Brand Builders

Vital for both channel and end-user buy-in, brand equity has never been more important as vendors look for the edge over rivals in the Middle East market.

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By  Stuart Wilson Published  June 4, 2006

Brand equity|~|bbopener200.jpg|~|Building brand equity in the Middle East channel is no easy task|~|Building and maintaining brand equity has become one of the most vital tools in a vendor's sales and marketing arsenal. Channel Middle East spoke to Hamad Malik, director of marketing at LG MEA, Philip Ashkar, sales and marketing director at Acer Middle East and Raafatullah Khan, marketing manager at Samsung Gulf. From a software point of view we spoke to Ned Jaroudi, VP area marketing at CA and Bahaa Issa, corporate communications manager at Microsoft Gulf. We also consulted Sherifa Hady, marketing manager at HP IPG Middle East and Ben Gale, general manager, sales and marketing at Xerox.

CME: How important is building brand equity in this region?

RAAFATULLAH KHAN: It is the brand that is bought by the consumer and the product is made in a factory. While competitors can copy a product, a brand is unique.

PHILIP ASHKAR: The transformation of Acer over the last five years from a manufacturing organisation to a marketing and services driven company has helped it become one of the world’s leading international PC vendors. Brand equity is enormously important and building, maintaining and leveraging the brand is core to Acer’s strategy.

SHERIFA HADY: Building brand equity is very important. Research shows that more and more customers are buying brands rather than a product, so effectively communicating brand values is essential.

NED JAROUDI: Our customers, prospects and partners are seeing a re-energised, sharply focused CA in our marketing. This is supporting CA’s transformation and helping to position CA and our enterprise IT management (EITM) vision of securely unifying and simplifying complex IT environments.

BAHAA ISSA: Branding has to include corporate messaging, not just branding for the sake of it. Although Microsoft is one of the strongest brands in the world, we still have to work hard.||**||Push and pull|~|bbashkar200.jpg|~|Philip Ashkar, Acer|~|CME: What are the techniques you use to build brand equity?

NED JAROUDI: The vast majority of our marketing dollars are spent driving geography-focused marketing campaigns to increase demand. However, we’re leveraging a few select brand awareness opportunities from sponsorships to advertising to deliver our message in a cost-effective manner where it makes sense.

SHERIFA HADY: There are a number of disciplines we use to interact with our target markets, but I feel one of the most important marketing activities is channel training. Here we can update our partners on the latest HP technology, educate them on current products and in so doing build the HP brand with the channel.

PHILIP ASHKAR: With PC and multi-media convergence technologies increasingly homogenising in terms of power and capacity, we find brand equity is more about service, trust and partnerships.

BEN GALE: Xerox sees brand equity as the long journey towards quality in the eyes of our customers, our investors and our people. Xerox is, therefore, viewing brand equity as the responsibility of every person within the company to deliver quality. This can be seen in the recent announcement where Xerox Emirates was rewarded with the prestigious Dubai Quality Award.

RAAFATULLAH KHAN: Identifying the target customers and how the market is segmented, understanding our brand values and also adapting brand values as per the requirements of each individual market to develop regional strategic messaging. These are some of the techniques that we use.

CME: What’s most important: push marketing or pull marketing?

SHERIFA HADY: At the moment, the Middle East is more of a push market, but I see this changing to become more focused on pull marketing in the near future.

HAMAD MALIK: Push marketing is required for the channel, but on a retail level pull marketing is more effective. But there is no set formula and these strategies are utilised simultaneously by most marketers and brands.

PHILIP ASHKAR: Both are important, as Acer’s position is to deal with partners — push — and the external, consumer market — pull. Having changed direction to being brand-led, we feel that pull marketing has allowed us the proper infrastructure to drive the brand but it is still important for us and our partners to have the correct mix.||**||Regional focus|~|bbbahaa200.jpg|~|Bahaa Issa, Microsoft|~|CME: How do your branding activities vary or differ within the region?

SHERIFA HADY: We look to conduct the same activities but tweak the way they are implemented depending on what will reach our target market most effectively.

HAMAD MALIK: Our marketing efforts have a very unique local flavour. We invest reasonable resources in understanding the customers, their lifestyles, habits and aspirations. We believe that our branding exercises should reflect what our customers want. At the same time, being a premium lifestyle brand, we inspire our customers to reach the next level in their lives with LG.

BAHAA ISSA: Microsoft localises the corporate branding to make it relevant to the market and also runs specific localised marketing campaigns.

NED JAROUDI: The branding strategy and campaigns don’t differ that much from country to country, though we tend to localise more in some markets like Egypt and Saudi to more effectively reach out to a specific audience.

RAAFATULLAH KHAN: We follow the region’s seasonal calendar; associate with local events; support local initiatives and for our flagship products, locally relevant promotions and initiatives are planned.

PHILIP ASHKAR: While it is important to keep consistency in the same look and feel of the brand, each local market demands that you engage in your marketing activities in a different way. These differences are largely attributable to cultural, linguistic and social norms that drive consumer behaviour.
||**||The channel role|~|bbmalik200.jpg|~|Hamad Malik, LG|~|CME: How important is the channel’s role in building and maintaining your brand?

NED JAROUDI: Our business model in the region is 100% channel, so our partners are our extended arm; they are ambassadors of our brand and this also makes them responsible for how they position and protect the CA brand. It is a two-way relationship: we help them develop their business with co-marketing programmes, but it’s equally important to us that they build and maintain the quality and level of our brand in the customers’ minds.

BEN GALE: Xerox considers its partners as a vital element in building and maintaining our brand. To this end we offer training and support covering wide-ranging areas. An example of this is the regional roll out of our Momentum concept. This was delivered to each country within the Middle East, focused to each of our partners on establishing the value add that Xerox plays to its customers.

BAHAA ISSA: Microsoft depends on its channel for all sales, making them an essential part of successful marketing. We do a lot of co-branding, but Microsoft generates all campaigns and the channel takes them to market as they are.

HAMAD MALIK: In many markets partners are directly involved with developing communication strategies and materials. If their efforts are not synergised with those of the brand owners then the customers could get diverse messages. At LG we put great effort into educating our partners on even basic points such as how to use the brand and slogan in their communication materials.||**||Measuring ROI|~|bbned200.jpg|~|Ned Jaroudi, CA|~|CME: How do you measure the return on investment (ROI) from your branding activities? Is this easy?

PHILIP ASHKAR: Acer has recently made firm its commitment to F1 sponsorship through its association with Ferrari and with this comes sponsorship leverage that can be understood in clear growth in sales. We look at every opportunity to build brand equity with clear business and ROI results in mind from the beginning of any co-branded relationship or individual campaign.

HAMAD MALIK: A brand’s health could influence its sales and profitability. If a brand is growing at a healthy rate year-on-year and is profitable, it means you are doing your job right. At LG we conduct an annual research across our region in strategic markets to check awareness, loyalty and purchase or re-purchase intent of customers.

RAAFATULLAH KHAN: Broadly the following criteria are taken into consideration: incremental sales revenue generated by marketing activities; changes in brand awareness; total sales revenue generated by marketing activities; changes in attitudes toward the brand; changes in market share; number of leads generated; ratio of advertising costs to sales; cost per lead generated; cost per sale generated; post-buy analysis comparing media plan to actual media delivery.

CME: How important is branding in the Middle East compared to other regions?

BEN GALE: This discipline is definitely on the growth curve and this has come about with the increased education on the role of the brand. This has been combined with the growing number of Middle East regional ‘brands’ that are now going outside of the region into international markets.

NED JAROUDI: CA was successfully re-branded last year, and it was extremely important to implement the re-branding in the Middle East, since CA did not even exist in the region eighteen months ago. We’ve put in a great effort in building our brand from the start and this is an ongoing process.

HAMAD MALIK: In this region brand owners, with the exception of a few, did not invest much in building their brand image or equity until the early 1990s. Marketing was mostly driven by distributors, which concentrated on sales driven marketing. But major brand investment has been ramping up here since the end of the last decade.||**||Success stories|~|bbsherifaHP200.jpg|~|Sherifa Hady, HP|~|CME: What are the secrets of success of your own branding in the region?

NED JAROUDI: CA has been able to leapfrog others by being extremely focused on developing and executing marketing programmes and branding elements tailored to the needs of resellers and end-users in the region. Some of these are common sense, like a rich, multilingual web presence. Others were not as obvious, such as the entire toolkit for our enterprise solution provider top-tier channel programme.

BAHAA ISSA: Our branding in the Middle East is aligned to local audiences, and we feel this is very important. We will always ensure our brand message is appropriate for each market or country and this approach has the best results for us.

SHERIFA HADY: HP aims to understand its target market. When formulating branding or marketing activity we want to understand problems customers may face and then show, through our corporate communications, how those problems can be solved with HP products. This is absolutely vital in any successful marketing activity. We also aim to ensure our brand is seen in the right places. We want to be associated with events and activities that fit both our brand and our business objectives.

RAAFATULLAH KHAN: Samsung has extensive channel strategies including the implementation of shop display guidelines across the region, retail and merchandise enhancements and extensive online education initiatives. We also have a focus on sports marketing with high profile events and sponsorship of the Doha 2006 Asian Games, the Dubai Desert Classic and also the Samsung running festival.
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