Brand Dubai: The New Challenge

Blog | Press

Charlie | Thursday 1st, 2009, 12:00am BST

In what has been a truly global recession, few economies have had to contend with the added weight of publicity as Dubai. 

There has been a distinct glow of Schadenfreude in reports of ex-pats leaving cars at the airport, building projects being stopped, property prices halving, and businesses hitting the buffers.

 The Emirates can, and will, protest that reports of its demise have been greatly exaggerated, but facts are facts. As international brand consultants, Turquoise works with numerous national and global brands, helping to enhance their respective offerings and to be the best they can.

Our work over the last few years has included many projects from within the Middle East and so we have seen from both the inside and outside, the issues which Dubai faces. Here then, are five thoughts from a brand consultancy point of view for the Emirate to consider, if it is to recapture the reputation for success that it used to take for granted: 1. Bling isn’t King
Dubai quickly established itself on the basis of ‘biggest, fastest, highest, tallest, you-name-it-est’. Anything that had been done before was automatically wrong and rejected. That kind of thinking worked while things were going well – or, more importantly, while people were happy not to ask questions. Now, people are genuinely hurting from the excesses of the last few years and have started to question not only their own decisions and priorities, but also the sources of the promises they believed. Dubai should be proud of its ‘can do’ and pioneering spirit – at a time when everyone else is following the ‘keep your head down’ line, we need all the optimism we can get – but the Emirate needs to recognise that there is less of an appetite now for the big, unproven claim, or for the ‘because we can’ attitude. 2. The future isn’t what it used to be
A year ago, you couldn’t move in Dubai without seeing or hearing something about ‘vision’. Usually tied to property or development companies, this thought looks doubly ironic now. Dubai should concentrate more on the ‘today’ and look to build from here into the future, rather than make big statements that are actually a hostage to fortune. With so much uncertainty still around, anyone proclaiming great vision is unlikely to be taken seriously; but brands will be successful if they invite people to join in an attitude of “Let’s work through this together”. In the past, Dubai has adapted to change quickly, but such change was always propitious; now, it has to adapt to less favourable conditions, but if it can do that with the same commitment, the Emirate will turn its corner. 3. Trust is key
Sadly, on both the micro and the macro level, Dubai has a challenge in rebuilding its credibility. As an economy heavily dependent on two of the worst-hit sectors in property and finance, it has fallen victim to global pressures. But Dubai is seen as having tried to build a future that was almost literally built on sand. That kind of approach just doesn’t fit with the way people are thinking now – it’s not all gloom and doom Рat least it shouldn’t be Рbut Dubai has to live in the same world as every other brand, be that luxury, commodity, global or local. Dubai needs to rebuild trust with all of its stakeholders, and to do that it has to be prepared to take its time. For an Emirate that has built its reputation on a phenomenal ‘can do’ attitude, that might be difficult, but trust cannot be earned overnight: consistency, integrity, long-term commitment will count for much more now. And none of those contradicts the ‘can do’ mentality – it’s now a case of ‘can do, should do’. 4. Get up close and personal
The future is going to belong to those brands that have genuine understanding of and commitment to their stakeholders. Dubai is no different, but it does have a fabulous opportunity to capitalise on this demand. As a destination, it will continue to lure people from all over the world: for holidays, Dubai’s climate and facilities are constantly attractive. As a place to do business, it is one of the easiest territories in the region: still cosmopolitan, technically-advanced and ambitious. So long as Dubai takes those qualities and thinks of how they can work on an individual basis, it will succeed. Perhaps in ways it hadn’t considered before, with a new emphasis on customer relationship management, personalised communications, one-on-one relationships. Dubai can use this time to re-engage with people. 5. Make it real
Behind all of these points is one common thought: the world is looking for authenticity now. Values like integrity, honesty, trust, clarity are important and must be evident in everything that organisations do. Dubai cannot be an exception – particularly as the Emirate has to rebuild trust – and so needs to embrace a different approach to the marketing, communication and services that it provides and houses. Brands are not taglines, they’re promises. And promises have to be kept, so they need to be based on a core truth. This is a great opportunity for Dubai, not a threat. For all its problems and faults, Dubai still stands out as an economy that was prepared to change and to challenge. It was not prepared to accept the status quo, and wanted a better future for its people. Those qualities are still relevant – perhaps even more so – now. By looking deeper into its traditions, its beliefs, and its ambitions, Dubai will find its own truths (perhaps re-find would be more appropriate) and it can build on them to secure a sustainable and admired future. Keith Wells is group managing director, UK-based Turquoise Brand Consultancy. [This article originally appeared in Arabian Business]