By Matthew Millard-Beer

Abu Dhabi – Building a symbol of national pride and a nation of brands

When I was asked to write a short article on the influence of brands and branding in the context of Abu Dhabi, it struck me that the recent London 2012 Olympic and Paralympics Games may provide an interesting parallel.

Clearly investing US$9 Billion in hosting the 2012 games was a major undertaking led by the UK Government, and a decision not taken lightly without a firm idea about what the expected outcomes would be. Having worked on the London 2012 bid campaign, it became clear that becoming the successful host nation would provide not only a global platform to put Britain top of mind, but create salience and awareness of Great Britain in Political, Economic, Social and Technological terms. In addition, at a more national level to the noble social aims of London 2012 being to “Inspire The Next Generation” and repositioning the Paralympics as the “Games Of The Possible”, the key international strategic objective was to use the platform as a lens to dramatize and reaffirm what the country really wanted to be famous for; and in doing so act as a driver for social change, economic development and inward investment.

As a result of the games, international audiences may now describe the UK as Creative, Inventive, Industrious, Sporty, Quirky, Entrepreneurial and Welcoming. These values and out-takes combine to form an overall impression of Great Britain, best summarised recently by the BBC’s Home Editor, Mark Easton who described Brand Britain as simply being Competent, Successful, Confident and Fun.   Being clear on what a country brand stands for, and delivering on this consistently also has a clear link with, and generally positive benefits to national brands through their association. RangeRover, Burberry’s, Jaguar and British Airways for example are great British brands benefiting from the recently elevated positive equity of the UK Country Brand.

Therefore determining what you and your brand want to be famous for is perhaps the starting point and ultimately the core foundation of building any successful brand; whether that is Brand Abu Dhabi itself, or home–grown Abu Dhabi based brands.

Whilst consumer brands can be more single minded in their focus, such as Disney, (which is beautifully and simply synonymous with Magic); Country Brands are by definition multi-faceted and more complex to build.  Country brands such as Abu Dhabi have to address the need states of diverse audiences seeking to Live, Work, Visit, and Invest in their respective Emirate’s and country’s.

But what though is a brand?  There are many definitions of what a brand is.  These include Brand Consultant Matthew Millard-Beer’s definition: “A brand is compelling central organizing principle, with tangible and intangible assets, which, when managed successfully delivers a promise of a clear, consistent and rewarding experience’; And perhaps one of the best coined definitions is by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos:  “A brand is what people say about you; when you’re not in the room”.

Ultimately though, brands are about Choice and Value. We all make choices every day, based on value judgements.  In the context of Abu Dhabi, we recognise that people are making rational and emotional decisions every day – perhaps choosing whether to live, work, visit and invest between Abu Dhabi, (which can perhaps be described by some as Authentic, Artistic, Conservative, Progressive and Sustainable), and neighbouring cities such as Dubai, (which may be described by some as Fast-Moving, Ambitious, Upwardly-Mobile and Adventurous). On a more frequent basis we can choose between airlines such as the UAE’s very own brands such as Etihad Airways (“Authentic Experiences For Travellers”) and Emirates Airlines (“A Promise Of Discovery And What Tomorrow Brings”). Both these examples of short and long-term decisions are arguably based on the clarity, consistency and relevance of the promise each of these brands makes to its audience, and how closely these promises are actually delivered.

Whatever the brand’s proposition or central organising principle may be, it is critical to ensure it is Clear, Relevant, Desirable, Differentiated, Defendable and Deliverable.

What successful brands have in common though is not just their absolute clarity of purpose, but rigorous and consistent application across all their touch-points.  These include:  Products & Services, Communications & Campaigns and People & Behaviours, Environments, Events & Web.

So what about the future of Abu Dhabi and its brands?  The last principle would be to understand that the world of brands has moved from a brand centric corporate “let me tell you and let me show you” model, to a more consumer centric model which is based on shared values, authenticity and a cause that consumers can join, be proud of and advocate.

If we embody these principles just as brand Abu Dhabi has, then its family of brands has a bright future.



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