A company has a brand whether they want it or not” is a popular adage for explaining the importance of branding as a discipline. And, according to a recent survey conducted by local branding firm Brandcell entitled ‘The State of Brand Management in Lebanon,’ it is one that may need to be more explicitly communicated to Lebanese businesses, organizations and institutions.
“In Lebanon [branding] has become, by force, a need. But it hasn’t been easy and still it’s not easy. Branding is still largely misunderstood and unappreciated and very vague to the client,” said Abdo Saleh, executive design director at Brand Central. Brandcell’s survey polled 50 professionals — from marketing managers to chief executive officers to communications and public relations (PR) managers — to find out if they truly have a grasp of the illusive concept of branding and if it is properly integrated in both the perception and operations of their institutions.
The study found that “although Lebanese marketers believe in the importance of branding and its influence on customer choice, they lack the full knowledge related to a brand’s economic value creation and to a brand’s relation to business strategy.”
Joumana Rizk, owner and managing director of Mirros Communication and Media Services, said that she was in the public relations (PR) game for over 10 years before she began recommending that her clients work with her company in addition to branding firms in order to create the best solutions and strategies.
“When we want to deal with PR or work on PR and communications we cannot take just one part and forget the other parts,” said Rizk. “PR has to be incorporated in a bigger strategy, which includes branding and communications and marketing. So of course when I discuss PR and communications with my clients, it has to be incorporated in a branding approach.”
There is only so much an outside PR professional or branding firm can do to make sure that a branding strategy permeates every level of an organization; something branding professionals insist is essential to ensuring the “authenticity” of a branding strategy. Though it is the job of the branding consultant to make sure that the brand identity and strategy chosen is organic to the institution, internal communication and the spreading of a branding philosophy throughout an organization ensure that the strategy is kept consistent and executed on every possible level.
“Its not a one way thing — it’s a chain. Everybody has to be involved,” said Rizk.
Only 31 percent of marketers in Lebanon think that their company’s employees have a good understanding of the core ideas of the brand identity, even though 73 percent of marketers survey their employees regarding their understanding of the brand, according to the Brandcell survey.
This indicates that 42 percent of marketers are aware that their branding strategies are not penetrating through the ranks, but have so far been unsuccessful in remedying the situation.
The study notes that Lebanese marketers “need to devote more branding efforts especially to engage employees, have a more supportive management and have brands aligned with business strategy and operations.”
However, Saleh says that this disconnect is a common occurrence in organizations in highly developed markets as well.
“To be fair [this] can be found in developed markets — you would be surprised,” he said. “In very sophisticated markets and with very sophisticated companies you will still find those faults of understanding. That’s quite normal because it’s a very tricky discipline.”
Going into the metrics
One way to convince executives and even staff of the importance of an intimate knowledge of their own brand is by presenting it in terms of dollars and cents.
But this is yet another “tricky” task. While 80 percent of the marketers claim to measure the financial value of their brands and the return on brand equity generated by their efforts, only 40 percent of marketers claim to be aware of how brands create financial value for their organizations.
Supporting a theme of overconfidence, this paradox suggests that 40 percent of marketers are attempting to measure their brand’s financial value without truly grasping how this value is generated. This fact contributes to a widely acknowledged lack of standardization in return on brand equity and brand value metrics.
“Return on investment in branding is as elusive as the search in alchemy for the elixir of life,” said Saleh. “Every branding specialist worldwide and every marketing guru claims that they have formulated the right approach on how to financially prove the success or failure of branding… but you won’t find one standard today that most people are adopting. Everyone has their own and sometimes they are protected by a proprietary system claiming that they have the only answer.”
Yet another curious contradiction among marketers is their rock solid belief that their tactics are effective. Even though 92 percent of marketers say their branding is effective in influencing the choices customers make, only 71 percent of them claim to survey their customers about their brands. This leaves 21 percent of marketers believing that their efforts are working without bothering to be sure.
It is an issue of consistency and follow-through, which are the main roadblocks to truly effective branding and a particular problem in the local market. “Lebanese people are very good at creating concepts and ideas but they don’t sustain them properly. Our main problem is consistency,” said Albert Thoumy, head of communication strategy and development for Crepeaway. “We have good brands and good communication skills but we do not question ourselves enough to do something different, to apply high quality standards and to innovate,” he said in conjunction with Brandcell’s survey.
The evidence shows that this is not an industry at a crossroads, but simply a phase in a progression toward a mature branding market, though it may frustrate the experts waiting for their clients to catch up.