Mind over matter

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This article originally appeared on Communicate.

A robust approach designed to help brands secure decision rights, make better branding decisions and drive long-term strategy in the region – that would be nice, wouldn’t it? Through capturing quantitative research of the organization, market and target audience, fact-based branding is heralding a fresh approach to uncovering organisational truths, evaluating the effectiveness of activity and showing the return on brand investment – facts and figures rather than just anecdotes and opinions.

Up until now, the combination of confident and entrepreneurial leadership, along with familial and cultural influences, has meant that judgement-based decisions have shaped business and branding strategy in the region. Many Middle Eastern business leaders have been less risk-averse than their equivalents elsewhere, relying less on an external view and consumer research.

However, following recent geopolitical uncertainty, falling oil prices and skills shortages, chief executives’ confidence has declined and the imperative to diversify, grow and reduce risk are greater in 2015 than ever before. In order for domestic brands to adapt, fight new competitors, expand into new sectors, perform on the world stage, preserve simplicity and manage data, there will be a growing and increasingly critical role of external research and fact-based decision-making.

Already, some businesses are recognizing the benefits of a strategic relationship when it comes to consumer research. In the banking industry, local and international market research have been widely used to guide a series of high profile name changes and re-brands, such as Noor Bank and Bank ABC. In the telecommunications sector, research has informed a series of mergers, consolidations and brand positionings designed to target new global audiences, as well as to increase relevance for the core local audience – for example, Du Mobile and Ooredoo.

Even in these categories, there remains a greater role for research to measure and understand effectiveness of decisions. Many marketers have moved their budgets into digital and social, following the local audiences, but with no vehicle for evaluating its success.

In order to enable the transition to a new model, it is important that we adapt our definition of fact-based branding to reflect the specific context in the Middle East and imperatives to grow, adapt and diversify. To do this, we should focus on these three key guidelines:

1. Inform judgment; don’t question it
We want to inform better decisions – adding greater robustness and deeper understanding of implications – but retain senior management’s confidence and entrepreneurship. For example, if the business has identified three possible opportunities, research should not try to definitively conclude one winning route but rigorously explore how each route could impact the brand to better inform the decision.

2. Elevate brand and strategy
In order to form a long-term and meaningful connection with customers, Middle Eastern businesses must uncover the compelling truth of their brands and the underlying stories behind them. Branding requires more than the logo and the first step is to build a robust fact-base of insights to then define brand purpose, strategy, architecture and identity. This requires specialist research tailored to branding decisions and the end application, integrated within the wider process.

3. Find future truths and provide ROI
The most influential research will deliver actionable, timely foresight. We must go beyond identifying the brand drivers and core needs of today and reveal the untapped brand attributes or unmet needs could provide incremental growth if leveraged in the future. Our focus moves from using statistical data to craft a point-in-time report to using the data to build bespoke simulators or calculate efficiency.

Fact-based branding is now central to how Middle Eastern brands can transform. Research must be simple, actionable and relevant to succeed, and researchers must partner with branding specialists and clients to unlock all of its value – especially in terms of measuring and forecasting effectiveness. It’s time to embrace facts over feelings. –

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