As a general rule, it’s difficult to trust someone that you don’t know. Extending this rule to the commercial level, how can consumers be expected to choose Lebanese brands when so little is known about them?
A recent advertising campaign asked consumers to do just that. “You love your country, love its products”, read the campaign slogan — a suggestion that attempts to inspire consumers to purchase something based on its manufacturing origin alone. Certainly consumers would have had every right to respond to the recent campaign by providing a challenge of their own: “You want me to buy Lebanese brands? Then tell me more about them.” In truth, we would be hard pressed to know much about any of our local manufacturers. What is lacking is public knowledge of financial indicators (which can provide telling signals for consumer confidence), the people behind the brand, how the products are manufactured, what quality standards are enforced, how employees are treated, and so on. Why is this important? Because the more information a brand communicates about itself, the more familiar it becomes to consumers, thus empowering it to enjoy greater consumer preference.
The advent of the digital age has made the need even stronger for brands to open up, reach out and engage with consumers. In today’s world, brands can be crippled in a matter of seconds by virtually anything and anyone. For example, it only takes one anonymous ‘tweet’ on a company’s mishandling of employee affairs or revelation of malpractice to wipe value off a million dollar enterprise. This is why brands can no longer afford to stick their heads in the sand. Instead it is imperative that they place themselves in the hands of consumers and open up a two-way dialogue that takes in feedback. Importantly, being open with customers is key to reinforcing trust and can empower local industries to compete not just at home but abroad.
The only way is up
There are three levels on which industry branding in Lebanon could, and should, be improved. The first is on the industry level itself. The point here is to focus on industries that have strengths — in Germany one would think of the auto industry, for example — and to promote these industries collectively. In Lebanon, it could be jewelry or olive oil that are targeted for promotion.
Next there is the level of the corporate image, where companies need to communicate their values. Are they an exemplary employer, for example?
Lastly, there is the level of the brand image itself. Many brands don’t communicate their own story: the description that sums up the essence of where the brand comes from as well as what it delivers. And the brand story is just the beginning; beyond this there are many touchpoints which have to be aligned with the brand values and communicated with consistency.
One touchpoint, and a crucial area in which local industries fall short, is product packaging. Go to any supermarket and compare similar products from Europe and those from local manufacturers and you will see an immediate difference. Local manufacturers assume that customers want cheaper packaging to give them an affordable price, failing to realize this shows disrespect to the consumer. Beyond packaging, often the second big disappointment is the product itself, with low or inconsistent quality.
The way to go
We know that Lebanese services have the ability to reflect a positive image of the country and to compete on a regional and international level. The hospitality industry and banking are two prime examples of this. Yet, for manufacturing, we only have to look at the level of imports versus exports to realize that there is a still a long way to go before Lebanese manufactured goods become the strong competitors they could be, either here or abroad. To get consumers to believe in their products, local manufacturers need to wake up to the power of branding and take the first steps to unlock their full potential.
Joe Ayoub is the CEO of Brandcell