The Middle East has been a global trading hub for centuries, facilitating the movement of international brands, many of which have built their own legacy in the region. International, household names first started infiltrating the Middle Eastern market as early as the 1920’s and increased dramatically with the American troop movements of World War II.
The region has even adopted global brands and made them their own, but how many brands have been exported from the region? Lipton Yellow Label tea is a prime example of an adopted brand. Lipton’s was originally produced in the Scottish city of Glasgow in 1890, but became so popular in the Middle East after being introduced in 1980, that it’s second largest tea factory in the world is in Jebel Ali free Zone, UAE and the brand is no longer even promoted in the UK!
There is a branding philosophy, that you can identify a maturing economy when it begins to export its own brands. The Middle Eastern market has been used to a West to East flow of brands for decades now, but the time is arising for the region and especially Dubai, to reverse the flow. Emirates Airlines has been the first to achieve global recognition and has truly secured itself as a brand powerhouse.
This article will look into other regional brands which are beginning to stretch their wings and how they are challenging traditional Western brands which have dominated the landscape for decades. It will also review the cultural nuances that take local brands to cult status, the diaspora that secure ownership of these much loved institutions and the push back against global corporations whose extensive franchising has lost its lustre.
Careem Vs Uber
Founded by Travis Kalanick and Garett Camp from their San Francisco base in 2009, Uber championed the ‘sharing economy’ and revolutionised the industry by creating a ‘zero capital’ firm valued at around $60 billion. Moving internationally in 2012, they are now operating in 270 cities across 60 countries, one of which is the UAE. For a company that has been so popular despite the ongoing legal challenges that it is facing worldwide, what has stopped it dominating the market and preventing competitor brands like Careem occurring?
Careem (‘generous’ in Arabic) is the Dubai-born version of the same structure, with a few significant differences. Launched in 2012, it now serves 22 cities throughout the region, from Morocco to Pakistan. It is rapidly growing and beginning to actively move away from Uber’s original model. Passengers wary of the app format have a number of options unique to Careem, such as being able directly call the office to make a booking. They can also make a booking ahead of time and pay in cash. Careem has responded directly to cultural nuances that Uber may not be aware of, or are uanable to tailor their international app to. Perhaps they believe that passengers will adapt to their format, but in the mean time, Careem is picking up market share.
Al Baik Vs KFC
Al Baik is a Saudi Arabia based, fast-food chain founded by Shakkour AbuGhazalah in 1974. Famous for it’s broasted chicken and shrimp, the 51 restaurants are wildly popular around the region, with a fan base that has even taken to creating YouTube videos about their love. When asked to qualify their passion for the brand, customers cite its taste and value offering.
Although there is a KFC in most neighbourhoods of Saudi Arabia, Al Baik lovers will travel hours to the next province for a dose of their favourite broasted chicken and will also bring back balk orders for their friends and family.
But is the brand advantage really due to a better product or is it because it’s local? When asked, the customers say that they will always support home-grown businesses over international franchises like KFC.
Souq.com Vs Amazon
Dubai based, Souq.com is the region’s first tech unicorn and is taking the e-commerce world by storm. The shopping platform has seen stratospheric growth over the past decade, strongly competing with global brands like Amazon who are also targeting the deep pockets of Gulf consumers. The company’s business model, similar to amazon, is to offer online products at a discounted price to offline channels.
However, they’ve had to respond to many regional challenges from demanding consumers, including introducing a cash on delivery option to quench the regions lack of trust towards online transactions. This option has now become a USP, boosting their success.
As the regional property and commodities markets undergo an evolution, investors are beginning to see high growth opportunity in tech start-ups. This shift is supported by the rapid regional development of infrastructure and social trends, making a MENA a ripe market for e-commerce. Whilst some are worried that the market will become overly saturated, Saudi Arabia alone saw internet penetration grow by 22 percent between 2012 and 2013, according to market research company IPSOS.
So, whilst these regional brands are only championing consumers locally for now, it will not be long until we see more Middle Eastern brands making global headlines.
What Makes the Difference:
Regional start-ups now realise that they don’t have to reinvent the wheel to create a successful business, they just need to identify that small gap in the market. Careem did it by giving customers the option to book later, Al Baik by appealing to their consumer’s national pride and Souq.com by offering cash on delivery. These brands took the time to understand their target market, uncovering their behaviours and motivations. This is where our passion lies as branding consultants. What’s your point of differentiation?