 90% of our leadership team is Nigerian. They believe that this crop of leadership is well able to take advantage of the enormous potential for growth that is waiting to be harnessed. For me, this is a very strong statement of purpose for doing business in Nigeria, and it brings our mission – ‘Creating Harmony with Nature and with People’ – to life.

What is your assessment of the marketing landscape in Nigeria?

The marketing landscape in Nigeria is evolving very fast. A couple of years back, there were very few players, and it was very much led by the manufacturers. Today, marketing activities are largely consumer-led. It is simply an era of consumerism, where the consumers tactically determine and control what they want. Another major factor that is impacting the marketing landscape across the world is the internet, particularly the social media. Today, consumers are spending more time on digital media. They are on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and many other platforms. So, the marketing landscape today is very dynamic, more than it has ever been. Before now, a lot was done on television, radio and billboards but now any discerning company will be concerned about how well they are doing with the digital natives and the millennials who are shaping the global marketing landscape.

Do you think technology influenced this or what?

Yes, technology has a major influence but it must also be noted that today’s consumers are more knowledgeable, more in tune with what they want, and more in tune with themselves than ever before. What you find is that even with brands like Ribena that targets very young kids, the children know what they want. So as a marketer, your role is to continue to be dynamic, keep up with the times and listen. You ask – ‘What are your consumers saying’? It is very important you listen and pay attention.

So how do you listen?

We listen through different methods. We listen by conducting market research. We listen by going out and talk to our consumers. We listen by observing, by reading reports, and by being consumers ourselves. Sometimes, marketers forget that it is not only about what they say or how they present their content.; Modern day marketing goes beyond that. For instance, some of the brands I manage target women. Occasionally, I situate myself in the position of a mother so I can understand what may be the mindset of my target audience. I often ask myself if I will be open to buying such a product and what my response may be. These are ways modern marketers assess and evaluate their markets to get the best of it.

Who are the consumers that have influenced your own market?

That may be explained in terms specific brands. Lucozade and Ribena are the two brands of Suntory Beverage & Food in Nigeria. By virtue of the specification of their target audiences, we employ different strategies for marketing each brand. Lucozade targets young adults while Ribena targets kids and their mothers who are the decision makers. It may be easier to get across to a six-year old through his or her mother because the mother essentially decides what to buy. Therefore, for the two brands, the influencers will definitely be very different. For Ribena, we have a dual strategy where we go after the mothers but also make sure that it is appealing to the kids. For Lucozade, the target who is a young adult, probably an undergraduate or an apprentice takes decision to buy the drink himself because he is quite independent; hence our strategy for him will be different from that of Ribena.

Essentially, as a brand, we strive to find the right balance between creating fun for the kids while we also endear the mothers to making the decisions with a conviction that the product is good for their children. If we can find that right balance, then we have won the game on both sides, as the mother will not have any reservation when the child asks for Ribena, while the mother also sees Ribena as the healthy and fun drink that is best for her kid.

What CSR initiatives do you have at Suntory?

Well, first of all, let’s start from the fact that Suntory Beverage brands, Lucozade and Ribena were originally from GSK Consumer Nigeria Plc and the brands are very well established in this market because they have been here for over 30 years. Suntory as a company only started operations officially in Nigeria on 1st October 2016. Our CSR strategy is still very much work in progress. On our website, our CSR slogan is “Follow Your Nature”. We have localized our strategy to adequately take care of our local market and have also gone ahead to start some intervention programmes around water and environmental sustainability before we commence full implementation. From time to time, we make product donations, including an occasion to people in IDP camps in some parts of the country. We are involved in water projects in Agbara, making portable water available to people within our host communities from our plant. We also have the water brand; you already know that had been part of our Lucozade portfolio.

Apart from Lucozade and Ribena, which have a considerable market share, what are your plans to introduce other Innovative products?

As you already know, Suntory is one of the leading beverage companies in the world, being 3rd after CocaCola and Pepsi. As number 3, we definitely have a wide range of products in our portfolio that are in the pipeline. Our immediate plan is to continue to establish and build market share for Lucozade and Ribena in Nigeria. In the mid to long term, we plan to introduce products from the global portfolio. However, these products will be introduced only after consumer insight is obtained to ensure they fit the local consumer expectations. Afterall, these are the people that will make the purchasing decisions. So, watch the space.

How do you juggle office and home?

I can say that I am coping well. I have been doing this now for nearly 20 years and I am fortunate that there are many things working for me personally. I have somehow managed to find the right balance and a way to integrate both roles. I don’t believe there is anything like work life balance. I don’t think you will ever find a balance. I would rather say I have perfected the art of work-life integration. I have integrated my life and my work together.

First of all, I work on brands that I love. I also love working in Suntory because it is very accommodating and family oriented. Sometimes, we bring family along on retreats. The company is very accommodating of the fact that I am a woman and that I have a family and responsibilities.

Could you describe yourself in 3 words?

I am passionate, I am ambitious, and I am driven by my desire to succeed.