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Year In Review: What a Difference a Year Makes

What a difference a year makes.

It’s quite amazing how simple those words are and yet how true they ring at the turn of each new year. Around this time last year, I was in the second month of my business, with was the result of a leap of faith, and had just written my first blog for this website on how passion led us here. Back then, I approached the coming new year that would soon dawn with mixed feelings of excitement and fear. On the one hand, I was elated and enthusiastic about the beginning of what would be a great adventure courtesy of my venture into entrepreneurship--the launch of Enrich My Brand, my very own creative and marketing agency. However, on the other hand, I was afraid, as most daring entrepreneurs are (whether they admit or not); I was fearful of the unknowns that lied ahead of me in the new year.

Although I would soon land on my feet so to speak thanks to a deal I made with my former employer--the company from which I resigned to undertake this new endeavor, the fantasy of peace of mind would soon give way to the reality of the struggle of entrepreneurship. Several months into launching my agency, I would experience the cold, hard truth that is the difficulty of gaining traction in the market, and the perennial uphill battle that is client acquisition. Before long, I found myself not owning a business, per se, but being owned by a business, spending countless hours hustling and bustling as a ‘solopreneur’ taking two steps forward and one step back, only ever making incremental progress.

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Was I frustrated? Yes. Defeated? Never. Around the half-way mark of my first year in business for myself, I did some introspection, and it dawned on me how exhausting it was getting a new company off the ground in earnest. One way or another, I was always working; I spent countless hours researching my industry--from competitive landscape to market potential to best practices and trends. I learned so much about my field thanks to blogs, guides, ebooks, social platforms, webinars, and podcasts. I had to do it all and burn the midnight oil as part of my routine workflow. I almost got burnt out in a relatively short time, and that’s when I realized that steering this company to success per my long-term vision was my career’s Goliath.

It was around that same time I had a bit of a eureka moment, recognizing that I couldn’t build a successful agency with insanity as my business plan. By that, I mean doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. No, something had to give, I had to make some significant changes. Per the Chinese proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together,” I decided to take on a partner. After looking outside my little, two-person agency at the time, I would finally find the perfect business partner within my organization. Enter Rachel Beaird. In many ways, that has made all the difference as we have been able to accomplish more together--whether it be acquiring new clients, managing client relationships, interviewing and hiring, and subsequently directing and developing our interns.

Nevertheless, two (or more) partners do not (necessarily) a good business make. During this past quarter, we have undergone more turbulence than we could have ever anticipated--financial setbacks, internal turmoil, loss of clients for various reasons, an intern quitting, to name a few. However, we haven’t let these challenges leave us dispirited as we approach year two for several reasons. For starters, I am a better leader today than I was this time last year because of all that I have endured. Also, I have the support of a competent, capable and loyal business partner to share the highs and lows of this journey. Moreover, the countless hours I spent earlier in the year honing my craft, being a student of my industry, have prepared me to navigate these challenges, while my faith has enabled me to do so without using that same boyish enthusiasm I had when I first set out on this venture.

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Today, Enrich My Brand is a better agency poised to grow and scale exponentially starting with the dawn of a new year. Having learned from adversity, from our mistakes and failures, we know ourselves better; we know our strengths and weaknesses, our opportunities and threats, we know our niche, our ideal customer, our core services, our brand identity and message, and how to tell our most compelling brand story. Furthermore, we are positioning ourselves to begin investing in arguably the most essential asset any business can hope to have--quality personnel who buy into the vision and have a vested interest in the company’s success.

As is the way of the world since time immemorial, one year will soon give way to another, and at the turn of this new year, each of us will have the opportunity to reset. Each of us will have the chance to redefine who we are, what we choose to do, and how we go about doing it. My hope for you is that wherever life takes you, you resolve to make progress from this year to the next, however incremental it might be. That you continue to evolve, so you don’t have to keep subjecting yourself to yet another cliche New Years Resolution year after year. I pray that in 2019, you resolve to identify your purpose by looking where your passion lies and turning that passion into your life work, perhaps even a business, if the burning desire for entrepreneurship is something that calls out to you in your dreams. Godspeed, my friends.


Cheers,

Kenny Fomunung
Founder & Chief Wordsmith















Top Five Blog Posts of 2018

And just like that, 2018 has come and gone! It may have only been EMB’s first year, but it certainly kept us busy. We took on new clients, created websites, forged relationships, posted more social media content than we can count, and of course, established our weekly blog. Today, we wanted to take a moment to reflect back on our five most popular blogs from 2018.

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BRANDING AT ITS FINEST—CULT BRAND: LULULEMON

Early on in the year, we began a series of case studies examining companies or advertisements with so-called “cult followings.” In other words, rands that had customer service or marketing campaigns so exemplary it earned them a fanatical base of loyal customers. Lululemon Athletica established themselves as an icon in the retail industry and earned them scores of lifelong customers, or as some of them call themselves, “Luluheads.” The Canadian luxury retailer has generated nearly $2 billion in revenue and only continues to rise in popularity. I suppose it’s thanks to the Luluheads that this was our most read article of the year!


THE VALUE OF INFLUENCER MARKETING

Influencer marketing, the trend sweeping the nation. As platforms like YouTube and Instagram continue to grow, as do the career opportunities associated with them. In today’s climate, young entrepreneurs are able to make a six-figure salary by building their own brand via a written or video blog that they promote on their various social media accounts. Just in the last few years, Instagram has introduced stories, galleries, IG Live, and most recently, IG TV, making these influencers that much more accessible to followers. Influencer marketing spend on Instagram is forecasted to reach $2.38 billion in 2019, up from an estimated $1.6 billion in 2018. If you’re not already taking advantage of the power social media influencers wield, it’s time to start.


WHAT WE CAN ALL LEARN FROM NIKE

With all of the controversy that can be stirred up just by saying Colin Kaepernick’s name, it’s no surprise this blog makes the list. In early September, Nike rocked the world by premiering a new ad campaign starring Colin Kaepernick. The quarterback gained media attention in 2016 when he elected to remain sitting during the national anthem sung before the NFL game as a form of protest to the racism and oppression across the country. This seemingly minor incident created a movement that still echoes today and made Kaepernick a controversial figure and political activist. Knowing this, Nike made a calculated risk in making him the face of a new ad, and while some responded with criticism, many people applauded the brand for creating a powerful statement. Whether or not you agree with Kaepernick’s beliefs, this advertisement was a significant talking point in 2018, and one that will not soon be forgotten.

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BRANDING AT ITS FINEST—CULT BRAND: YETI COOLERS

Yeti was what inspired us to begin our cult brand case study series, and we’re so glad to see our inaugural post was so popular. Through an incredible branding strategy, Yeti turned their brand into so much more than a line of coolers and drinkware, it became a lifestyle. If you use Yeti products, you’re an outdoorsman. The company was founded in 2006 and is already valued at more than $5 billion; those $400 coolers add up fast I guess! But when you shell out hundreds of dollars for a cooler, you’re not just getting a cooler, you’re getting an experience and an invitation to the Yeti community.


THE VALUE OF BLOGGING

It feels appropriate this makes the list as it supports the reason this list even exists. Companies that blog receive 97 percent more link to their site compared to those who don’t. In 2019, whether you’re a B2B or a B2C business, you simply cannot afford to ignore the blogging trend any longer. Not only is it a way to strengthen your relationship with the customer by building trust, but it’s also much more cost effective than the money put toward paid advertisements. Not to mention, not only do 615 million devices around the world use ad blockers, but 77 percent of Americans will leave sites that use ad block walls. Blogging, on the other hand, has a positive ROI, drives potential customers to your site, and best of all? Blogs don’t stop working, even when you do.


We have so much fun creating these blogs every week and we hope you enjoy them, and maybe learn something new. We can’t wait to see what new trends will emerge in 2019 and you can be sure we’ll be here to tell you about them!






How the Use of Social Media Can Ruin Your Brand

Starting a business and launching a brand; it seems as if everyone is doing that these days right? In case that isn’t enough pressure, have you also noticed that a social media presence is imperative to the success of your new venture? According to a 2017 report by Infusionsoft, a whopping 71 percent of small businesses and brands plan to use social media to gain new customers in 2018. New customers, clients and new interactions are the goals, but one must always be cognizant of the unique problems social media can bring your company.

Lack of Control Over Content Posted

Whenever you’re coming up with a new social media strategy, there are some key things that you want to keep in mind. Who all will have access to the social media accounts? Will one person be in charge or will multiple employees be working across the platforms? Your brand is delicate, and one undercooked post will leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, meaning you have to be extremely cautious when devising digital marketing tactics. Consider the tragic social media marketing snafu Snapchat had earlier this year. The social media powerhouse chose a less than ideal marketing tactic when they used the incident of domestic violence between singer  Rihanna, and her ex-boyfriend, singer Chris Brown, as a way to promote a new game. The post posed a question asking users if they would rather “slap Rihanna” or “punch Chris Brown.”  The ad was quickly removed after Rihanna herself issued a statement shaming them for making light of domestic violence after which Snapchat issued an apology on the matter stating that the ad was “approved in error.” Sounds like a classic case of not having enough control over what your brand is putting out in the atmosphere.

Negative Review Circulation

We have all seen the power of social media interactions! Perhaps you are like many other people who check a company’s reviews before making a purchase or booking their services. After all, an informed consumer is the best consumer, right? This is true, but when the reviews about a company are negative, take a moment to reflect on how that impacts your buying thought process. Now multiply that feeling times a couple thousand retweets/shares on various social media platforms. Brutal. We have seen it happen to some of the largest brands, from airlines like Delta to fast-food chains like Chipotle. One lousy customer review from a mistreated guest or the receiver of contaminated food can send your reputation down the drain, so being on the forefront of correcting poor customer care is paramount in maintaining reputations.

Nothing Special About You

The truth is, your company’s social media feed should not just be about you. Often times small businesses and brands take a step toward social media marketing, but entirely miss the target. Sure, you want your followers and potential customers to be well versed in the services and products you offer, but where is the balance? 45 percent of consumers will unfollow a brand on social media if their platform is dominated by self-promotion. If the vast majority of the content you post is a text-filled image advertising your rates and special offers, your social media won’t feel very… “social.” Remember that people follow businesses and brands because they want to feel engaged,  so don’t forget to give them an opportunity to do so.

Social media marketing is supposed to be a fun way to bring you closer to your target audience. Use your platform to your advantage, and allow your business and brand to be transparent, extremely informed and willing to engage. Statistics from Social Media Today tell us that 20 to 40 percent of consumers spend more money on brands who they are able to interact with. Why not put yourself in the proper position to experience this benefit? And of course, if you need a bit of direction, we at Enrich Your Brand can do just that!

Walking the Fine Line of Rebranding

In a world where your website and social media accounts can either bring you a customer or scare them away, your brand, personal or professional, needs to leave a lasting impression. 48 percent of consumers report that they are more likely to become loyal to a brand during the first purchase or experience, so you need to be bringing your A-game from the moment the consumer begins interacting with you. Your website should point your audience in the direction of finding what they need from you, and your social media should be an active point of communication between you and the potential customer. This whole “branding” phenomenon is time-consuming and costly, but even with all of the effort and elbow grease put in, there comes a time where rebranding may do you some good. Sometimes rebranding works, but unfortunately, sometimes it ends up doing more damage.

Rebranding works when you have a clear vision of where you want to take your brand, and who you want to reach, but there are also some crucial rules to follow when rebranding. Something as simple as even a minor logo redesign may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but the fact is your customers trust you and have certain expectations, and when they’re not met, the backlash can be detrimental.

Not even major companies like Starbucks are immune to this kind of problem--let us all look back on the infamous Starbucks “Christmas Cup Controversy” of 2015. Every November since 1997, Starbucks debuts their new “Christmas cups” that replace the standard cups for the remainder of the holiday season; however, 2015’s debut of plain, red cups saw not only lackluster reviews, but outrage on social media. Millions of people took to Twitter alleging that Starbucks was waging a “war on Christmas” with the removal of snowflakes, trees and ornaments seen on cups in years prior; some celebrities even called for boycotts. Of course, the story did die down in time, but one can’t help but notice that 2016’s cups returned to featuring reindeer and other whimsical images depictive of Christmas. Don’t fix what isn’t broken, you know?

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That said, rebranding works when you want to introduce a new aspect of your brand, and can be your way of re-introducing yourself to new, younger generations. Before 2010, Old Spice was known to millennials as a brand for their grandparents--if they had even heard of it. To capture the attention of that missing audience, Old Spice launched a campaign of strange, yet highly-entertaining videos, that led to not only sales skyrocketing, but a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Commercial. Suddenly Old Spice was no longer reserved for the geriatric crowd, but the number one brand of body wash for men.

Old Spice had a specific goal in mind--reach a new audience. Starbucks simply changed something on a whim. Having clear aims is essential to a successful rebranding; customers need to understand why you’re changing something on them. Over time, pages can become outdated; an old webpage or an unkept Instagram feed can yield negative results that rebranding can fix just by providing your consumers with an up-to-date experience. Not only does rebranding allow your brand to level up, but it also allows the consumer to feel as though they are moving forward with you.

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More money, a different audience, an insane desire to keep your brand fresh--whatever your reason for wanting to rebrand, with the proper team and strategy, you will be able to accomplish your goal. If you are struggling with the decision to rebrand yourself or your business, take some time to reflect on the scenarios listed above. Know that you are not alone in this marketing frenzy and we at Enrich My Brand are here to help you sort through the confusion and ultimately help you acquire the brand you deserve!

 

 

 

 

Five Blogs Every Marketer Should be Following

Sure, all marketers are technically competing with one another, but we are also some of each other’s most significant resources. Cutting-edge strategies are all around us, and the only way to stay relevant is to maintain an unending hunger for learning. Below, we have compiled a list of five blogs we believe every marketer in the industry should be following.

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1. HubSpot

HubSpot is best known for its software development and tools that aid in social media marketing, SEO optimization and web analytics, but another great reason to pay attention to it—the blog. Through their content marketing strategy, the site generates original articles, white papers, case studies, webinars and more on a regular basis, which are a fountain of knowledge in the marketing arena. While HubSpot may charge for their services, reading the blog is 100 percent free to all.

2. MarketingProfs

MarketingProfs is a site created by marketers, for marketers. The site does offer a membership option, a network of more than 600,000 members, which provides members with real-time education on best practices, research tactics, expert-led seminars, to name a few. You can become a pro member for $279/year, but you can also enroll as just a basic member at no cost. Being a basic member still allows you access to their marketing forums, email newsletters, a marketing blog, and sponsored seminars.

3. Content Marketing Institute

The Content Marketing Institute describes itself as the leading global content marketing education and training organization—and for a good reason. The site offers every resource under the sun on content marketing: a getting-started guide, e-books, a bi-monthly free magazine, national conventions, webinars, and a comprehensive white paper library, all for the sole purpose of content marketing education. They also offer a variety of statistics on content marketing, several of which we at EMB have cited in previous blog articles. With a new piece published to their blog every weekday, CMI is something that should be on the reading list of every digital marketer out there.

4. PR Daily

Lawrence Ragan Communications, Inc. launched The Ragan Report in 1970 and has since become the leading publisher of corporate communications, public relations and leadership development newsletters. PR Daily is a division of the company that delivers news, advice and opinions on the public relations, marketing, social media and media worlds on a daily basis. The site provides the latest on any breaking news in the various media industries, as well as informative articles that give tips, tricks and advice to marketers.

5. Enrich My Brand

And of course, Enrich My Brand! You can subscribe to news and updates on the landing page of our corporate site or our blog page and enjoy a new article on various marketing topics every Friday. Check out all of our previous blogs here and feel free to explore the site to learn a little more about us!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rise and Grind: Building a Digital Marketing Agency from Scratch

Rise and Grind: Building a Digital Marketing Agency from Scratch

So how do you build a digital agency from scratch? Find out what it takes in our new blog article! 

Musings of a Wordsmith: The Power of Words

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“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Of all the quotes I’ve ever read, that has to be the most shortsighted. It is apparent that whoever uttered those words must never have heard the worst words. Consider this contrasting quote, “A tongue has no bones but can break a heart.” The latter quote paints a poignant picture about the true power of words. 

Truth is, words are immensely potent in their ability to impact our lives and the lives of those around us. Children, especially, take the words we speak to the heart and, oftentimes, the nature of the words we choose to use toward or around them shapes their perceptions of self and the world around them, respectively. This is why positive reinforcement will always yield more desired results than negative reinforcement, regardless of the endeavor in question. 

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The words we use to tell our story can make or break that story and, more importantly, how people respond to that story. When we speak or write about ourselves, do we come across as cocky or confident, self-assured or egotistical, intelligent or condescending, straightforward or obnoxious? The answers depend on our word choice. The difference in others’ perception of us lies in our ability to effectively communicate who we are using the right words. It goes without saying that while using the right words are important, for us to be genuine or authentic, our actions must then align with our words. 

The importance of correct word choice transcends the quality of our interpersonal relationships. They extend to the realm of business—how our brand is perceived and received by our customers or target audience. A former mentor of mine often said to me, “Human beings are emotional creatures, so buying is an emotional decision.” Well, if buying is an emotional decision, then naturally, selling ought to have an emotional strategy. 

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In my view, the best marketers in the world understand this phenomenon, which is why there’s much ado about keywords when it comes to SEO and word triggers in ad campaigns. Content marketers must realize that, for the most part, customers choose brands because of how that brand makes them feel and not what the brand sells. Therefore, the most effective ads use emotive words that make the brand come across as authentic and invoke real, relatable emotions in the viewer. 

It is my long history as a wordsmith and deep understanding of the power of words and their importance in storytelling that I chose to make compelling brand storytelling the core mission of Enrich My Brand. Many creative agencies—some vastly bigger than ours—offer a range of industry-standard services when it comes to brand management, especially electing to focus on elegant design. While the aesthetics of your business are important in illustrating how professional your brand looks, the words that tell your story are arguably even more important because they communicate how your brand feels and what values it inspires in others. You could call it your brand personality.

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If seeing is believing, then hearing is confirming. I firmly believe that if we can become intimately familiar with our clients’ mission and target audience, if we can truly understand what motivates or influences their customers, then and only then can we tell the most compelling stories that will appeal to them by using the correct words that speak to their desires.

In closing, I humbly invite you to examine your marketing communications and evaluate how compelling your stories read to your target audience. Is your brand conveying its most authentic identity? Do your marketing campaigns make you come across as a solutions provider who wants to build a relationship with your customers so as to meet their needs? Or do you come across as just a basic seller of products or services for profit? Do your press releases communicate major news in a manner worth your shareholders or other stakeholders getting excited about? Do your blog articles position you as a subject matter expert in your industry? Do your email newsletters tell a story that is part of a bigger narrative of consistent progress? 

Friend, if you’re even so much as remotely uncertain about your answers to these questions, then please contact us ASAP and let us help you put your best foot forward. It would behoove you to have your story told by passion-driven wordsmiths who understand storytelling, and whose every word is carefully crafted with your brand and your target audience in mind. 

Yours truly,

Kenny, Chief Wordsmith

Be Your Own Boss: The Reality

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“Be your own boss.” Ah, that phrase is too often casually thrown around. To many people, that sure sounds like living the dream; having a whole lot of fun doing what you love without having to answer to anyone else is surely a goal we should all be striving to achieve, right? Wrong. Not if we’re not wired for the daily grind that ensues or we don't possess the necessary work ethic to survive the invariable challenges, especially in the startup phase of our business. The reality for most self-employed people who consider themselves their own boss is far from the utopian perception those four words appear to convey. As of matter of fact, most people who go that route end up failing and inevitably settle for finding a new boss.

Starting a company of your own is arguably one of the most difficult things you can do. It is daunting and once you do become your own so-called boss, the actual experience can be maddening. The reality is, the moment you choose to forfeit employment for entrepreneurship, you immediately go from comfort to discomfort, security to insecurity, and certainty to uncertainty. Your pay is no longer guaranteed as you are neither salaried nor hourly, paid bi-monthly or monthly. On the contrary, you work round the clock, are always open for business, and always stressed about your business. Even if you have seed funding or a business loan to start, you are still likely to face myriad challenges along the journey. Moreover, the risks are magnified when they are all yours to bear, and the sleepless nights begin since profits and losses are yours and only yours to contend with. 

In this work environment, you can no longer afford to go through the motions, to stretch every minute of that 30-minute or hour-long lunch break, to watch the clock tick until 5 pm so you can go home. No, as your own boss, you are always in motion, you don’t know what a lunch break is, your time literally becomes your money, and you never truly get to go home. Regardless of the nature of your business, it goes without saying that you will need to acquire (paying) customers or clients to stay afloat, generate revenues, capture your ROI per the timeline set in your business plan, and enter a profitable phase, let alone growth phase. Just how much work do you think that takes for one man or woman? Eight hours a day? Please...

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Let’s be clear, the merits of being your own boss are well documented and its reward is a fulfilling lifestyle worth pursuing. However, if you attempt to become an entrepreneur while holding on to an employee mindset, you will fail, almost immediately. With such an ordinary work ethic, you are unlikely to attain the independence or the time and financial freedom often associated with being your own boss. One of the most popular definitions of entrepreneurship I hear thrown around today is, “Entrepreneurship is doing what others are unwilling to do for a while so that you can afford to live how others can’t for the rest of your life.” 

Well, there’s no time like the present; if you do aspire to be able to live how others can’t tomorrow, you’d better be able to work like others don’t today, and every day until that tomorrow dawns. And even when that day comes when you can finally afford to live and work freely and independently of any boss because your business is growing and thriving and you’ve achieved your financial goals, the grind doesn’t stop because the uncertainties in the marketplace persist as does your competition. As a matter of fact, it is then you will need even more mettle and a near-obsessive work ethic because the only thing harder than becoming successful is staying successful. Godspeed. 

Yours truly,

Kenny, Chief Wordsmith

Why You Don’t Need a New Year’s Resolution

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New Year’s resolutions are fascinating to me because of how revolving they are. Predictably, at the end of each passing year and beginning of each new year, people seem to be at their most aspirational. We love to declare our resolutions to the world. In some families such as mine growing up, it is customary to all gather in a room and each person goes around asking each member to stand and declare their resolutions for the new year.

When I think back to the many resolutions I’ve made in my lifetime, I can’t help but wonder just how many I actually managed to realize. Too often, we don’t meet our resolution, whether it’s to lose weight (a typical example), pick up a new hobby, learn a new skill, kick an old habit, or find the love of our lives. The reason for this is resolutions have become trendy versus practical. It’s almost as if we are expected to say aloud we plan to accomplish something of great magnitude in the course of just one year. Unlike smart goals, which are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely, resolutions are grandiose and ambiguous. Oftentimes, we don’t even write them down so by the time we are halfway through the year, we find ourselves just six months away from yet another resolution.

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Having been a hamster in the New Years Resolution wheel myself, I think I’ve finally seen the light. I know now that one does not need a new resolution each year, in spite of the popular saying, “What a difference a year makes.” Truth is, a resolution requires resolve, and typically, significant change isn’t achieved overnight or in a year’s time. Rather, great achievements are often the result of a culmination of measured character building exercises, personal and professional development, positive attitude reinforcement, and incremental progress toward the desired goal. All of these things are more likely to be achieved over the course of a number of years versus just one, with consistency being the common denominator.

I believe that if each new year, we would simply reinforce our commitment to those longterm goals that are in alignment with our core values, then we would stand to gain more than one resolution could grant us. We would be more successful in putting our actions where our words are. With this growth mindset, we wouldn’t feel the subconscious pressure to reinvent the wheel at the turn of each new year. We wouldn’t need to, like countless others, declare the cliché, “New Year, New Me!”

If history serves us correctly, a more probable outcome for each of us by the time December 31st, 2018 rolls around 12 months from today is that we would, in fact, be the same people we are today. However, with renewed attitudes, constant learning, consistent growth, and by practicing smart goal setting and executing instead of stating lofty resolutions, we may find that we would’ve achieved a number of things we can be proud of.

P.S. Consider an evolution over a resolution.

Happy New Year!

Kenny, Chief Wordsmith

Homecoming: O, Cameroon 🇨🇲 

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You know, in the course of life it’s not often one gets to call two places home. It’s less common for these two places to be separate countries, let alone to have drastically different cultures and contrasting ranks on the development scale. And yet, that is precisely my experience having lived half my life in Cameroon and half in the United States. About 15 years ago, my family had the good fortune to leave Cameroon, a third-world country then and now, to immigrate America, the land of opportunity. My father, having studied in the U.S. three decades prior, had the foresight to bring his wife and their five children to the U.S. so that each of us, but especially my siblings and I, could lead a better life for our ourselves. 

So, in 2003 I moved to the U.S. at the age of 15 and hadn’t looked back since, until now. After well over a decade, this holiday season, I had the opportunity to finally return to the country where I was born and raised. My experience, as you might imagine, was a mixed bag of anxiety and excitement, pride and disappointment. Not to mention the relative culture shock born of what felt like a lifetime away from my first home and, having become as some would say, Americanized. My first head-scratching moment would arrive not long after I landed at Douala International Airport in the largest city in Cameroon, the capital of Cameroon's Littoral Region and the nation's economic capital. As I traversed a confusing road network including a still-under-construction bridge heading for my uncle's and aunt’s home where I’d spent my final year in Cameroon prior to emigrating, I noticed that the road infrastructure seemed to have improved. However, that hope would dwindle the moment we turned from the main street (ancien route) into the neighborhood. 

The street leading to my uncle's and aunt’s home was a microcosm of the lack of progress the country of my birth had made in well over a decade—it was exactly as I had left it, beleaguered by countless potholes as wide as the SUV we drove, with some containing apparently permanent still water, a breeding ground for mosquitoes. The short ride through that neighborhood street was so bumpy it felt like we were experiencing pretty bad turbulence. Eventually, the mini roller coaster ride would end and we ’d arrive at the gates of my second home in Cameroon during my teenage years. 

As the days would go by, I would come to learn from taxi drivers and motorcycle riders just how dire the circumstances remained for the vast majority of Cameroonians. They lamented the fact that they routinely paid taxes and tolls and yet, the roads remained in horrendous conditions. Even the new bridge that led from the neighborhood where my uncle and aunt lived to other neighborhoods across town was incomplete and taking forever. I witnessed the consequences of this unfortunate reality as I spent two hours in the passenger seat of a childhood friend’s vehicle just to travel a little over two miles. This, I would learn, was a daily reality for commuters along the bridge with some logging three hours or more in their daily commutes during peak hours. 

Moreover, I witnessed shocking alternatives the motorcycle riders would take to combat the traffic. On multiple occasions, the rider and his passengers (sometimes, up to three adults) would literally get off the bike, carry it over the divider to the other side of the bridge, mount the bike once more, and proceed to head to the town against oncoming traffic. That literally made my eyes bulge and nearly made my jaw drop. As the days wore on, I would increasingly become a daredevil, choosing to ride a motorcycle across the bridge in spite of umpteen forewarnings by my family about their dangerous driving. They wore no helmets and weaved between cars and trucks with reckless abandon, sometimes coming to within inches of thrusting your shoulder into the side mirror of an adjacent vehicle. Thankfully, four successive nights taking motorcycles to and from the town later, I managed to remain intact from limb to limb. 

Interestingly enough, the road networks and frequent abysmal traffic are but one area where the infrastructure had remained unchanged 15 years later. Another area of grave frustration for the people of Cameroon lies in economic opportunity, or rather, lack thereof. Gainful employment remains scarce; some of the taxi drivers and motorcycle riders I met admitted to being educated or possessing one or two technical skills. Nevertheless, the system remained far from a meritocracy when it came to finding a decent-paying job or gaining access to a higher education to procure a well-paying job. These are realities I recall hearing about 15 years ago while I was still a teenager with little regard for or knowledge about the political climate or disheartening corruption endemic in Cameroon. 

Not to sound as if my homecoming trip was nothing but a dismaying experience, I must admit that, in spite of all of these grave conditions, Cameroon remains a country with tremendous potential and an intriguing culture. Most of the people with whom I interacted were welcoming and friendly, glad to help me and/or my taxi driver by giving us directions to the next nightclub or lounge I sought to explore. The country, being heavily agricultural, has plenty of food so, at the least, famine is not something Cameroonians have to or will ever have to contend with. Not to mention Cameroonians have arguably the best, most delicious foods in sub-Saharan, if not all of, Africa. I truly relished in the nostalgic moments—the hustle and bustle of the marketplace, the ability to negotiate the prices of just about any good you wished to purchase or service you wished to use including your taxi fare. I also relished the opportunity to carry out full-blown conversations in French, my second language growing up, and came away satisfied with the feedback the francophones gave me regarding my fluency speaking the language even after 14 years with little practice.

Moreover, as a relatively young socialite who thoroughly enjoys the nightlife, I was particularly impressed with Douala in that area. The truth is, I left Cameroon too young to have experienced this scene and my understanding is that it is exponentially better today than it ever was. Some of the lounges and (snack) bars I frequented were reminiscent of the likes of modern U.S. cities featuring bottle service, beautiful, elegant women, spacious dance floors, and music that compelled every inch of your body to move passionately. Maybe that last part is just me and my penchant for a good dance but you get the point—Cameroonians have and will always love what we call l’ambiance

I would like to offer the caveat that all of the above represent solely my observations derived from a relatively small sample size of about two weeks, so perhaps they would have been different or more encouraging had I visited other parts of the country. That said, most of my observations turned out to be reinforcements of those shared with me by my peers and others in my family and networks who have visited Cameroon multiple times since leaving themselves as well as multiple cities besides Douala. Furthermore, if these observations about Cameroon’s largest city and economic capital are accurate, then it doesn’t bode well for how the rest of the country has fared over the past 15 years.

In conclusion, I found that, for all the thrills Cameroon might offer a passing voyager or tourist, the Central African nation remains a third-world country stuck in the mud one might see on its broken roads in the rainy season, beleaguered primarily by a government that has done its people little to no favors when it comes to ascending the ranks of developing nations on this planet. The notion that Cameroon aspires to “emerge” in 2035 just speaks volumes to a general lack of ambition and complacency among its leadership because honestly, by 2017, the country of my birth should at least be emerging.

P.S. See the gallery below for more of my experience and adventures as told through pictures.

Yours truly,

Kenny, Chief Wordsmith