It is another Wednesday and time for Man Around Nairobi where we interview men who live, work and play in this Nairobi. Our Man Around Nairobi today is Marcus Olang’. Marcus Olang’ is a specialist in Brand Experience Design, a field that focuses on determining and executing how brands best interact with their consumers in the most memorable and effective ways, primarily centred around digital and experiential. He is the co-founder of Stories Of Courage, a space where everyday people share with the world how they take daily decisions in living courageously. Marcus is also well known from his time as the host of the Breakfast Show on 1 FM, and is a Kalasha-nominated TV show host from his work with AfroFuse on Zuku Entertainment.
1. Did you grow up in Nairobi?
I grew up in an area that was then so far removed from the CBD (in terms of accessibility) that it wasn’t considered part of Nairobi: Ruai. That’s where I spent most of my growing up years, although I did have a bit of time in Eastleigh, Kayole and Jamhuri.
Growing up in Ruai was perhaps one of the best things to ever happen to me. Rural electrification was still a rumour then, which meant finding creative ways to entertain ourselves (my brothers and I), as well as kerosene lamp dinners. I think I was most excited when we got a pressure lamp – it was the closest thing to looking like a fluorescent bulb.
I say it was a great thing, having no electricity, because reading became my primary source of entertainment. I fervently consumed every form of written works I could get my hands on – from storybooks, to newspapers, to novels… At some point, I’d read the Bible cover to cover at least three times. Except for the book of Revelations – that was a scary read.
No electricity also meant waiting to get to school on Wednesday morning to hear who the new World Wrestling Federation (as it was then called) Heavyweight Champion was, and having every single detail of the match narrated – and sometimes re-enacted – to you!
2. What you love about Nairobi?
It’s an incredibly dynamic city. People of different strengths, diverse skill sets, unique visions, all working to see to it that their dreams come alive. That’s what I believe Nairobi truly is – not the beautiful infrastructure we have, but the amazing people we are. The street percussionist with an empty Blue Band tin in front of him; the marketing executive racing towards Upper Hill for a meeting with her client; the singer seated at Alliance Francaise putting down lyrics to the tune in his heart; the policewoman on the road praying about how she’ll get fees for the new school term; the activist who believes we can do better as a nation; the mtu wa mjengo walking up Mbagathi Way every morning, hoping to get enough to feed his family for dinner; that student walking into class to get her papers… THAT is Nairobi. The indomitable spirit of her people, the courage it takes to refuse to give up hope… That’s what I love about this city.
3. What would you change about Nairobi?
I’d put everything I have into figuring out how to fix the transport system, seeing as it just makes zero sense. We’re all moving in the same directions, at the same time, thrice a day – morning, lunch hour, evening. Each of us in their own car. Then we all meet at the same roundabout, which inevitably turns into a chokepoint, because who’s going to respect the other’s right of way? No one, seeing as we all want to get their first, as though we’re all in some form of race against each other. And precisely because we all want to get their first, we end up cutting each other off, the result of which is sitting in traffic for 2 hours longer than is necessary. Then we get to wherever it is that we’re going, and we’re all fighting for the same parking spots!
Do you realise how incredibly insane all of this sounds?
4. As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
I love working here! Brand Experience Design is a fairly untapped concept in this market. Very few people understand that in the world in which we live, it’s impossible to dictate what people think of your brand – and that’s where I feel a lot of brands lose the plot. Many brands spend so much time in effort in looking at what others are doing and trying to mimic what worked for others, instead of going through a process of introspection to see what their own strengths and beliefs are. So a lot of my work presently revolves around going through a process of self-evaluation with brand managers and marketing managers: Forget what your competitor did yesterday. Who are you? What do you believe in as a brand? What do you want your consumers to feel about you? Does what you want to do truly deliver on what you hope to achieve? Does it really? Or is there a better way?
Once you understand yourself as a brand, then it’s easy to design how your consumers interact with you in a way that makes them feel valued and appreciated, rather than interchangeable and dispensable. It’s a difficult but very necessary process. Only if you are willing to go through this will you thrive as a brand – otherwise you’ll just be another flash-in-the-pan trending topic, with zero longevity and even less loyalty. Not too many brands currently understand this. Part of my job as a Brand Experience Designer is to help them understand what’s possibly specifically for them. And those that do buy in inspire unparalleled loyalty.
5. If you had a tourist friend coming in from outside the country what three things would you say to sell them the idea that Nairobi is worth visiting.
First off, our growing culture of live art and expression is brilliant. Look at all the activity we have around us: Blankets & Wine is a gem. Koroga Festival is a treasure. We have some of the most gifted musicians in Africa – Elani, Sauti Sol, H_Art The Band, W3NZA, Mercy Masika, Alice Kimanzi, Webi, Noel Nderitu, Blinky Bill… I couldn’t possible them all – and you’d be honoured to witness any one of them performing. The National Theatre hosts a mélange of incredible talent on any given day. The Michael Joseph Centre is fully booked all year round. There’s no shortage of talent to which to bear witness.
Second, there’s Ranalo Foods on Kimathi Street – or, as most of us know it, “k’Osewe”. That’s the one place offers food that feels like it has an African mother’s loving touch. You will never find that anywhere else.
Then there’s iHub and NaiLab. Nowhere else have I seen such a collection of ingenuity in one space. If ever you wanted to see how much promise Nairobi holds in terms of people hungry to make a difference in the world around them, those are the places to visit. You’ll leave inspired.