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Can Saudi firms be brand savvy?

Can Saudi firms be brand savvy?

Going public is forcing many of Saudi Arabia’s traditional family firms to take a more modern approach to branding, says Mohammed Abaalkheil.

February 2, 2010 10:37 by

Saudis now have a window on how the rest of the world operates, and in consequence are becoming more demanding. The presence of international brands has led to increased competition and higher expectations from customers.

A good example is the telecommunications industry. STC was the sole provider until Mobily entered the market, followed by Zain. The resulting competition forced each company to focus on their image. Local companies have one advantage: they understand the culture and can perhaps offer local consumers something that international brands can’t. But to do so, they will have to become stronger brands.

For example, the airline industry previously had one brand in the market: Saudi Airlines. Then competitors such as Nas Air and Sama emerged. The latest addition is Al Wafeer Airlines, which is dedicated to Hajj and Umrah. This shows the importance of brand differentiation.

Contact with the outside world, new opportunities arising from family businesses going public and the entrance of global brands are gradually changing the role that women play.

Saudi women are being encouraged to speak their mind and to be more active in business. There is a perception that Saudi women are hidden away and shielded from the forces of modernity, but that is not true. Women have become pilots, call centre agents, customer relationship representatives, saleswomen, scientists, artists, designers and investors.

What does this mean in terms of branding? Saudi brands will need to connect with female consumers more effectively than before and they will need to reflect the changing nature of women’s role in society.

Another observable change is an increase in entrepreneurship, especially among the youth. In a recent entrepreneur’s event held in Al Khobar, about 1,100 young participants took part. The youth are taking business seriously, which augurs well for Saudi Arabia’s future prosperity.

Mohammed Abaalkheil is KSA associate with The Brand Union

- Gulf Marketing Review magazine

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