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Avant-Garde Brand Solutions: The Evolution of GDM Group In Connecting Brands With People


By Janet Udogu




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While some firms pride themselves at being the best in what they do, others have with mastery taken it a notch higher, by weaving these different areas of unique business strength and specialization to form one formidable company and with considerably more output. It is beginning to dawn on us all however, that, brands nowadays prefer one stop shop for their marketing problems to literally running from pillar to post.
Generating Demand Management Consulting, GDM, was incorporated in June, 2009 with a vision of becoming a frontline marketing consulting firm in Nigeria. The experiential company finally commenced operation in January, 2010, as GDM Direct, a below-the-line, BTL, agency, and within a short time established itself as a leading experiential marketing firm, delivering solutions to clients in a precise, professional and efficient manner.
However, GDM in 2016 started what they termed an evolution and as a result has finally transformed from GDM Direct, a BTL company into GDM Group, a full marketing firm. In an interview granted to Brand Communicator Magazine recently, Victor Afolabi, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, GDM Group, stated that the company has fully metamorphosed from a BTL company into a brand solutions company. Afolabi added that the change did not stop at the organisation’s structure but has obviously trickled down to their logo and their essence; ‘creating a strong connectivity between the brands and people, with a measurable Return on Investment (ROI).’
“Clients demand that marketing agencies focus more on ROI. They want to see specifically, the output of their expenditures. And there is no place you can measure it more than in Below the Line, because it is direct marketing. So we felt BTL should be at the fore front of that new call and twist for the expectation of marketing.
“Our evolution meanwhile, commenced last year when we started restructuring our business model. And like every business ought to closely re-evaluate itself from time to time, we did. We needed to revisit who we are. We wanted to re-access and fully wrap our heads around our very core because only then can we offer our clients the best solutions.
“So the need to create a connection between brands and people led us into redefining ourselves and going beyond BTL. Over and above creating connectivity, we offer connectivity that has brand value, connectivity that is measurable, and connectivity that is in alignment with ensuring that we give our clients clear cut ROI.
Going forward, Afolabi said, “The new essence of the group will be witnessed in all the innovations, initiatives and activities that will be coming from our stable.We were known to be GDM Direct, a BTL agency, but we’ve transformed holistically, from our logo, to our essence, to becoming the GDM Group, a full marketing firm”.


Victor Afolabi, MD/CEO, GDM Group.


Significance of the New Logo

The new logo basically talks about connectivity and it is a journey in progress. On the left hand side of the logo are all the media platforms ranging from the radio, outdoor, You Tube, Twitter, Mobile Trucks, and all other forms of media. And on the right are the people, one customer at a time. The two fingers touching each other symbolically explain the concept of connecting brands with people, one solution at a time.
According to the Managing Director, the colours, grey and blue signify their top line which he said is also a function of their contextual thinking. He further explained that grey and blue have always been their colours. Grey allows one to properly situate a solution and challenge, he emphasized.
“The grey mindset as it were, implies that your mind is not pre-conditionally made up, and you are coming with an open mind. And to create that top line solution for organisations, we need to have the grey mindset,” Afolabi said.
Interestingly, the group however, has introduced also in their logo a red speckle at the centre of the blue coloured “O”. The red speckle is like a pebble that has been thrown into the blue (ocean), causing a splash. The GDM Helmsman explained that the speckle is basically showing how the company wants to spread out. He asserts that, “a new pebble has been thrown inside us and we are creating a splash across the entire marketing sphere. The pebble has thrown up a lot of things that has been bottled inside us. The splash is a sum of the values that we will be adding to brands and the people. “


GDM Group Divisions

GDM Group is made up of seven divisions that carter for every part of clients’ needs. The company in other words, has broken down its marketing operations into Seven Value Drivers or divisions. The seven divisions include Engage, Retail, Creative, Analytics, Digital, Shopper and Source.

GDM Engage handles to a large extent, the group’s engagement, connectivity, exhibitions and direct marketing.
Most times there is so much noise around a brand and or product but the said product is actually not available at the retail end. Afolabi attributes this challenge to the fragmented retail landscape which he said makes it difficult for clients to get their products out to the retail landscape. But in order to ensure that products are made available for the final consumers, GDM introduced the GDM Retail, an extremely retail -led division, to handle the retail challenges brands are facing.
He added that through the retail, the company has employed technological tools which have helped them to enumerate consumer touch points and also build data base for brands. He added: “To offer our clients’ retail key solution, we engaged in recruiting people with competence that were exceptionally retail and sales focused. We have created a data base of relevant retail outlets and detailed geocoded records. We wanted to shorten the time it takes our clients to get into the retail space which is where they can have the final encounter with the consumers,” the CEO reiterated.
GDM currently on its data base has 750 thousand retail outlets with their phone details and 4400 field retail staff (foot soldiers) that can grant them access to any part of the country and also help them in creating the necessary presence for the brands they work with.

GDM Retail is the mother body of Retail Express which serves as a connectivity in communications, while also creating physical bridges between the brand and the people. Retail Express covers the logistics, which involves retail trucks provided by the company to get products to the final consumers.
“Many of the clients are not willing to create the infrastructural support for the distribution of their products so, we decided to step in. Currently we have about 50 trucks that are distributing products and ensuring listing, we are at the pilot stage; bearing in mind that we are just about 3 to 6 months into this project. We are currently in Lagos but we hope to spread out to five major cities in Nigeria including; Kano, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, and of course, Lagos.

GDM Creative is a strong division of GDM that basically handles the ideas and strategies of the group. The company believes that strategic direction is essential to every successful business, so she has over time built a competent in-house team whose job is specifically to evaluate brands and create the right ideation.

GDM Analytics is a team with the sole responsibility of analyzing brands; their run rates, job sizes, nature of their products, including the consumer purchasing habit. Analytics is research oriented.GDM Analytics therefore provides clients with such information and proffer right solutions.

As E-commerce is evolving, the consumer space is always changing with every passing second. GDM Digital therefore focuses on dragging a lot of value for clients via digital media. With the current phase of the internet, clients to a large extent rely on digital.

GDM Shopper chiefly focuses on offering solutions to clients in the shopper marketing. The shopping environment in Africa is quite different from most shopping environments in the developed countries. GDM Shopper therefore, creates a balance by introducing unconventional executions. The division equally provides a strategic focus, understanding and engagement for the shopping environment. It creates shopper oriented and shopper focused activities around the point of sale.




The Journey So Far

Looking back at 2009 when GDM Direct was established, the Managing Director recalled that there was no ingenuity in the marketing communications sector and the sector at the time lacked fluidity in creativity. He also recollected that things looked like they were permanently etched in stone. They therefore, felt the need to chart a new course. He reiterates: “8 years ago when we came into the marketing communications market, we picked a segment, BTL, because we felt that we have something unique to offer there. But when we came in, the segment was to a large extent fragmented, and unstructured; there was no barrier of entry, very little differentiated one agency from the other. The Clients Service Operations’ traditional way of doing things was frustrating the people; the status quo was stifling growth. So we needed to change the business landscape.”
According to Afolabi, GDM was the first to drive and launch the concept of project. Coming from a strong FMCG background where he had carried out a huge project across West Africa, Afolabi thought that all marketing executions should be seen as projects. The GDM boss believes that “the world has moved on to the era of projects in marketing activities.” He thinks that every marketing execution should be projectised.

“We now have Project Managers and Project Leads. These are individuals that have end- to- end marketing experience. So, the same person that gets the brief, interprets the brief, offers ideas to the client, coordinates the execution on the field, does the report, closes out, does the reviews and is practically the single point of contact to the client. And that to a large extent improved the business dramatically.
“This has helped us to rise astronomically in the industry- It took us only five years to become one of the top five agencies in the industry. We are always painstakingly selective of our human resource. We go for cerebrally sound minds that can clearly understand and speak the language of the client,” Afolabi said.


GDM YouTube Channel

The GDM Chief Executive Officer has revealed that GDM will be launching their YouTube Channel soon. All of their activities including their activations will be displayed on the YouTube channel for people to see and get ideas. The group will also be leading a lot of communication and driving a lot of contents on the channel. The medium will create connectivity for brands by getting people to see their works.
“We think that people need to learn from the kind of execution that we’ve done. The content will sure keep people riveted to the channel. We will be focusing on content, interactive content; interviews, and educative content to bridge the gap in terms of business management and marketing in the industry.
“Beyond GDM exhibitions, you are going to be seeing also exhibitions across Africa. It is going to serve as a veritable learning platform for people who are coming behind in the industry to draw from our wealth of experience and our global partners. We are trying to create something that is like a forum where people can see, learn, and get inspiration.
“A lot is already happening on our website though, which people can attest to but we feel that the You Tube channel will be a lot more beneficial. We have contacted journalists and brand writers who will be supplying us contents on the channel. So, it is going to be more informative than entertaining,” the CEO explained.


Retooling and Refining of Workforce

L-R: Akinola Adeola, Group Human Resource Manager, Peter Olaonipekun, Head, Internal Audit, Omolabake Yussuff and Oluwabukola Oreofe, Chief Finance Officer all of GDM.


Recruiting a staff you can bank on with your eyes closed in this day and time of abysmally unemployable certified university graduate job seekers is no mean feat. Not to talk of retaining and retraining of your reliable old war horses who are in a hurry to leave in droves at the first sign seemingly better paying jobs.
For current and future task that lies ahead of the company, the GDM head stated: “There’s been a huge transformation in the last one year. I mean we told our guys to shape up or be ready to be shipped out. Half of our management team has gone back to school. Not going back to school for academic purposes but they have gone back to retool.
“A number of them are currently in the school of media communications. And we are about recruiting more people with strong business management expertise and understanding of marketing operations which is a strong combination of sales, marketing and finance. We believe that a combination of those make a good business person. Consistently, we have been doing extensive back to back training for top management across the business.
“On the average we are 75 in number, full staff. We are still recruiting but we are likely to be in the neighbourhood of a hundred as we enter 2018. We have 1650 staff on the field as we speak working on different brands for clients.”



Afolabi further revealed that the next phase of evolution for the group will be for all the subsidiary companies of GDM. Meanwhile, for clients who want to make use of a one stop shop in carrying out all their marketing activities, the group is capable of handling their various needs.
“All the subsidiary companies that are coming together to form the GDM Group are the equity partners of the group but the flagship will be GDM as a group. Though the companies are not the focus for now but they will eventually be coming with their different specialties as equity partners to form the group structure. Some will be signing up as digital firms while others will be signing up as PR firms, but the different divisions will be offering different specialized functions to different clients.
Speaking of their plans to expand to other countries, Afolabi mentioned that they have done different activations in Ghana last year and key activations in Cote D’ivoire in the month of September. He added that they will be going to Kenya before the end of the year and they hope to move into other Eastern and Western parts of Africa.
Projecting for the next five years, the Chief Executive Officer sees GDM Group becoming a very strong and dominant African player in the marketing operations space. He equally sees GDM as “becoming a strong proudly African marketing firm with its roots in Nigeria, driving huge connectivity between brands and people as well as creating strong strategic partnerships with brands in the African space.”


Through sheer hardwork and tireless dedication, GDM Group recently won a Gold medal at the inaugural edition of EXMAN awards for its work on ‘Smirnoff/Guinness/DJ Spinal Launch’ in the best use of digital in Experiential Marketing Category, a Silver medal from its work on the Guinness/Orijin Experience campaign in the Best Customer Activation (BCS) Category and a Bronze in the Best Event (B2C) Category for its work on ‘Nescafe/Get Started Tour’.
“We won a Gold medal at the EXMAN maiden award that took place recently, for the best activity that was able to use Digital Amplification for a brand engagement. The Gold medal was a testimony to the fact that we have made a radical departure from the traditional way of activation to our essence which is of connectivity,” he stated.
GDM Direct in 2015 also won Marketing Edge Outstanding Experiential Agency of the Year award, amongst other numerous awards.



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