Monday, December 14, 2009

Brand Vanity

By: Jean-Claude Saade

“Vanity is my favorite sin” – says John Milton – the “Devil played by Al Pacino – in the Devil’s Advocate. To put this in a branding perspective, we need to examine the role of Brand Vanity in the current economic crisis. Taking the necessary learning and corrections will be necessary for the recovery. Is Vanity the worst sin a brand or a company can make? Is this related to the very high prices that many brands and businesses have already paid during the groundbreaking events of the past year? More importantly; how to recognize Brand Vanity and deal with it?

Under the Rubble
The shock magnitude was of disastrous scale and its wave did not stop at the borders of an economic sector, a country or a continent. It has reached the level of a full global crisis. The economic rubble has buried big corporate names with their factories, sky-scraper-head-offices, big bonuses, corporate private jets and divine attitudes. Also was buried in rubble the savings, jobs and economic security of millions of consumers, employees, families and retired people.

This is a large scale disaster that reached literally everybody on the globe in their daily lives, future and dignity. This is the kind of events where billions of people are paying for the cumulative decisions of a relatively small number of economic and corporate leaders. An “all-in-one-boat” situation, or better, an economic Titanic, where few people take the wrong and the bad decisions but everybody sinks in the dark cold ocean.

The results of the crisis touched every one of us in our lives, careers and plans, even with various levels of significance. Therefore, the recovery cannot be complete without a real understanding of the roots and causes of this crisis. From the dysfunction in the existing systems and regulations to questionable practices driven by greed, unfairness and mostly Vanity.

Let us look on few examples of the practices that lead us to the current economic crisis and we will start with greed. Over the years, mortgage lenders were happy to lend money to people who couldn’t really afford their mortgages. But they did it anyway even if they knew that it is only a matter of time till problems will happen. These lenders were able to charge higher interest rates and make more money on sub-prime loans and when the borrowers defaulted, they simply seized the house and put it back on the market to make even more money. Moreover, mortgage brokers packaged bad mortgages with other mortgages and were reselling them as investments. Many of these mortgage backed assets were ticking time bombs. And they just went off.

Credit is a great economic tool when used wisely. It can be used to start or expand a business, which can create jobs and positive economic growth. However, when it used in a bad way and at a large scale it has started a chain of problems that hit the local and global economies very hard.

We will leave the analysis and explanation of the purely economic reasons and cyclical market movements and trends to the experts in the field. However, and at the root of this crisis there was toxic assets and investments but also toxic attitudes and practices that fall in the realm of Brand Values, Brand Personality and Business Principles and need to be studied from a branding perspective.

Corporate Vanity
Economic and business reasons cannot alone explain all what we have seen in terms of questionable corporate behavior. Ignorance, dishonesty and malpractice need to be added to the long list of reasons. However, we are mostly interested in shedding some light on one dangerous factor that we assume it had an important contribution to the crisis: Vanity.

Brand Vanity takes many shapes and faces; and here are some examples that make us suspect its crucial role in the crisis:

A brand that is managed as if it is more important than the life and future of its customers.

A company that pursues its own interests at the expense of any social, economic or environmental considerations.

A CEO or a manager who will influence corporate policies and decision to suit his/her own personal interests and to feed personal arrogance and greed.

The list of examples can easily continue beyond the business and economic circles to any public role and organization…

Politicians who consider themselves more important than the people who elected them and the country that gave them the chance to occupy their public roles.

Media organizations and media “stars” who consider themselves more important than the events they cover and the people they are supposed to inform and entertain.

These are only some of the manifestations of Brand Vanity that can ruin companies, economies, and countries; and trigger a world-scale crisis like the one we have experiences over the past 18 months. A real disaster that will continue to cause massive losses in financial markets, jobs, opportunities, and dreams that will take years to recover.

Vanity & Brand Promise
Vanity: noun (pl. vanities) (1) excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own appearance, qualities, abilities, achievements, etc. (2) the quality of being worthless or futile. (3) Lack of real value; hollowness; worthlessness: the vanity of a selfish life. (4) Something worthless, trivial, or pointless. — Latin origin vanitas, from vanus “empty, without substance”.

One of the most accurate “Vanity Tests” for brands and companies is a comparison between their “Promises” to their real delivery and contributions over a certain period of time; especially through at least one economic downturn. Let us look at few examples from around the world.
Merrill Lynch: “"Merrill Lynch is bullish on America”; “At Merrill Lynch we’re bullish on the future”
– The gold standard of financial companies just vanished, and saved at the last minute when bought by another brand. How the interests of customers, shareholders and employees were served through this kind of attitude and behavior?

AIG’s official slogan was “The strength to be there” – and the new one could be “the shame to be here”.

Lehman Brothers: “Where vision gets built” – What kind of vision were you building? – A vision that couldn’t see the deep abyss that the company and all its stakeholders landed in?

Nakheel: “Where vision inspires humanity” – We would have expected the company that represented the vision of Dubai to survive the first economic shock and to have more attention to the human factor while talking about “inspiring humanity”. Should we ask the hundreds of laid off employees or the tens of thousands of disappointed customers how inspired they are in their relationship with the brand.

Big corporations taking unfounded business decisions that leads to economic disasters; CEOs will multi million price-tags leading their companies to cheer bankruptcy and still cashing astronomical bonuses and golden-hand-shakes. But if we check their corporate websites and brochures they are all flashing out very inspiring brand missions and promises.

Can we blame all this on just the behaviors and attitudes of few corporate leaders? – May be not; but when brands and companies ignore the basis business ethics and principles and forget why they exist and whom they serve we will be face-to-face with Brand Vanity. It is a dangerous phenomenon that works against the whole concept of brand building and it is very important to be aware of it first then to fight it.

The Right Focus Point: “It Is Not About You but about the Consumer”
Companies that have a genuine desire to build Great Brands have to realize that the focus should always be on the Consumer and not on them. Their own importance and value is a direct function of the positive role they can play in people’s life (through their products, services, CSR programs, community development, etc.)

In many companies and organizations the focus has clearly shifted to the interests and aspirations of the people behind the steering wheel before anything else. Yet all corporate communication will still be talking about sunny vision and mission statements. This is a clear indication that the brand is falling into the Vanity trap.

“It is not about you but about people and consumers”

We have to always remember and religiously apply this basic principle if we want to keep the Right Focus Point (RFP) for a brand, a company or any other organization that is offering products and services of any nature to the public.

The Right Focus Point of a company is its stakeholders, not its management.

The Right Focus Point of a school is the students and not the School management and teachers.

The Right Focus Point of a political party is the public who adhere to its principles and support its ideas and not the interests of the leaders and their close circles.

The Right Focus Point is not only a management technique but also a corporate attitude and culture that can transform a company and lead it to greatness when respected and applied religiously across the organization.

Having said that, we are not asking companies to forget about profit, growth or to put on the side their business objectives and turn into charitable organization. The only change we are recommending here is to keep the focus on Customers and everything else will follow. What differentiates between a healthy brand and another that is touched by the Vanity Virus is not the drive for success and money but the internal focus point of this brand and the value system that guides the organization.

The Right Focus Point (RFP) is again not some kind of mysterious Zen business practice; it is the very simple and basic internal compass that tells a company or any organization at every moment where the top priority should be and whose interest is to be served first and according to which standards. It is simply the Brand Definition translated into actions and management style.

A brand can easily keep The Right Focus Point when it has a clear definition (Vision, Values, Guiding Principles, etc.) and it is living these core definitions on a daily basis. Keeping the right focus and living the brand core definition will give the organization and the best immunity about Brand Vanity. However, the risk will still be there with every new business day, with every change in management and with any opportunity or threat that comes from the market.

In the early years of the 20th century, Theodore Roosevelt, then president of the United States, said:
Corporations are indispensable instruments of our modern civilization; but I believe that they should be so supervised and so regulated that they shall act for the interests of the community as a whole.

Yes we want corporations to work for the interests of the community with one difference with what Mr. Roosevelt has said; we want a self-regulation that is driven by the brand values and ethics before any kind of external regulations that might be necessary in certain cases.

Final Thoughts
Human mistakes and irresponsible pursue of self-interests that are despised on a personal level could be totally disastrous on a corporate and public levels where the results of these actions will reach millions of people. Therefore, going back to basic ethical paradigms will give us plenty of insights and answers for personal situations as well as for business, public and even to political decisions that can affect the fate and the future of large group of people.

The mistakes of few people have taken the world economy into the crisis, but going out of this crisis will need a collective effort from everybody: individuals, companies and governments.

Companies that will adopt responsible business approaches and live their Vision, Mission and Purpose internally and externally will keep themselves away from the trap of vanity and toxic corporate practices.

To support the efforts of self-regulation by brands and companies, governments can play a key role in creating progressive business regulations that encourage healthy practices and prevent malicious minds from taking companies and economies too far in the wrong ways without being detected. Media, business schools, social and civic organizations and NGOs can also contribute to the building a more responsible business environment and society at large.

Facing brand vanity will need a real change in business thinking and practices. However, we will possibly need a whole new generation of corporate leaders that are not corrupted by negative ideas and soulless business styles.

Bill Bernbach said that “The great mistakes are made when we feel we are beyond questioning”.

With solid brand values and responsible business models companies will have a great deal of immunity against vanity and other corporate misconducts. However, some healthy levels of control and “questioning” will be very useful in avoiding big crisis like the one we are dealing with at the moment.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

UAE Advertising
In the Eye of the Storm

By Jean-Claude Saade

The impact of the economic crisis continues to affect our markets in many visible and invisible ways. Advertising agencies had their share of trouble so far but the world does not end in 2009. The road to recovery will pass by serious efforts of reinvention and adaptation to the new dynamics of a business that has always been in continuous change.

Recovery Road

While most countries and companies are still trying to deal with the deep impact of the world economic crisis, it is important to start doing some real thinking on how to put our economy back on the recovery road while trying not to miss possible “positive” results of the slowdown.

The crisis, however, has done a clear work of segregation between the winners and losers, the high impacted markets and the less affected, the companies which have assumed responsibilities and started taking the necessary measure and those who just wants to be saved with the money of others and at any price. This will provide a great deal of material for reflection, analysis and learning when reshaping the future.

On the brand level, the crisis has revealed a lot about the different types of brand cultures, values, attitudes, personalities and school of thoughts. Studying where the strengths and weaknesses are after the impact of the crisis can provide us with clues about the right way to follow and how the post-crisis world will look like.

Advertising and the Crisis

Advertising and communication services have taken a serious hit from the crisis and for all the economic and psychological reasons. Some Arab markets, like the UAE, were more visibly affected from the second half of 2008 till now. Some agencies were also affected more than others because of the nature of their client portfolios, policies and levels of preparations. In certain cases, problems were bound to happen even without a full scale global crisis.

The crisis is not over yet, and our markets are still open to more waves of repercussions. For instance, some shockwaves are currently affecting the media organizations in Lebanon. However, if we look at the activity slowdown in relative terms taking into consideration the size and dynamics of the different regional advertising markets, we can feel the impact of the crisis across the region.

The crisis might accelerate change in the advertising industry, however, the role of advertising in building and nurturing lasting relationships between companies and their customers will preserve its importance for now and for the future. So let us keep this key role in mind when reconsidering the situation and re-tooling for the post-crisis and beyond.

How advertising is supposed to sell products and services during these times when people don't want to buy? – What advertising agencies are supposed to do when clients are out of business or budgets have vanished for the known reasons?
Agencies had always to deal with a classic contradiction. When times are good and the market is flourishing, clients will put more money in advertising. But when the times of crisis arrive, clients tend to spend less or just stop spending. This has been the usual logic for decades and not just for now; a “logic” that simply goes in the reverse order as good marketing activities lead to good sales and not other way around.

The recession is shaking things up; and in some ways it will reward real strengths and expose weaknesses, create new opportunities and kill old habits, destroy old business models and accelerate the evolution of certain sectors including advertising.

Historic Crossroads

After a historic crisis like the one we are experiencing right now, we cannot initiate the recovery and create a better economic situation with the same old tools and the pre-crisis practices, attitudes and services that, in some cases, have contributed to the current situation.

The UAE has one of the most dynamic and important advertising sectors in the region and it was one of the most affected. Now it is of prime importance to think of ways to take this industry out of the crisis to a stronger position that will enable advertising to play its key role in the economic development of the UAE and the region.

In the global markets, an “Ethical Renewal” is now expected from corporation and businesses. Advertising agencies will not be an exception. Moreover, the crisis might be the right time for a movement of re-invention that comes from the inside rather than wait for new regulations and norms that will be imposed from the outside.

Creativity in all its manifestations will be the most sought after offering from the advertising industry in the future. At the same time, certain inherited practices from different times and different market situations will probably need to left outside the post-crisis advertising business.

Advertising Re-tooled

The thought times will eventually reward brands with solid foundations and clear added-value and expose the fake and empty ones. We have few ideas and suggestions that might be useful during the recovery phase especially for those who believe that change is necessary for evolution. Advertising agencies that have always encouraged their clients to change and try new ways and ideas have to start eating their own cooking.

Going into a “smart innovation mode” will eventually lead to a renewal of the industry with new Services, new Structures and a new Spirit.

Advertising is part of real life, and it is on the forefront of social issues and trends. Therefore, Advertising services have to be most adapted to specific needs and to the current market situation. Messages have to reflect the realities around us and campaign cannot be created with total denial of the crisis and people’s real concerns. Advertising has to admit the problems we are facing and address people realities and mindset. Humor is always good, but pompous and silly advertising will be less appropriate.
Beyond the adaptation of the content, new advertising and marketing communication services and new creative approaches to mix these services will be most needed to help clients protect their brands and businesses and keep their positive image throughout these difficult times.

By nature of their role, advertising agencies are supposed to be the most agile and responsive structures. In the past few years certain agency networks have grown in size and structure to become even more complex and heavy than most of their clients.

The recovery phase will favor more creative agency models. It is important for agencies to keep a “manageable size” that is not too small to offer a perfect service and not too big to limit the human factor, creativity and fresh ideas.

Group structures, alliances and collective industry initiatives can provide even more support and credibility, bearing in mind that some of these most needed initiatives, like measurement, are still on hold since ever.

A realistic understanding of the role of advertising in the business chain and consequently its real value and contribution is needed. Also, some degree of humility will be useful in going out of the crisis.

The real importance of advertising comes from the positive results that it can provide to clients’ brands and businesses and consequently to the economy and society in general. In the absence of these contributions, nobody really cares about advertising. Making sure that real value is delivered with every idea, every meeting with client and every campaign will build a lasting reputation for advertising.

It is important to have great services and a well known name in the world of advertising, but passion, enthusiasm, and a strong sense of purpose beyond the actual products and services will set the new breed of agencies apart.

Final Thoughts

Customers are eager to discover the real face of brands in the way they are acting and behaving during the crisis and not according to their communication slogans and campaigns. This time of crisis will present great opportunities for the solid brands and good companies that are pursuing the right strategies. They will be facing real problems and slowdown because of the general economic context but their relationship with their customers and their image will come out of the crisis intact and even much stronger.

Change has been the constant in advertising and it is going to happen with or without crisis. Advertising agencies that really believe in the power of ideas in transforming their business and the business of their clients will come out of the crisis not without some lasting scars but these will the proof of a re-invented industry that can bounce back with more maturity, better services and stronger will to continue building a better world that is much needed in these days.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Next Challenges of Advertising

By Jean-Claude Saade

The current economic downturn is putting additional pressure on Advertising Agencies and triggering some existentialist discussions, but advertising has always been a very dynamic and an ever-changing profession. We currently have a long list of elements that advertising can easily loose and another list of new additions that is waiting to be adopted. What are the key future challenges of advertising?

Role Challenges

Modern advertising has maintained more or less the same role for over a century. The many changes in production, consumption, technology and media has forced advertising to evolve and change but practically did not alter its main role of inform-to-sell. Although some people would like to define advertising as “information mixed with entertainment with a clear commercial objective”.

Advertising main role is a business catalyst, gathering talent and techniques from all walk of life to help companies sell their products and services and build their brands. It has also been used in politics, arts, religion, non-profit and any area of business or life where we need to send a message in an attractive and informative way while making sure that it embodies a clear call-for-action for a certain group of people. Advertising has kept evolving to cope with changes in market dynamics like the introduction of new media, but it is now facing a challenge of a different nature that will probably lead to redefining the role of advertising in the business chain.

Currently, the three main roles of advertising are Information, Entertainment, and Engagement but the expectations from advertising might be changing and going beyond these three main tasks. Consumers are becoming much more informed about everything and even they are taking the initiative into their hands when they go online to get all the information they need individually or through social networking platforms.

The “Entertainment” role of advertising is becoming more and more difficult for very similar reasons. People who use to have access to a couple of local newspapers, few radio stations and one TV station are now offered more entertainment than they can handle and digest in many lifetimes. Creating advertisements that will manage to get people attention and earn a smile or appreciation for entertaining people is not an easy task at all.

“Engagement” might be the advertising role that will need more innovation and focus in the future by tackling areas like customer communities, content, total customer experience and other emerging trends.

Image Challenges

Is the advertising industry humble enough to admit that it is facing an “image” challenge? – Let’s put humbleness on the side; admitting to have a problem in the one single area that advertising people claim the highest expertise in, we meant Image, is out of question for many advertising people.

Let us call it a “perception” problem or anything else you want provided that advertising agencies will internally admit that they have deal with their own image “issue”.
The image of advertising in the eyes of clients is not a glorious and shiny as it used to be; and for a long list of reasons which are not all within the control of advertising agencies. The proliferation of marketing services, the poor delivery and questionable practices of certain agencies, the lack of influence on business results, the absence of performance benchmarks and many other reasons has contributed to the fading image of the advertising industry in general. Exceptions exist, some agencies continue to offer wonderful work and maintained great reputations; these are doing well and don’t have an urgent need to focus on the image issue like others.

One of the reasons for the Image Challenge could be the business approach that advertising agencies in general have adopted. The client “Servicing” concept is being sometimes abused and confused with something else that does not relate to advertising.

Practice Challenges

The market changes and the economic crisis are putting tremendous pressure on all sectors and all sorts of companies and they are presenting to the advertising industry another “defining moment”. Agencies have to decide between downsizing, shrinking and dying or tempting a serious re-invention of advertising that can possibly take the whole practice for another 50 or 100 years.

Exceptional times will need exceptional people and measures to deal with them. The crisis could be the best time for the industry to reinvent the whole practice of advertising, especially if it does not have another choice. Agencies can start by addressing some unorthodox practices, organize and regulate some others like pitching and poaching; and more importantly try to invent new approaches and services that can help the future of the industry like performance measurement, fair pay scheme, and talent development programs.

Final Thoughts

In the face of the biggest economic crisis since the 1930’s, we cannot settle for the same old measures from the past when we are trying to build a better future for advertising. Some agencies will close down, some others will be forced to reveal their real face to the outside world and to the market, some will manage survive till the next crisis. But few will rediscover the real creative spirit of advertising and start a whole new era for the industry.

What advertising people have to keep in mind is one simple objective: To positively influence business results –

How to achieve the above? – It is up to everyone to come up with his/her creative recipe. Continue with the same old services? Adopt new ones? Innovate and create totally new approach? – This is where genuine creativity will differentiate the good from the less good.

Advertising is a catalyst, a business accelerator, a practice where creativity is mixed with business innovation to generate better results. It is a “black box” that should remain closed in order to keep the magic inside.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Real Value for Real Estate

(Interview with Jean-Claude Saade for Capital Magazine – Turkey)

1 – You are brand strategist and you live in Dubai. Could you tell about your self and your workings?

I have been in the brand and communication business for more than 22 years. I have lived in several countries in the Middle East and worked with a large number of international and local clients. Most recently, I have witnessed the phenomenal boom of both the branding and real estate businesses in Dubai from 2004 till 2009. Currently I am based in Lebanon and work as an adviser to a number of companies and organizations across the Middle East region.

2 – Until today, how many companies did you work as a brand strategist? Were they real estate companies?

I have worked on a large number of projects for various companies and brands; several of them were in real estate business.

3 – Why is it important creating brand in real estate?

The role of brand creation in real estate is as important as in any other business sector. However, Branding in the real estate business has its own challenges and has developed special tools and approaches to better benefit from branding in an industry that has its own dynamics and challenges.

A real estate brand will help the creation of a better connection with customers from the initial stages of awareness and consideration to the more developed stages of brand loyalty and referral.
More important, a strong brand is the best “insurance policy” facing a general economic crisis like the one we are facing right now or even specific challenges that the real estate business is facing in certain markets.

In certain markets where the real estate business is now developing in an unprecedented way due to a number of economic and conjuncture reasons, having the right advice about real estate branding might be priceless to real estate developers and will definitely give then a clear advantage over their competitors.

4 – How do economic crises influence branded real estate and the others?

The economic crisis has affected literally everything including the real estate business. However, strong brands that are built on solid business model and supported by a strong connection with customers will be less affected by the crisis. Even they can be “saved” by the love of their customers that will be manifested at different levels.

5 – What the reasons are for create brand in real estate? What do you think about the relation between branding and real estate?

The reason of creating brands in real estate is to create value. A good real estate project will have a “higher value” for different target groups being investors, residents, the city, the community, the government and many others. The brand is the face and materialization of this extra financial, commercial, social and emotional value.

The branding basics applicable to the real estate business are no different from branding in any other sector. The principles and the overall benefits are the same, but the applications are more specific to the real estate business.

Moreover, Branding in the real estate is a sign of the market development, sophistication and high competitiveness. After the basic stage of build-sell-build cycle of less developed markets, comes the brand driven real estate business where a well known and respected brand can build trust and drive the business from one project to another.

6 – What are the critical subjects for creating brand in real estate? what are your suggestions?

My advice is to know where to brand and where not to brand, as not all real estate projects will benefit from a branding effort. Bearing in mind the substantial budget needed for branding.

Over-branding and badly managed branding projects will have negative effects on real estate projects and the real estate market in a city or a country in general.

I brief, know when branding is needed and do it with specialized professionals.

7 – In this subject, which companies you find successful? Why?

Real estate products are “durables” and a long term investments; therefore the time factor is very important in judging the success or failure of real estate companies.

A certain company might appear innovative and successful based on few projects that were in demand but this is not the final verdict for its sustainable success as a brand. This will depend on continuous and flawless delivery of its “Promise” to customers and to other involved groups and bodies.
If we take the example of real estate companies in Dubai, several big names could not stand the test of the first economic downturn neither managed to behave as big brands should.

8 – For creating brand in real estate which are more indispensable? What are the rules?

I would like to share with your readers some rules that we have developed based on our experience with real estate brands.

Rule # 1: Branding is definitely needed if your project is one of the following three types of developments:

1. Iconic projects (i.e. the Palm in Dubai)

2. Destinations

3. Communities

Rule # 2: Transparency – always deliver what you promise to your customers.

Rule # 3: Consistency – make sure that all your projects are successful; one failure will tarnish a long history of delivery and hard work.

9 – How do you see the future of real estate? If we compare branded real estate with the others, they get more value. How much branding could increase value of real estate projects?

Real estate is still a growing segment with a huge potential despite slowdown caused by the current crisis. Population is growing; lifestyle is evolving; and the need for more new and better real estate projects will continue to increase.

Branding will definitely increase the value of real estate projects especially if the brand is known for its exceptional delivery, quality, finishing, lifestyle standards and facilities inside its projects. The brand will be then the sign of all the added values that customers should expect from a certain company but never an excuse to hike prices without any viable reason.

10 – How do you find ─░stanbul and real estate market in this city? ─░stanbul, will it be like Dubai?

Every city has its own potential and limitations.

For example, Dubai has experienced a phenomenal growth in the real estate segment that has changed for ever the face of the small emirate. Some companies managed to create big brands out of their names and projects; at the same time many other companies have failed miserably. Above all, the collective branding effort has definitely managed to put the “Brand Dubai” on the world map as a prime real estate market.

I am sure that Istanbul and other Turkish cities and areas can benefit from real estate branding to build and grow their image and attractiveness at a world level.

Jean-Claude Saade – Brand Consultant

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The 7 Doors of Connection

By Jean-Claude Saade

The Doors
Brands that really want to connect with customers on a deep and meaningful level will have to identify common ground and areas of similarity and synergy with these customers. This has to be genuine and based on the real values and vision of the brand. Efforts to attract more people and more customers are better accepted when aligned with the brand spirit and done in harmony with its core identity and main offering. Common grounds will be the soil where positive relationships between brands and consumers will grow and prosper.

Brands with clear identity and purpose and most importantly with an attractive human face and personality can mesh positive and enriching relationships with their customers. They can enter their minds and hearts and be part of their daily lives by opening one of the seven doors of consumer connection. Those are the shared values, roots, fights, interests/benefits, lifestyle, hobbies, and preferences.

We have identified these seven areas as the potential common grounds that can bridge relationships and build connections between people and brands. Therefore, building attractive and financially valuable brands would pass through these seven doors.

1. Shared Values (Peace, equality, liberty…)

Values are one of the strongest bonding factors for people in general and between people and brands. People who share and cherish the same values tend to come together and stay united in the name of these values.

Values like world peace, equality, liberty, and fair opportunities would rally people, organizations, brands, and companies who believe in them and build their lives and activities around them. Values, as common grounds, are so powerful and can generate intense emotions to the point that people are ready to pay their lives for these values to triumph, let aside paying a premium. When a brand adheres to one clear a rallying value, this will become part of the brand DNA—an intrinsic part of the brand definition, identity, offerings, and communication. Therefore, everything that the brand says or does would invite consumers who share this same value to come to the brand and stick with it; especially when the products and services offered by this particular brand perfectly answer the needs and expectations of the target group.

2. Shared Roots (Religion, ethnicity, language, culture, citizenship, education, profession, geography…)
Roots are another very important shaping factor of people in general and groups of consumers in particular. They also play an important role in the relationship between consumers and their adopted brands.

The secret about "shared roots" is their ability to facilitate and accelerate natural and easy bonding and bypass the lengthy process of building familiarity.

People connect more naturally with brands that share the same culture, geography, religion or background. They will naturally feel attracted and subsequently discover that they have many things in common, even before starting the relationship.

Let us consider a traveler in a foreign country who comes across a restaurant serving his favorite national food and dishes. He/she will be naturally attracted to go and eat in this restaurant and probably return very often if the food is really good.

3. Shared Fights (Politics, environment, wildlife…)
Similarly to shared values, shared fights and causes rally people and connect them with organizations brands and businesses that support these same fight and cause.

People who are fighting for the preservation of a balanced and sustainable environment or the preservation of wildlife and endangered species will connect with brands who are sharing this same fight like Greenpeace and the WWE. They will also connect with and support businesses and brands that are taking genuine and tangible measures to preserve the environment or to reduce CO2 emissions.

Environmentalists will bond easier with car makes which are developing and selling hybrid or electrical cars for example. In a parallel scenario, people who are fighting to reduce their countries dependency on petroleum will be more interested in purchasing flexible-fuel vehicles and would ready to pay more money for a vehicle that relies less on petroleum-based fuel. We can see that two different shared fights can lead to very similar consumer behavior seen from the outside. Shared fights will also make people ready to pay a higher price for a brand and product that share the same fights (e.g., bio products and environmentally committed companies).

4. Shared Interests and benefits (Wealth, power, information, notoriety…)
Shared interests and benefits (that is, wealth, power, or notoriety) can also bring people together. People need to put collective efforts to achieve more wealth or to gain more power and knowledge. Certain brands can share the same interest of these consumer groups and even help them in realizing their common objectives and consequently benefit from their support.

Special interests and benefits can lead people to form groups or internet-based communities for sharing ideas, knowledge and experiences in certain fields. These groups offer opportunities to interact with peers for sharing, networking, and lobbying.

Brands who share the same interests or who can help in realizing the interests and benefits of these groups can establish a solid and continuous connection with them. People who want to stay connected with family and friends online have naturally connected with brands like MSN Messenger and Skype. They would also be more ready to do business with these brands or eventually with third parties introduced by these brands.

5. Shared Lifestyle (Fashion, housing, restaurants, vacations…)
Similar lifestyle patterns would create natural synergies between people and between people and brands. People who share a certain lifestyle with a certain socio-economic belonging would easily identify with each other and present very similar patterns in terms of behavior and consumption.

People who share a certain taste for fashion, travel destinations, or vacations will directly or indirectly discover that they share certain lifestyle patterns that make them similar at different levels. In return, people from the same socio-economic levels would acquire certain lifestyle patterns and might try to imitate social groups they aspire to, but this will not affect much the end result in terms purchase behavior and relationship with brands.

Successful brands would become the symbols of a certain lifestyles. Armani, Harley-Davidson, Starbucks, Nike, Boss, adidas, and many others are lifestyle brands. All these brands have earned the status of "lifestyle symbol," which goes far beyond the functionality and the delivery of the product or service they are selling. People have always used their relationship with iconic brands to project certain lifestyle messages to the outside world.

When Apple offers the combination of iPod, iTunes, and PowerBooks with the possibilities of buying, downloading, synchronizing, and experiencing music, Apple is not only a lifestyle brand, but also contributing to the shaping of a certain lifestyle embraced by its target customers. This will lead to even a stronger relationship with the brand and prepare consumers for its next offering like the iPhone.

6. Shared hobbies (Sports, arts, music, travel…)
Shared hobbies of different natures can also bring people closer and connect them to brands that shows interest in these same hobbies.

Brands like Quiksilver and Billabong have been invented from within the hobby of wave surfing, which represents their cradle and natural environment even after becoming global brands with a wide appeal. The essence of these brands is still anchored in the surfing culture and their key reason-to-be is serving the surfing community. Regardless if these brands have become overextended nowadays, actual and aspiring surfers will continue to connect strongly with them fueled by the appeal of surfing as an expressive hobby and a way of life.

7. Shared Preferences (Food, drinks, cars, clothing…)
People who share the same Preferences will naturally manifest elements of synergy and sympathy. Those who like Italian food, Swiss chocolate, or a New Mini would find a common ground for bonding and dialogue.

Shared preferences can also favor the formation of certain consumer groups who can favor certain brands or models and promote them directly or indirectly.

Shared preferences are one of the doors for strong connection between brands and people. It can also generate positive talk value and referral power that can make current and potential customers more positively predisposed to buy new products and new versions of the same product; and obviously from the same brand.

The Door to Emotional Connection
Today, brands of all types, sizes and categories are facing one big challenge to build a strong emotional connection with consumers. Without that personal relationship their names will fade and businesses will suffer.

Like in any human relationship, this emotional connection needs a door to enter, a common ground and a genuine interest in the other person or party; being the consumer in this case.

It is worth mentioning that the art of human connection is not related to the size or the type of the company. It is more about the brand's vision, point-of-view and mission. Lack of credibility or any sign of manipulation attempts would be deadly mistakes especially on the long run considering that consumers are becoming increasingly savvy, informed, and demanding. The secret to open the seven doors is simple but difficult at the same time. We need to show the real human face of our brand, do the right things and offer the best to improve consumers' lives. When we do things from the heart, emotional connection will happen and the doors of consumer connection will be wide open for our brand.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Before & After

The proof is in the Brand Experience. Have you ever compared the image you had about a brand, a company or a person Before and After dealing with them, believing their promises and buying their products? – Will they keep their positive aura?

Brand Experience

When it comes to the core promise of any brand, Experience is the only real test. By core promise we mean the positive contribution to your life and my life that a brand will be promising to bring to the table when we accept to buy its products and services. This personal brand experience will determine the difference between the perceived image we have formed in our minds based on the brand’s communication and other marketing activities compared to the real value and real delivery of this same brand. The outcome of real-life interaction with the brand can vary from a very disappointing experience to a very delighting and positive outcome.

“Experience” is the reality check that sets the limit between what the Brand is saying (Brand Communication), who the brand is (Brand Identity), and what the brand is really delivering (Brand Contribution). At this level, we do not really differentiate between tangible and intangible brand contributions; rational or emotional; what really matters at the end is whether this brand is keeping its promise throughout the experience and making customers’ lives better in any form or shape – Ideally fulfilling the core Brand Promise based on which you have decided to deal with it.

What we are referring to as the Brand here can be anything; from a new restaurant, to a new house, a bank, a hospital, a car or a candy bar. It also can be the city you aspire to live in, the party you adhere to or the company you were convinced to work with.

Before & After in Everyday’s Life

The Before & After comparison is a prominent part of our everyday’s life and we have an endless list of examples. At different occasions and with different levels of importance we are receiving messages, building a certain perception, interacting with a certain brand and then going away with the results and conclusions of our experience. In many cases, this interaction is not a one-off event but could be repeated for a number of times.

A Restaurant
Before – A new restaurant opens in town and it is announced with big viral and advertising campaigns trying to build an attractive and distinguished image. After – May be at the first impression you liked the location and the decoration; but food was very average, the service poor and the bill can go under the “robberies” column. Result – You feel 3 times disappointed, first for believing the communication, second for wasting your time and money to come and eat at this restaurant and third, and most important, for feeling that this brand has offended your intelligence and sense of judgment as a consumer.

A Service Company
Before – You meet the boss of this well known service company to explore possible cooperation, and despite your natural pessimism, you are very much impressed by the way he presents himself as an intellectual, passionate, refined and successful person. After – Within a very short time of joining the company you get this alerting negative feeling, Mr. “Intellectual-Polite-Boss” is just another caramel-coated-crook like the competitors he likes to criticize, and you are already looking for the right timing and occasion to leave this company. Result – You feel cheated by these people and their brand and regret the wasted time and energy; most importantly, this brand goes down deep in your own personal ranking of the most attractive brands.

A Car Dealer
Before – You have moved to a new city and you want to buy a car, but instead of going for that “exciting” German brand you usually like, you decide to go for a “good deal” from an American brand which did not look that exciting to you at the beginning. After – You discover a fairly good car that is reliable and enjoyable and most important, you experience an amazing service quality from this brand that goes out of the way at all times to make your ownership experience an enjoyable one. Result – You are positively surprised and cannot but spread the good word about this experience all around you. The image of the brand has totally changed in your mind and you have much more respect to it and you can possibly become an advocate of this brand and influence other people in your circle.

Before & After and Brand Switching

The Before & After mechanism is at the heart of what we usually refer to as “Brand Switching”.

Why consumers switch to another brand of mobile phone or laptop computer, why they stop dealing with certain banks, or coming to certain restaurants, why companies keep moving their advertising budget from one agency to another almost every 2 to 3 years (with few exceptions..). This is the “Before & After” in action.

Consumer satisfaction research and CRM programs (when available beyond just the name…) can tell us more about the exact reasons and get us more details about brand switching; but as long as the customer-brand relationship is concerned, brand switching means that the customer was disappointed by the brand experience and his final perception and appreciation of the brand is much lower than the initial image he has in mind “before” dealing with it.

Before & After and Connection: The Importance of Consistency

Connection, more specifically “Emotional Connection” with a brand or with a human being is one of those mysterious concepts like the human nature itself. It can make wonders and change lives but at the same time it is very vulnerable and can be lost overnight especially when deception enters the equation. Brand connection can make or break businesses with tens of billions of dollars and at the same time can be lost very quickly if customers/consumers discover that the brand they are dealing with is different than the picture it has always tried to depict about itself through advertising and other means of communication. When the “After” is disappointing or not at the same level of the “Before” brand-consumer connection is lost and usually with a “sour” taste.

This is where “consistency” in delivering positive brand experiences is a very important policy for any brand. Powerful Brands are always trying to deliver on their promises, and consistently trying their best to satisfy their customers. They are always there for them, always reliable, always offering the same quality of products and services. Powerful brands always deliver, and always the experience is good. Even if for once, there was certain problem and a customer was somehow disappointed, the long relationship and long track record and history of consistency will cover-up and most probably the mistake will be forgiven.

“Bad Brands”, or Brands, Businesses and Companies with hidden intentions are also consistent but in being what they are: bad brands. They might try to cover-up, by faking good service, winning awards and getting fancy coverage in the media, but this will only fool some people for some time. When you hear about a company with a bad culture, and or sick mentality it is never from an isolated source, it is always from a large number of people who were fooled by the “Before” but were very disappointed by the reality they discovered “After”. These rotten brands are the marks of evil business cultures.

Applying the Before & After check consistently and over time will create tremendous positive talk value about the brand; and this is not limited to customers, but to all relevant stakeholders starting by employees and collaborators who are also supposed to have a positive Before & After experience; first, because these are the people who are supposed to deliver the brand promise at different touch points and occasions; and second because employees and collaborators cannot be fooled as they know the full story and from the inside.

Before & After as Performance Measurement

We all know that brand building is a long term effort, made of big and small moments in the relationship between the brand and its target group and there are elaborate and complex tools to measure the strength of this relationship in both qualitative and quantitative areas. However, the Before & After concept could be used as an instant performance measurement tool for both small encounters and important relationships. For every positive Before & After experience you can know for sure that your brand is growing in connection, in market share and in financial value; measuring that growth will need a more elaborate approach.

The Golden Rules for “Before & After”

The One most important golden rule for brand experience is to always make the necessary to get a positive outcome from Before & After scenarios. All the rest will follow.

Some additional ideas that can help and add to the above golden rule:

1 – The immediate result of brand experience is the effect it has on brand reputation – Before & After is a good and immediate “PRM” (Positive Reputation Meter, for those who like acronyms)

2 – Respect your promises and “walk the talk” – Deliver on your brand promise and your Before & After indicator will be just fine. So far we have not encountered brands with bad promises, but we always discover promises that are very badly delivered.

3 – People can be very emotional about brand experiences. They start by being over-enthusiastic about a brand and consequently will be over-disappointed when something goes wrong.

4 – Brand Experience Disappointments are a constant fact of life and to be expected, how to deal with them is the issue. This is where good faith and genuine efforts will merit understanding from the brand stakeholders. Can you think of a president or a prime minister who kept the same positive image Before & After leaving office? – Almost never – Despite the very high hopes, try to imagine the image of president Obama after the next 4 years.

5 – Always make your best to make the Before & After outcome positive. Consistency will cumulate positive credits and win the battle over time.


A simple concept like this is easy to understand and apply by all members of any organization and across all touch-points with customers and other important stakeholders. It can become a company motto, a battle cry, a motivational quote in each and every cubicle and office in the company. Always make sure that customers walk away with a better experience After they have dealt with the company compared to the image or the perception they had Before – Obviously cost effectiveness watch-outs need to be applied to avoid excessive measures for certain situations.

Always do everything possible so that the “After” is consistently better than the “Before”. This is how connections are built and value is created over time.

Jean-Claude Saade – Brand Consultant

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Brand Activities And The Economic Crisis

The global market is feeling the economic crisis and the Middle East is no exception. But we need to differentiate between the “crisis” and the “state of panic” around it; they both have very similar and inseparable effects in the short term.

Considering the “panic” effects, we can say that is already factored in and most marketing and communication budgets in the region are already affected in a way or another. However, once the market will start dealing with the real facts of the crisis, certain sectors will be more affected than others therefore, certain marketing budgets will be reduced while others could even increase in 2009.

Traditional advertising budgets are expected to take a hit in 2009 not because advertising is bad during recession, on the contrary, brands should not stop talking to their customers during crisis time; but because it is traditionally the first way to reduce spending by companies.
Other means of brand communication will be even more needed during the coming year. The reason is very obvious. During the times of crisis businesses, brands and companies need to communicate with their customers, shareholders and with the general public on what is happening inside these companies and how they are going to deal with the crisis and to save and protect what could be saved in terms of market value and shareholders interests. This is where practices like PR will be most needed especially if PR specialists will know how to adapt their services and prove real value during these tough times.

As far as branding in the GCC market is concerned, some projects in the real estate business and other affected categories will be cancelled or delayed which will mean some less work for branding companies as far as these clients are concerned. However, we expect branding services to be in demand during the coming period for other obvious reasons:

1. During crisis, the instinctive reaction is to “Protect the Main Assets” – brands are these main assets for businesses and companies.

2. The current economic crisis will definitely lead to a wave of consolidations in different sectors, mergers and acquisitions will happen and companies with large portfolios of brands will need to rationalize and streamline those portfolios.

3. Life will not stop, and new brands will continue to reach the market. Some categories will experience a slowdown and reduced activity for some time; in parallel other brands from other categories will be created and will need branding services and support.

As a conclusion, 2009 will be a tight year for brand activities in general, but certain specialized services will be even more in demand because of the crisis itself. Branding is one of these services.

Jean-Claude Saade

Saturday, April 18, 2009

What Is Your Manifesto?

Brands are the most important business assets nowadays. They play a central role in our everyday life and surround us from everywhere and around the clock. In most cases we don’t even think about the brand values, beliefs, business practices and role in the society when we are buying their products and services.

Everyday we deal with brands through their products, services, people, communication and eventually their role in local and global society. Knowing who they are and the real human face of the corporation and the brand will open the door for a different kind of relationships.

It is our right to ask and know what they stand for and fight for before we even buy products, pay for services or give our time and attention to what they are saying and doing. We need to know what causes do you support and fight for beyond just making money and growing your business which we expect and respect.

Beyond simple transactions and consumptions any purchase is a vote and we need to use this vote responsibly.

What is your manifesto Mr. Brand? – Mr. Coffee? Mr. Bank? Mr. Airline? Mr. Apparel? and Mr. TV Station?

What is your manifesto? – Do you even have one?

Jean-Claude Saade