In an age of dynamic multimedia, consumers are continuously bombarded with revival narratives of lifestyle experiences.
If this is the direction of the intended brand purpose, then the looming questions is why do brands neglect — and marginalise — local native audiences that form an integral aspect not just to their bottom-line but the place in which they do business? Global and regional brands often err on the side of caution, by undertaking campaigns that, I believe, are audience-neutral.
They may be emotive and heart-wrenching narratives that appeal to the right cerebrum, and while these have delivered traction, they fail in creating an impact predominately due to the lack of a local sense and sensibilities.
Looking at communication campaigns targeted at the UAE local audiences, one notices they are opaque and myopic, more often painted with the same brush that we are all too familiar with. These days campaigns are littered with pronunciations of local attire and luxury lifestyles that seek to establish a “bond” with audiences, often failing to look at the nuances that are indicative of — and resonate with — Emirati culture.
Arguably, such endeavours, by best estimations, seek to kindle the targets’ aspirations and motivations, but in fact such rhetoric fails due to the lack of relevance and resonance. Connection is built on emotive intelligence and not superficial reflections.
The “Harvard Business Review” states that the way to maximise customer value is to move beyond tracking the customer experience and activity on a physical level, to connecting with them on an emotional level. This is where brand resonance comes to life. A study by IBM and Econsultancy found that only one in three consumers believe that their favourite brand truly understands them.
We have seen a number of local campaigns undertaken by big brands that often misappropriate the intelligence and imagery of national audiences with superficial reflections. Such directions are more often detrimental to the brand and malign brand reputation, with nationals disassociating themselves as it doesn’t speak to them. So why are brands perplexed when their promoter scores show a downturn? The key is for brands to sensitise themselves to local cultures as opposed to the notional imagery of nationals in the UAE and the wider region.
Brands need to invests in understanding the motivations of the local native population as opposed to getting away with overtures.
Create value through inclusion
A lack of cultural understanding is not only witnessed at a brand level, we witness it throughout all aspects of life. To quell this, the UAE already wants to add cultural education to the curriculum to ensure our national identity is understood by the high number of expatriates. Seeing this should ignite brands to adopt a similar strategy, and to ensure they immerse themselves in the knowledge of local cultures to create a connect with the Emirati rather than be “about” them.
Brands irrespective of origin measure success in driving and achieving business results. If this is the yardstick, then brands need to approach nationals in an inclusive manner, rather than as a fringe segment. While nationals as a segment might be small in numbers, their ability to instigate value creation is profound.
The interpretation of value shouldn’t be viewed as dollar signs alone, but the propensity to alleviate the brand to a prestige positioning and increased promoter scores. Nationals have the muscle to put brands on a pedestal and to play the role of brand activists, advocates and advisers. Hence the pragmatism of directing campaigns to nationals outweighs any other conceptions and tick all measures of success that marketing pundits refer to.
Creativity should be driven by brand pluralism
Diversity and pluralism are often referred to as synonyms, but in reality it is because of pluralism that diversity exists. The Middle East is a melting point of cultures where diversity is large. The treatment of creative direction and narrative should be reflective of it.
A symmetric approach to creativity often stunts brand resonance with audiences and in due course alienates certain low volume and high-value segments. Most creativity in the UAE and the region at large are blindsighted by this fact.
If marketers base their offerings on their audiences and market segmentation, then why are brands withholding the same mindset to creativity or for that matter targeting nationals? The fear of brands — ensuing a positioning of us vs. them — is unfounded and it’s time brands realise this. There is no telling what a brand can accomplish when it engages in dialogue with audiences and nationals in parallel.
Apart from being an Emirati, I’m biased when I say it matters. As a brand marketer, campaigns that speak to nationals on an emotive level have an increase in engagement and thus directly impacting a brand’s promoter scores positively.
At du, we see this time and time again when we create campaigns targeting our Emirati audiences — our hugely successful 2014 “Narzif” campaign, for example, highlighted UAE culture through traditional song and dance, and resonated, not only with local audiences, but those throughout the GCC and beyond. In fact, our campaigns have always looked to highlight cultural nuances that go beyond depicting local culture at the surface.
We walk together with the audience, we know what goes on in their home (our open doors campaign) and what they get up to during the chaotic night before Eid, as depicted by our latest campaign on the occasion of Eid Al Fitr. As a brand, we have experienced the benefits of being a locally relevant brand.
When it comes to campaigns that resonate with national audiences, creative resonance is impermeable. Brands need to fluidly engage with like-minded creative minds from the region and the market to feel the pulse of the local population and deliver campaigns that go beyond the surface to cater to their lifestyles and cultures.
The writer Executive Vice-President — Brand & Corporate Communications, du.