Nii Ayaa Mensah, the brands and customer insights specialist, spent most of his childhood drawing. His father who worked for an office equipment and accessories company regularly brought home discarded paper (the long continuous type used with dot-matrix printers). He explains: “I had access to tons of paper so I just drew my life away. I doubt that there were many kids who had access to more paper than I did.”
Curiously though, Mensah didn’t know one could pursue art beyond high school. He’d been made to believe art was merely a hobby and “not something people engaged in for a living”.
It was not until he applied to study at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) that he realised art was offered at the degree level. But by this time, he’d set his heart on architecture which was his first choice on his application. When the university offered him a place for art (his second choice), his plan was to switch to architecture after the first year.
But fate had other plans. Firstly, he rediscovered his love of art and found it and design came naturally to him. He says: “For the first time in my life, I was doing something in class I didn’t need to struggle to do.”
Vacation Brands Job At MMRS Ogilvy
Secondly, by coincidence, Mensah had spent the vacation before university working for the advertising agency MMRS Ogilvy which provided him with a great context for his studies. As he progressed with his course, he would return to Ogilvy each vacation for a practical understanding of design. It was an experience that KNUST couldn’t provide. Mensah explains: “at the Art College, we had maybe three computers. They were divine – you couldn’t touch them unless you were being supervised. I never worried about touching them in the entire four years I was there; I didn’t need to. Fortunately, I got a lot of the practical lessons at the agency.”
At Ogilvy, Mensah worked in all the departments. But it was the media planning and strategy department that he loved most. He enjoyed the process of using insights into consumer behaviour, interests and preferences to design advertising campaigns to try to entice people to buy a product or change their behaviour.
Related: Unemployment in Ghana
After graduating with a degree in graphic design, Mensah went to work in the design studio. But he found this too limiting as he didn’t feel he was allowed to think. So he left the company.
He went on to do brief stints at smaller, start-up agencies and they gave him wider latitude to think and develop his own ideas. But they were weak organisations that were haemorrhaging cash, had few clients and they struggled to pay him.
Disillusioned with his early experience of work, he decided to work freelance. But this option threw up its own challenges. He only had work occasionally and his father became concerned that his son was “wasting his life away”.
Meeting Mensah: Customer Insights
It was around this time, in late 2004, that I first met Mensah. As Head of Corporate Services & Legal for United Bank for Africa Ghana Limited, I was the brand custodian and needed something done within 24 hours. My main agency had a lot on their plate and had pushed back at my unreasonable deadline. Someone suggested that I try out Mensah and I was blown away by the customer insights final product he submitted. I was equally impressed by how he approached his work; the care and effort he took to understand the financial services industry, our target customers and even myself.
As I engaged him for other projects, I came to appreciate his thoroughness, attention to detail and genuine interest in consumer behaviour. For each project, he would devote a disproportionate part of the time and the creative process to gleaning insights from relevant studies of human behaviour before translating those insights into beautiful design solutions.
With his partner, Daniel Sasu, and my encouragement, in August 2005, Mensah founded Mindfull Creative Agency, a boutique brand agency that would institutionalise his trademark approach to approaching brand problems from an immersion in consumer behaviour and psychology.
For someone who’s been behind so many attention-grabbing brand campaigns, Mensah is incredibly modest, lacking any of the flamboyance you might associate with a creative person of his stature. The only extravagance he allows himself is his iPhone (which is now five years old!). He admits he’s really a backend person who gets “excitement from being unnoticed and trying to get things done”.
What Counts for Nii Ayaa Mensah
Even if he himself has managed to go unnoticed (this is his first press profile and a Google search against his name will only lead you to his LinkedIn page), his work has not gone unnoticed.
Mensah lives his brands and customer insights dream each day helping his clients build stronger connections with customers. He’s developed the visual identity and brand positioning for the likes of Metropolitan Insurance, Nationwide Mutual and Petra Trust. His aim for each project is to solve problems by designing solutions based on customer insights. “Design is to solve problems and not to create beauty. In solving the problem, beauty becomes necessary”. He holds his studio staff to this standard every day. Nothing short of perfection on his watch will leave Mindfull Creative Agency for his client.
Source: Graphic.com.gh (Customer insights and brands story)
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