Timeless brands owe legacies to premium they place on research

Tuesday May 16 2023
 Lionel Richie

US pop star Lionel Richie performs inside Windsor Castle grounds at the Coronation Concert in Windsor, west of London on May 7, 2023. PHOTO | YUI MOK | POOL VIA AFP


Last week, I watched the great performance of Lionel Richie at the coronation of King Charles. Lionel Richie is currently 73 years old, and I have been listening to him since the 1970s when he was part of The Commodores. I remember his greatest hits and many others that he co-wrote with the likes of Diana Ross, and of course, Michael Jackson. What were the odds of this septuagenarian could still bring the house down in 2023?

Remember that many of Lionel Richie’s contemporaries fall in the category of “former,” such as “former big star,” “former this” and “former that.” The fact that you owned the stage yesterday does not guarantee your relevance today.

Very often, I hear people say, “Oh, this company was the great company of yesteryear, or this person was the former great leader and thinker. However, when we look at the greats — Nelson Mandela's of this world — were relevant till their last breath and never referred to as former president. His persona in the present shines so bright no reinforcement is needed from the past. General Olusegun Obasanjo, too, is so busy today on the global stage making a difference.

History is littered with so many “used-to-be” and with so many people who once had a voice, but whose mean nothing today. Organisations that shook the world go unmentioned today, and with artistes that shook the world, exist with zero impact. We salute Lionel Richie considering that he has few contemporaries still shaking the global stage like he does.

Read: ULIMWENGU: Guide to good governance: First, do no harm, the rest will follow

Irrefutable evidence


How do we ensure sustainability regardless of where we are — a business or as a leader? How do we ensure that we don’t wake up one morning and discover that the world has moved on without us? In essence, how do we maintain our relevance? One of the results of study in this area is that there is a strong correlation between research and relevance.

Indeed, evidence suggests that companies are increasingly investing more in research and development (R&D) than in advertising. According to data from the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, spending on R&D by US businesses exceeded spending on advertising in 2017 for the first time in over 50 years.

Furthermore, a report by PwC found that the top 1,000 global companies increased their R&D spend by 11.4% in 2020, despite the pandemic, while their advertising outlay decreased by 6.1%. This suggests that companies are recognising the importance of investing in R&D to drive innovation and growth, even during challenging times.

An example of a company that has benefited from prioritising R&D over advertising is Apple. Despite spending less on advertising than its competitors, Apple has consistently been one of the most valuable brands in the world. This is largely due to the company’s focus on developing innovative products and technologies, such as the iPhone and the Apple Watch, which have generated significant revenue and market share.

Another is Pfizer, which invests heavily in R&D to develop new drugs and treatments. In 2020, Pfizer’s R&D spend exceeded $9 billion, while its advertising was $1.7 billion. This input has resulted in the development of numerous successful drugs, including the Covid-19 vaccine, which generated significant revenue and saved countless lives.

On a national level, there is a correlation between the percentage of GDP spent on research and the development of nations. Similarly, there is a correlation between the research spending on companies and their development.

Finally, there is a correlation between the researchers per million inhabitants in a nation and development of the nation. The words Research and Development are lumped together as one, but the truth is that research will indeed determine the level of development.
Any entity that truly wants to develop must place a premium on research.

Specifically, US companies spent $471.8 billion on R&D in 2017, compared with $239.9 billion on advertising.

Wale Akinyemi is the founder of The Street University Email [email protected]