Advice from brand-builders on how to make yours shine

Creating a successful brand is about more than designing a logo; it touches every aspect of corporate philosophy.


Developing a brand involves more than thinking up a name and designing a logo.It requires vision, direction and differentiation. The UAE’s SME community reveals what it takes to carve out a corporate identity, and shares its tips on how to make your business stand out from the crowd.

The basics

To appreciate the power of branding, one must understand its meaning. Dubai-based company The Brand Foundation defines the word “brand” as an idea communicated by a company, product, person, place or service. As such, how people experience a brand determines how they feel about it, the value they associate with it and the price they’re prepared to pay for it.

“This definition of brand is not widely practiced or universally understood, though,” said director of strategy and founder, Lisa Knight, who believes strongly that entrepreneurs should think of a brand as a “living, breathing being”.

She continued: “For some practitioners, ‘brand’ is just a logo, which is a trap many start-ups fall into because of a lack of understanding. The real value in a brand is not in isolated things such as the logo or website design – it’s in defining and communicating a central, identifying idea.”

Taking the right approach

In a highly competitive market like the UAE, standing out is key. So much so, Knight said, that entrepreneurs must adopt a “holistic and strategic” approach to their branding in order to succeed and grow.

“Having a strategically positioned, professional brand is often the difference between failure [and] success,” the director said. “Start-ups face stiff competition from more established competitors and your brand presents a key opportunity to communicate your differences, maximise your competitiveness and shape perceptions about who you are and what you do right from the start.”

MichaelLahyani, CEO and founder of Propertyfinder, agrees. He advises start-ups to place great emphasis ontheir vision, the values they stand for, their reason to exist and what sets them apart.

“The other thing to look at is the way you build your brand personality and tone of voice,” said Lahyani. “You only exist if your audience exists. Your personality and tone of voice should be reflected in every piece of communication, but more importantly in every interaction, product and service you are providing to people. A brand exists through what it does to people more than through what it says. If you want to tell people you're funny, make them laugh.”

Brand formulation

Before formulating your brand, however, Swiss-born Lahyani stresses that brand identity should be a consequence rather than a cause. Too often, he said, entrepreneurs focus on “looking great rather than actually being great”. This, he believes, is unsustainable without a clear vision.

When he founded Propertyfinder, his approach to developing its branding strategy was straightforward: “Our approach to branding was very down-to-earth. We had a vision, and we wanted it to be reflected in our brand identity. Our brand name reflects what we do and what we stand for. Nothing else.

“Our intention, from a branding standpoint, was for everyone who would hear our name to be able to understand our purpose. I think that this was guided by a real will to be honest, humble and to show genuine respect to those who are trusting us.”

Get practical

With your brand established, it’s time to promote it. To do this, Jon Richards, founder and CEO of Yallacompare (formerly Compareit4me), shares a few simple steps for start-ups and SMEs looking to amplify their brand identity.  

  • Be a thought-leader within the industry. Write papers, articles and columns about your industry to show people you’re knowledgeable in your field.
  • Speak at, or even just attend, relevant events. Industry events are a great place to grow your brand and meet new clients.
  • Understand your target audience and reach out to them with relevant advertising. Your brand could mean different things to different people. Each will need a different style, or even channel, for communication so it’s important you fully map out your audience. 
  • Be persistent. “We spend millions of dirhams every year conveying the same message: ‘compare the banks and save money’. Having that same simple message has been key to getting to the front of mind of our target audience,” Richards added.

This article was originally submitted for Accelerates SME on 27 January 2016.

© Zawya SME 2021