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Wed 30 Jun 2010 01:41 PM

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Brand building in the GCC

The Brand Union's Duncan James looks at what companies need to do to build a successful image in the region.

The GCC has its own unique opportunities, challenges and threats when brand building which makes for an exciting and dynamic industry.

So what does a company building a brand in the GCC need to do to be successful.

1. Create brand actions, not words: Many brand owners in the region believe that a brand is only ‘what you see’- the advertising, the outdoor, the TV ads, the big, flashy, showy pieces of communication that talk at consumers, attempt to communicate with them to shout ‘buy me’.

They believe brand is a cost, not a differentiator and profit maker through creating consumer loyalty. This is simply down to an industry evolution curve in the region and all in the industry must take responsibility for moving along this curve.

Within the GCC it is also prevalent because the media market is still focused on ‘traditional’ channels such as TV, press and outdoor, which make ‘brand building’ synonymous with this mass media approach.

When the business has been defined (eg it will be a retail bank that will be Shariah complaint and based in Saudi Arabia) a successful brand should then seek to carve out a position for the long term and common to this region answering where it will operate; within a country, regional or global.

This involves answering questions like who will the brand target? What will the retail branches (if any) look like? how will it feel? what products and services will it offer? how will the staff treat you and deal with you?

All of these elements build an effective real brand; not only a logo and communication alone which is an approach common in the GCC.

Answering these questions is often not straight forward in the GCC due to the many different cultures, religions, expatriates and cultures present across the region, in a mix that is not found in many other nations, let alone across a whole region such as the GCC.

A good brand focuses for effect with an audience, a mindset or a group, and whilst this may cut across backgrounds the brand must decide who it is for, and who it is not.

If we take one successful global brand in Starbucks, and one regional; Emirates. Both offer unique products and in a completely unique environment.

Emirates, with its innovative lounges and services and Starbucks through its chain of stores offering you a haven away from work and home. Neither focus on big advertising campaigns but more by creating a true brand experience they walk the walk and word spreads.  

The staff of Emirates and Apple are not like other comparable industry staff; they are knowledgeable, attentive, they listen, but they do this in a uniquely Emirates (or Starbucks) way. Those that fly Emirates do so often because of the staff; the attention they get makes all the difference in a market that is very similar in terms of the product offered (a flight).

What Emirates have done well is use their local heritage and turn it into a positive, taking Arabic hospitality and taking it to the world.

Both brands go beyond the industry training benchmarks which all too often in the GCC are the maximum standard, not the minimum to add their own twist.

2. Brands as expression of local Khaleeji ambition: A second key challenge facing brand building in the GCC is that the very pride and ambition that drives amazing development in the region can be a hindrance when the brand is set to go global.

Many brands are extremely successful in one nation in the GCC or even within one Emirate, but are almost unheard of elsewhere.

This is thanks to a solid focus on the local market, often stretching back decades (and often in the GCC relying upon the family name as the brand which carries a massive amount of influence and trust, such as Abdul Latif Jameel in Saudi Arabia).

However it is a delicate balance, brand owners must ensure that the brand DNA is extracted from the success gained locally when taken regionally or even globally.

Best practice firms have done this, Emirates as above, and on a global level a brand like Credit Suisse have retained the important values of their heritage and of their nation (in Credit Suisse’s case;  precision, reliability, trustworthiness) but taken those globally and not diluted them.

The same is the case for other businesses who have gone regional in the GCC, one common example being Family owned businesses such as Al Rajhi Bank out of Saudi Arabia who have defined their brand to be solidly Islamic but forward looking and are taking this across the Islamic world.

Duncan James is Consulting Director for The Brand Union, Middle East

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OK YA HENRY 10 years ago

Interesting article, there has been so much talk about brand this and brand that in the region lately. To me the best brands are those that deliver a good quality of service or product at a great price, its not all about big promises or unrealistic hype from the marketing gurus. I think Jumeirah & Emirates have done an excellent job so far....more so than most in Dubai.

Duncan james 10 years ago

Thanks, you can read more at http://blogs.thebrandunion.com/brandinginthekingdomofsaudiarabia/