Change, although sometimes terrifying, is often necessary. It is the ability to adapt that allows us to survive. In the harshness of the Dubai desert, where I live, the Kangaroo Rat epitomizes the idea of reinventing oneself in order to survive. Millions of years of evolution have allowed this creature to flourish in one of the world’s most inhospitable climates.
Like every living creature, brands must also adapt to survive the changing landscape around them. Whether it’s Mastercard evolving its brand for a digital age utilizing the two instantly recognizable circles, or Facebook diversifying by acquiring WhatsApp, Instagram and Oculus. These shifts help to ensure longevity.
Recently, I hosted a conversation with Souad AlSerkal, Vice President of Strategic Communications at Tabreed, to discuss how through partnership with Siegel+Gale, she helped transform a utility into an essential services brand.
When we began working with our friends at Tabreed, we first needed to unlock the why; to understand the challenges and aspirations of the team we were working with. To frame the challenge facing Tabreed, Souad provided some context of life before our partnership.
Founded in 1998, Tabreed is a district cooling organization, which has been key to the growth of Dubai. With more than 20 years operating within the Gulf Commercial Council, I learned, “there was a feeling that Tabreed had outgrown the corporate identity, specifically for the fact that the mandate for 2020, 2021, and beyond was to expand internationally”. The brand needed to ensure relevancy.
Although the organization suffered from low brand awareness, the project was not just about developing the presence but also the perception. We needed to help shift the brand from regional to global, from cooling to energy sector and from service provider to developer. The brand needed to be viewed in a new light by the audience, investors and employees.
Through stakeholder interviews, we got a sense of where the brand needed to be. As one employee put it, “the key takeaway is to be bold and dynamic. We need a brand that creates opportunity for future growth.”
Getting everyone on board was key to the success of this rebrand. Helping stakeholders understand the why helped remove the negative connotations with the word ‘change’ and reframe it as a positive.
The white space
When we, as consumers, think of utilities, it is usually with apathy. As an industry, we often sense a lack of options and feel stuck with what we have. But Tabreed offers something different. It is an essential service, without which many aspects of society could not survive.
Through the many conversations we had with internal and external stakeholders, we learned that to shift away from a utility, Tabreed required a purpose that would run throughout the organization. This would help expand the role into new geographies, enhance the benefits of the partnerships Tabreed has with its customers and ensure there is an ability to adapt.
Through strategic thinking, we developed the purpose “to be an essential driver of progress for people, places, societies and environments around the world.” This allowed Tabreed to be seen not as something to be taken for granted, but as what we captured as, Essential to Progress. This was confirmed when cooling usage increased as people began working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic.
When communicating the idea of being essential to the internal team, a fear of ego surfaced. With such a humble team, many within Tabreed wondered if they had the right to refer to themselves as such. As well as cooling the likes of the Burj Khalifa, The Dubai Mall, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and Dubai Parks & Resorts, Tabreed is also a member of the Cool Coalition with the United Nations Environment Programme. It is also part of the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment seeking ways to cool the planet sustainably. Demonstrating how Tabreed’s purpose and values link to its actions to internal stakeholders allowed people to see the positive and essential impact they have on Dubai.
The power of design
The next challenge we faced was visually demonstrating essential. We see items like post-it notes and now, of course, face masks in nearly every home. Design can put things beyond essential and make them coveted and relevant. The aspiration for the design team was to emulate this and create value to become more than necessary. We wanted to create a brand that connects with people and makes them feel as if the brand is speaking to them. The quote by Frank Chimero, designer and author, says it best, “People ignore designs that ignore people.” Through dialogue, we can demonstrate to the audience that they matter. Like a conversation between people, a brand should look into your soul and connect with you. This is an exchange. Where attention goes, energy flows.
By expanding on the idea of Essential to Progress, we focused on the thought of duality. Utilizing the visual cues, we created the sense of looking at things from both sides. So, when you progress, you do so with caution and care. The idea of balancing risk and reward when you develop allows us to peer into the future while seeing the effects of our actions. It’s about finding stability while still being able to grow, being ambitious and moving forward. This was the premise behind the symbol, the circular element—the cross-section of the water pipe.
The success of our partnership with Souad and the wider Tabreed team was based on many things. However, one aspect that stands out to me was communication. Understanding who Tabreed is and where it needed to go. Helping Souad to get an idea of who Siegel+Gale is and where we can help. Rebrands are partnerships. There is no magic wand we can wave to make it work. It’s a lengthy process that needs buy-in, understanding and belief.
Dalia Fawaz is Creative Director