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“Your customers aren’t fools”

Leading marketing expert says many CEOs in the Middle East lack the basic understanding of marketing.

March 4, 2013 1:27 by

Said Baaghil says that too many brands in the Middle East make the mistake of looking at branding as a mere logo accompanied with a hefty advertising budget – and that’s just never enough – because the brand may become popular, but would lack personality. Baaghil is the author of both Eccentric Marketing and The Power of Belonging part 1 and has now celebrated the release of the second edition.

You’ve done the first edition, why did you feel a second one was necessary?

The first edition of my book covers the current evolution that marketing is facing and covers great examples about brands such as Expedia owning the travel world, while ones Like Thomas Cook moved into creating the Voyage segment. This one talks about how brands flirt with each other; much like in the case of Qatar airlines trying to flirt with Emirates airlines on Luxury.

The book has three new chapters that showcase the importance of marketing and how branding and marketing are well knotted.

What new ideas does this edition put forward?

It talks about how you really need to create a marketing strategy that supports the ultimate objective. Most companies ignore the ‘little details’, like its corporate strategy and how holistically it could reflect on the overall performance of the company. The book also directly addresses the CEOs of the Middle East who lack the basic understanding of marketing and how their decisions are critical and can void the existence of their brands.

Would you say the Middle East has a steep learning curve in branding? What are the best tips of advice you usually give out?

You’re right, it does. The book mainly focuses on the Middle East market, because it’s a significantly important one, but most multi-national companies refer to it as simply trade marketing. Home-grown brands are normally managed by ex-multinational marketers that are experienced in both trade marketing and advertising, and yet lack experience with basic strategies.

Marketing is misunderstood in our region; it’s caught up in the wave of misconception between advertising and sales. Most departments see the logo as the core of the brand, and a few CEOs I’ve met think that its design and a couple of billboards encapsulates it.

Here are my tips to them:

A) Have a perfect marketing foundation (Marketing Mix)

B) Understand your audience and audit regularly; research can tell you so much, but you can find out more if you interview your front lines

C) Create a brand and not a logo

D) Be patient and maintain your product, brand and communication (Consistent)

E) Keep innovating to keep the experience active

F) Don’t think your customers are foolish; don’t over promise and don’t over communicate

You recently said that the Middle East needs rebranding. What did you mean?

In this region, branding really falls short; it’s become just about visuals without the backbone of a philosophy. We have pretty logos, but are meaningless to the prospects. If your customer can’t understand what you stand for then he will have a hard time to purchase from you. Branding is in its infancy in the region and even experienced marketers have failed to understand its actual role; I have many examples, from coffee brands to Airlines.

We need to change how the world sees us, because we have great potential, but that will never happen until we alter our mindset. We can launch a great communication campaign, but that would mean nothing if we don’t identify the root of the problem. We suffer from a perception problem and many would rather run for perception than fix the fundamental issue.

Isn’t advertising helpful for smaller businesses?

I would actually discourage them from advertising. The early period of a start-up usually defines its entire existence. Small business need to work through communities, their offers are limited to small volume, so why should they resort to advertising? They need to re-invest most of their earnings to set the business on the right track.

And, finally, what are some of the worst misconceptions of marketing in the region?

Firstly, let’s establish that the lack of proper marketing education lead to misconceptions. And, secondly, we are naturally in a trading market; the Middle East by far is a consumption hub and most multinationals look at the market from a pure trading prospective.

The process of adapting the multinational experience in local organisations has failed, because the two are from completely different environments. Local companies require a lot of initiative to be competitive but most multinational marketers have a more operational mindset.


Said Baaghil is a marketing expert and columnist for Kipp Report.


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