Defining moment

In Communicate, Dubai, Marketing, Opinion, Published journalism on November 24, 2010 at 7:13 pm

The Brand Union discusses the agency’s business at its global conference in Dubai, but does branding itself need a makeover?

Originally published in Communicate, May 2010

The Brand Union last month hosted 45 of its global bosses in Dubai for the branding agency’s annual conference. No doubt if we’d asked, there would have been talk of what an important growth market the Middle East is, and how some of the most exciting brands of tomorrow will come out of this region. We suspect that cheap hotel rooms and the plush Media City offices that house Hermann Behrens and his team might have slightly more to do with it. Since we were invited – along with other journos and clients – to a round table on branding – with free food and drink – we decided not to ask.

Behrens acknowledged these “challenging” times, then looked to the silver lining of the credit crunch cloud. “We have been talking a lot in this market about what ‘brand’ is,” he said. “It’s been quite hard to talk to marketers who are in a push market, in a market that is so active and where there is so much demand, getting people to think about long-term brand-building and branding from the inside out.”

The UAE team has been approached a telecoms company and a major retailer over the past two months, says Behrens. Which makes a nice change in a market led by tactical pushing of products, as opposed to longer-term building of brands.

Terry Tyrrell, The Brand Union’s worldwide chairman, echoed Behrens, saying, “What we’re doing at the moment is helping businesses grow their brands from the inside out.”

“There’s a growing recognition,” he said, “particularly in service industries where relationships matter, that if you cannot adjust and build behavior around what you want to be known for through your people, then you are going to be living a lie. So you can have the best ad campaign in the world, the best brochures in the world, but if it can’t be delivered through your people, then that’s simply lipstick on the gorilla.” Sadly he didn’t mean literally.

Alex Andarakis, a management consultant who has previously been CEO of Al Islami Foods, director of marketing at Emaar Properties, and CEO of Aujan Industries was at the round table to offer a client perspective.

He took the opportunity to pose a question: What is the definition of “brand?”

“For me, a brand is a belief system,” he answered, rhetorically. “And a belief system needs to build DNA.” DNA leads to followers, “and those followers buy into that belief system.”

Andarakis then described problems and triumphs he had with brands he’d worked on. One of the challenges with Al Islami was its name. “Effectively your brand is called ‘the Islam,’” he said. The Saudi Arabian authorities wouldn’t let the company register its brand; nor would Turkey.

Ashish Banerjee, vice-president of brand at UAE telecoms operator Du, spoke from the audience to say that in Arabic the phrase for “brand” is “3alama teejariya,” which also means “trademark.”

“That is the only way the concept of brand is understood in the Arabic language,” he said. “Which is why we as an industry, as practitioners, have gone through what we’ve gone through in the last 10 years or so.”

Progress will be hampered until the Arab world has the lingo to understand brand as a philosophy, he said.

The Brand Union’s Mohammad Abaalkheil offered the term, ‘sema teejariyah,’ which also refers to the brand with which one marks cattle or camels.
Since then, debate on Communicate’s Facebook page (search for has raged – or at least sputtered – with suggestions including “marka” and “sema” as translations of “brand.”

But with a lack of definition of branding, perhaps the practice needs to turn its skills on itself. Otherwise, as the environment becomes ripe to steer the region’s marketing practices in the right direction after an age wandering in the wilderness of sales, branding experts could find they are leading around a great big ape wearing makeup.


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