(MENAFN - Arab News) Top directors of some of the well-known brands in the region came together on one platform yesterday to discuss how brands conceptualized and developed in the region could be made known worldwide.
Merely creating a brand is not enough, but there ought to be a sustained effort to protect it by not compromising on the product quality that it represents and also guarding against its copying or piracy. The speakers gave this message through their presentations at a panel discussion on "Brand Arabia: Globalizing Regional Value Creation" at the opening session of the final day of the three-day 12th Jeddah Economic Forum. Naf A. Al-Mutawa, chairman and CEO of TESHKEEL conducted the session.
"Quality, investment, innovation and authenticity were among the key factors that helped a brand to thrive," a presenter said. "Brands could be developed through a culture of innovation and its appeal promoted through global competitiveness," said another.
Giving a glaring example of how a regional brand had its appeal internationally, Ata Atmar, managing director of Bateel, said: "Bateel is truly a local brand that has gone international. Just not on paper, but it is known worldwide as a brand of quality dates and certain other food products.
He recalled how the concept of the Bateel brand was developed way back in a small place north of Riyadh. Its first outlet opened in the capital and later in Jeddah, and today it is present in 15 countries including the UK, Dubai and Mumbai.
Explaining how Bateel had protected its brand image over the years, Atmar said: "50 percent of our date production that is of premium quality is marketed under the Bateel brand name, while the remaining 50 percent, which falls short of the high quality standards due to production reasons, is marketed under another brand name."
The company, with its R&D wing taking care of the brand management, has 15,000 date farms kingdomwide, which produce 20 varieties of dates. The company's brand image also helped it to produce and market other food and food products, as well as a range of confectionary items over the years. It has emerged as the largest chocolate producer in the Kingdom and the Middle East. What is more, the company also ventured into cafeteria business and now prides itself with its first flagship "Bateel Cafe" that opened in Dubai three years ago. It has followed up with its first Saudi cafe in Riyadh.
Rafi-uddin Shikoh, CEO and managing director of DinarStandard that is dedicated to growth strategies for emerging Muslim markets, said that a brand in the region should have universal Islamic values enshrined in it. "Islam is an important part of the Arab DNA and so its products and services should have a universal appeal as they represent Islamic values, whether food, finance, education, fashion or recreation," he said.
According to him, Islamic finance is growing in all Islamic countries at the rate of 15 to 20 percent annually, with their Muslim lifestyle market exceeding 2 trillion. It includes food, travel, education, recreation and health. He stressed the importance of social networking sites on the Internet as they are important for communication. "It's much more important in Saudi Arabia where they lead the world among Facebook users." Shikoh also gave the examples of Abdul Latif Jameel whose brand image had become much more popular through its community initiatives. Likewise, Al-Rajhi Bank had popularized its brand image through Islamic finance. However, Shikoh added: "We need an increasing number of Islamic brands to have their presence across the Muslim world, from Turkey to Indonesia and from Malaysia to Morocco. We also need to have brands in service industries like travel and hospitality, although Haj and Umrah do have their presence."
Referring to some of the countries known for brands, Shikoh gave the example of Germany whose famous brands include BMW, Mercedes and Siemens. "How they came about is interesting; in Germany they enjoy strong government support through the continuous upgrading of infrastructure," he said.
Hussam R. Abdulqader, head of communication and public relations at Almarai Company, Riyadh, gave a statistical presentation to justify the company's growing brand image. Since its inception 35 years ago, the company has been vertically integrated, he said, adding that the milk that it produces and distributes comes from 135,000 cows. "If all the cows are lined up one behind the other, they could cover the distance between Riyadh and Dammam. The company, which started with 3,700 employees, today has a 22,500 strong workforce. Another 4,500 workers will be added during the year. The company boasts seven farms. The company has 1,000 reefers (refrigerated trucks) that distribute dairy products to 70 depots across the GCC. It also has 3,000 trucks that distribute products to 48,000 retail outlets every single day. The company brand has received accolades from Forbes magazine and Financial Times for having gone international. "We communicate with our customers and get regular feedbacks from our satisfied customers. That is how we enjoy our brand loyalty."
Interbrand's Regional Director Michael Benson explained what it takes to be a global brand and emphasized that brands are important for every industry. "If you have a strong brand, it will drive choices and generate resources. "Your brand is much more than your logo. As a consultant, we have built brand images and created some," he said, adding that the company considered a pioneer in brand evaluation. He gave the examples of BMW, InterContinental hotels, Audi, Qatar Airways, Jumeirah, Google, Nike Aljazeera, Coca Cola, Starbucks, Burj Al Arab and McDonald's and said they have strengthened their images through innovations.
Replying to a question, Benson hinted that brands are trying to promote themselves on Internet sites or digital platforms. The best option at present is to continue to advertise in the traditional media.
His advice as a consultant: "Concentrate on building your brand and protect it through a legal framework. In fact, brands can transform a nation and even change the world."