Van Der Linden is a lover of music and entertainment. As the Marketing Director of Nigerian Breweries, he is a pillar behind all the reality shows and concerts organised by the company. In this exclusive interview, he opens up to Blockbuster on his experiences and challenges as a marketer in showbiz, and of course, the joy of growing talents in Nigeria. Excerpts:
From the Beginning
I have watched Star Quest grow from early beginnings up till now, but you may recall that the first year was in 2002 when KC Presh won. After that, we were out of the air for a while before coming back in 2006. We had reformulated Star Quest to fit the Star brand and started the concert of bands because Star is a sociable brand which brings people together. So, it is not about individualistic music performance, it is about six people from all over the country who have never ever met each other before coming together and making beautiful music. It is about interaction with people which is at the very core of the Star brand. That is why Star Quest fits so well with Star. Star Quest has been very successful; we have measured it every year. We have all kinds of parameters to measure it. So far, every year Star Quest has been exceeding our expectations. Every year, we believe that the programme is getting better and the quality is getting better overall. We are going to continue and I look forward to the final.
On prize money
Over the past years, we have been increasing the prize money. We always take inflation into consideration so we want to make it bigger and bigger. I have not seen any direct proposals to increase the total sum soon but who knows what the future might bring? At this point, I mean at the grand finale today, the prizes that they will win are a brand new mini van, recording contract, cash prize for each group member, musical tour round Nigeria and so on. Those are very big prizes, but I think the most important prize and I hope everybody realises it, is that it is the launch of the musical career of the winning group. And you can ask KC Presh, I think looking back that is what they consider to be the biggest prize and not the cash.
Focus on band
The beauty of the Star Quest concept is that individuals register for the programme and after they have individually proved themselves then they get a very short period of time to form bands of six people. Then the concept of one plus one is three applies because making music by yourself is nice but making music with a group of people is fantastic. I would never want to take that away from Star Quest.
Of course, I am Marketing Director so I am in the business of marketing and what marketing is about is that from a day-to-day basis, every time a Nigerian consumer buys a bottle of Star, he or she makes a conscious decision not to buy another brand. And as a thank you, but also as a stimulus to ensure that every time that a Nigerian consumer makes that choice for you and not against you, you have to give a lot of things back. Star does that by bringing joy and entertainment to people and that is what makes my job interesting.
Winners and careers
All the winners of Star Quest have automatically become members of the Nigerian Breweries family and on Friday evenings after work, we have drinks at the Nigerian Breweries Bar. And I can tell you that all of them including Diamondz, D’ Jewels, KC Presh, etc. regularly come on Fridays to have a beer or a drink with other members of the Nigerian Breweries family. So, we follow them closely, not for a year or two years but for decades and decades to come.
Plans for Star Trek
Right now, we are in the midst of preparation for Star Trek. So, it is fun for me to watch Star Quest but I am already preparing for Star Trek. We have big plans but the only thing I can tell you is that we have new partners on board to make this happen. The other thing I can tell you is that we have a bigger budget this year. That is all I can tell you because I don’t want to spoil that party. We have raised the bar, it’s going to be of a higher level and it is going to have a few surprises here and there. The partners? Yes, it is one big team but also with external partners, some new set of partners that we have brought in with one objective, to put up the best show that we possibly can.
Choosing artistes for our shows
We do that in a few ways. What is very important for us is that we have a database of loyal consumers and we are on a daily basis interacting with those consumers and we ask them questions. So, we ask them for example, which international artiste would you like to see perform at Star Mega Jam? We ask them the same question for Star Trek, who are the Nigerian artistes you would want us to take throughout the country? Based on consumer input we make our top 10 or top five or top three. So, it was actually R. Kelly that consumers for the last four years have been asking to see at the Star Mega Jam. And we have been trying hard for four years and it was in 2010 that we finally got the guy. We keep on going to give what the consumers want because it is really special that on a daily basis a consumer time and time again makes a conscious choice to drink your brand I think it is an obligation to do something for that consumer.
There is a team of people by the way, to whom I need to give credit. I think we are happy with the system because it is open for boys and girls to participate. You have to be older than 18 years but everybody is free to enter. It does not matter whether you come from the Northern, Southern, Eastern or Western part of the country, as long as you have talent. And as long as you are passionate about making music with a group of people, then go for it, and the jury which knows much more about music than I do, will determine if you make it to the last 36. After that what is unique about this show is that it is not Star, not Nigerian Breweries that determines who the final winners will be but the viewers who are the consumers out there. We don’t interfere with that at all. It is the statistics, the amount of votes that determine the winner of Star Quest.
Ruggedman does a very good job and viewers and consumers respond to him very well. I saw him on stage today and I think he is a true professional. I find it very admirable that you can come on stage without speaker notes and you can really entertain the crowd. I think he is doing a good job. So, I am fully in agreement with the choices that have been made.
With regards to music, we have what we call a music triangle which consists of Star Quest, Star Trek and Star Mega Jam. All three are actually interlinked. The idea behind it is that there is so much musical talent in Nigeria and we want to provide a platform for that talent to shine. And what you have here is that we have thousands and thousands of people entering for Star Quest. At the grand audition, we went from 55 to 36 talented young musicians who entered Fameland. We want to give them a platform to be on TV and give them an opportunity to really do what they are passionate about. And I must say that it is also for us at Nigerian Breweries a very thankful and wonderful job because there is so much talent but what we see it that there are many rough diamonds and they get the opportunity in the house to work with musicians to polish themselves so that they become a beautiful jewel, diamonds in the end. I must say that is a very rewarding thing. Once the winner of Star Quest emerges, they automatically hop on the wagon we call Star Trek. It is where we bring the best of the best of Nigerian musicians to all corners of the country which is for them a real podium and they get experience in performing across the nation. They also get to know all the other artistes within the country. We close the year in December during Star Mega Jam, where they get the opportunity to be on stage with the best of international artistes.
Most exciting thing about my job
The most exciting thing and also the most difficult thing about my job are two-fold. One is to always continue thinking as if you are a consumer because marketers have a tendency to think they are very professional and start to think in marketing language. But the whole secret of being a very good marketer is to always be able to place yourself in the shoes of and truly listen to what the consumer wants. That sounds very simple but that is actually very difficult. So, my job is to ensure that we really understand the consumer, what he or she wants; to avoid that all kinds of research, agencies, marketing gurus etc. get in the way of really getting pure information.
The second thing that is very challenging is that I have come to a level now that I can’t do the job of the brand manager anymore. And I still think it is the best job in the world to be brand manager, not to be a marketing director. But as marketing director the challenge is to ensure that you create the circumstances in which you think and perform optimally. So, I have to make sure that my people have the tools, the skills, the will and the knowledge to perform their job as best as they can. And I try to continuously feed them with tools, systems, knowledge in order to function so we do a lot of educational development of what we call functional qualities. At a point in time, you can’t do the work yourself anymore but you have made sure that a lot of the work is done by your team. It is challenging because it means that you have a lot of faith and confidence in other people and that you only get to press a few buttons and get to control the big things. That is not always easy.